Fort Lauderdale: “We’re considering integrating social media into our marketing plan,” Joseph started out saying. Then he backtracked—“Yet, all we hear about it is what we can’t do from a compliance perspective. What is the benefit of even getting involved?”

First, as I explained to Joseph, it is essential that he understand his broker-dealer compliance guidelines regarding the use of social media. Then I reminded everyone in the audience of the recent 60 Minutes interview with Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google marketing executive, who attributes social media as the driving force behind Egypt’s regime change.

Social media is already playing a huge role in how people throughout the world communicate. My feeling is that it’s smart to become an early adopter, but in doing so, it’s important to be careful and to engage it with strategic intent and guidelines.

To help address this topic in more detail, I’ve decided to ask Kevin Nichols, our resident social media guru, a handful of questions.

Q. Can exposure through social networking be helpful to an advisor’s practice?

A. Yes, but it must be used properly. The reality is that every member of your practice is an extension of your brand. If used properly, social media can serve as a powerful tool that allows every member of your team to have their “ear to the ground.” This will help them listen to clients and develop a reputation for being responsive–just the opposite of the former Egyptian government.

Q. How can advisors use social media effectively in today’s environment?

A. It’s important to be operating from a plan. As an advisor, what is your objective? If your intentions are to connect with prominent players in your community to enhance your brand, it is important to approach the possibility of connecting to these people through mutual connections—and ask for permission! The last thing you want to do is make a bad social media impression. On the other hand, if your intention is to enhance your prospecting, social media is a great vehicle for enabling you to understand the relationship between people you currently know (top clients and centers of influence) and people you want to know (prospects).

However, you don’t want to ask for an introduction through social media. Once you’ve gathered your intelligence, you simply call your client or COI, as there are various ways to segue into that conversation seamlessly.

Q. What are your thoughts about advisors tweeting and blogging?

A. For most advisors, this should be avoided. This is what scares FINRA and most compliance departments. For advisors who do a lot of writing, they should check with their legal department and explain exactly what they plan to do. If they get permission, they will want to make certain that it’s in writing. Reading something like “Corporate Blogging for Dummies” is not something I’d recommend for advisors. FINRA is currently giving social media another look, but as it stands now there are simply too many legal ramifications for advisors who blog and tweet.

Q. If an advisor adopts a social media plan that involves COI branding through establishing the right connections, and marketing by orchestrating an introduction, how much time and attention needs to be devoted to monitoring all the connections?

A. That’s a great question. Ideally, I recommend advisors review their connections as the first thing they do every morning and then again in the evening. You can never be certain what has been posted, who has asked to be connected, and so on. This can happen during the day or at night, and people who use social media are on it constantly. I recognize this is a bit much for most advisors, but at a minimum, your social media plan should include daily maintenance—either morning or evening.

As you begin to get a feeling for Kevin’s social media advice, everything appears to revolve around common sense. You want to adhere to the same communication guidelines you would use in any other communications medium. If you don’t want to see your communication on the front page of your local paper, if you don’t want an association you have with someone broadcast all over town, or if you don’t want to be associated with private information being broadcast to the world, stick to your plan and work it.

Also, any attempt at using social media as an infomercial for your practice (testimonials, etc.), will likely lead to being shut out of most affluent connections in your community. On the other hand, if your plan focuses on developing the right connections to be used very carefully, you’re likely to significantly expand your affluent connections.

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