As online social media continues to grow in popularity and is embraced by affluent investors, your online positioning is more important than ever before. But how do you use social media to your advantage?

Because of LinkedIn's popularity among the financial advisor community, its demographics, and conduciveness to prospecting, it will be our primary focus for this article. Combining Oechsli Institute research on affluent decision making with these emerging technologies, the following is a four-step process for leveraging LinkedIn as a marketing tool. The process itself is simple, but it takes discipline and masterful sales skills to get results.

Step 1: Get Involved

If you're not on LinkedIn, you should be. Creating an account is really easy and can be done in a matter of minutes. When developing your profile, refer back to my November 2010 column and ensure you have a professional image, concise value proposition, and non-salesy content posted on a regular basis. If you are new to the world of status updates and tweets, getting involved is your first step.

Step 2: Connect with Top Clients and COIs

The next step is building a solid level of first-degree connections — your foundation. If you have less than 50 connections, start by spending 15-20 minutes a day broadening your connection base. Begin with your top clients and centers of influence, run a search, and extend the invitation to connect. Think quality over quantity. It's of more value to have 100 high-level connections than 500 of poor quality. Not only is it more beneficial to have quality connections, it's also a reflection of your brand.

Once you identify a few top clients and COIs, send them an invitation to connect. When sending the invitation, it's important to not use the standardized text LinkedIn provides. Instead, make it personal. Reference your relationship; if they are not a client, mention how you met them initially. Your goal is to begin your online relationship with a personal touch.

Once you establish a solid foundation of first-degree connections — these are people you know directly — you're ready to do some digging to arrive at second-degree connections, the next step in the process.

Step 3: Identify Second-Degree Connections

This is what drives the results. We know the affluent make decisions based on word-of-mouth influence; thus, your job is to pinpoint a handful of second-degree connections through your first-degree connections.

What is all of this? This is you sourcing prospects online — LinkedIn being the engine behind the process. Identify prospects that you truly want to meet, and be selective. Do you have an area of commonality that will make the introduction more comfortable (i.e. playing golf)? Do you work with employees from their company? This can be a gold mine for uncovering connections.

Step 4: Ask Permission and Get Face-to-Face

Before jumping the gun and going for the introduction, we need to revert to our affluent research. Again, the two things the affluent detest are taxes and salespeople, so our approach must be seamless. We want to make sure the top client or COI is comfortable with the introduction concept and that we come across in a non-threatening manner.

This is best done offline. Call the client and asked to be introduced. At this point, you can reference an area of commonality you discovered between yourself and the introduction target, or that you work with a lot of his/her company's employees. Leverage any intelligence you gathered.

LinkedIn has the functionality to allow you to make an electronic introduction; however, we want to utilize our sales skills and transform this into a face-to-face meeting where we can accelerate the rapport-building process.

Not every introduction will result in new business. But by creating an online network, doing some detective work and orchestrating face-to-face contact, you will be able to considerably expand your reach and pipeline.

Using various forms of social media to market your services is the future of marketing — and the future is now! Use it properly and it will help you penetrate affluent centers-of-influence. But remember, your affluent sales skills must be seamless.

WRITER'S BIO:

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients. oechsli.com.