The Blogging BasicsBy John Kador
If you don't have a blog yet — or your custodian still prohibits them — don't feel too left out. An informal Registered Rep. survey suggests that fewer than 10 percent of independent advisors publish blogs. Blogs today are where web sites were 10 years ago. But just as it's difficult to conceive of an advisor without a web site, it will soon be just as unlikely to think of an advisor without a blog. In fact, I predict that blogs will become the heart of an advisor's social media presence, serving as the organizing vehicle for activities such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media services yet to be introduced.
More and more of your clients are on blogs and social networks. By mid-2011, for the first time, more than half of all adults used a social networking site, according to the Pew Research Center. Six years ago, when Pew first conducted a similar survey, only 5 percent of all adults said they used social sites. Yes, social media usage is skewed toward women and the young, but it's a trend that no advisor can afford to ignore. Blogs and other social media have penetrated the lives of ordinary people and, in turn, transformed the ways in which people communicate, buy things, and invest.
Margaret Starner, a Coral Gables, Fla.-based advisor affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services, publishes a blog that mixes her professional insights with news about her family, travels, and hobbies. Every post on her “Musings” blog weaves in the power of planning as a core concept. Consistency of theme is a characteristic of the best blogs. (See side, Registered Rep.'s Ten Best Advisor Blogs, page 61.)Cutting Edge, Without Crossing the Line
Compliance is the first thing on the minds of advisors contemplating blogging or using social media. The compliance issues of blogs may seem daunting to many advisors, but it's not as challenging as they may fear, says Leia Farmer, deputy chief compliance officer with Securities America Inc., one of the largest independent broker/dealers in the nation. When one of its 1,800 registered reps wants to blog (or post content on any social media platform), they have to participate in a social media/compliance training session and otherwise follow policies. “There are challenges [to blogging] from a compliance perspective, but a little training and common sense goes a long way,” she says.
Advisors should probably treat their blogs the same way they treat advertising and other promotional initiatives. For example, under the Securities America compliance program, advisors need to get static content, such as a profile page or market commentary, pre-approved by the firm's compliance department. But more interactive communications — e.g., accepting events, creating groups and posting Tweets and comments that respond to questions — will not require pre-approval before they go live. These types of communications will go through a review process after the content has gone up. And advisors have little to be worried about if they just remember a few guidelines. (See sidebar, “Basic Blogging Compliance Guidelines,” page 62.)
Compliance is always on Starner's mind as she contemplates her next blog post. “What I had to do was to figure out what I could say that was meaningful without invoking compliance issues,” she says. She offers up subtle messages about how clients can best think about investing, but avoids predictions, recommendations, and testimonials. Those are the big three that cause compliance problems.The Best Blogs are the Least Self-Serving
Business development is important, but advisors need to take a light touch with their blogs.
“The best blogs are about the information you give away and your passions, interests, and desire to build a community,” says Kevin O'Keefe, CEO of Lexblog, publisher of the Wired Advisor Blog. “A blog is a terrific tools for establishing your brand as a teacher, educator, mentor, and popularizer of complex financial issues.”
Sometimes the best advisor blogs have zero content about the advisor's products and services. Brian Brode, a Dallas-based advisor affiliated with Merrill Lynch (which doesn't yet allow its advisors to blog), publishes a totally private blog about his passion, endurance running, that raises awareness and funds for cancer research. When you visit Brode's Triboomer blog (a combination of triathlon and baby boomer), you won't find anything about where he works and what he does for a living. His blog does not mix business with his passions (he is not allowed to), but it doesn't matter.
Although it was not Brode's intention when he started Triboomer, the blog has deepened relationships with his existing clients. “I started the blog to create a conversation with other athletes. I never considered that my clients would resonate to it. Often the first thing they want to talk about is my last race, how my training is going, or the charities I run for. Many have relatives or friends impacted by cancer,” he says. It's easy to see that clients appreciate an advisor who is so clearly goal-oriented, so passionate, and who gives back to the community.
Of course, blogging just for the sake of doing it is a poor use of resources. There are now hundreds of advisor blogs online, and even more blogs of a corporate nature. So don't start a blog unless you both appreciate the business value and would enjoy it. And make sure you have something unique or interesting to blog about. The best advisor blogs — those that generate the most buzz, traffic and excitement — are the ones published by truly enthusiastic advisors who want to provide value to their readers.
I considered over 50 advisor blogs to make this selection. The blogs were judged on the basis of the quality of the writing, thematic relevance, balance between the professional and the personal, frequency of posting, and appearance/graphics. I preferred blogs penned by a single advisor with a coherent voice rather than blogs featuring a number of more or less anonymous contributors. Here, in alphabetical order by advisor name, are the top 10 best advisor blogs of 2011.
- The Cynical Advisor
John Benedict brings a tart voice about a range of financial issues.
Recent post: “From the Bad Ideas File: Schwab Decides to Compete with … Themselves! [sic]”
J2 Capital Management, Troy, Mich.
- New World Wealth Concepts
Ruth Cameron blogs about a range of financial issues from elder care to mutual fund fees.