Tom Bradley heads up a mutual fund investment firm called Steadyhand that is quietly showing other financial services firms how to leverage social media to build their reputation and profile.
One look at the Steadyhand website tells it all – clean and crisp in look and feel, as well as messaging. Tom is a gifted communicator who knows how to simplify complexity without seeming to talk down to the investor.
Tom is thinking about his reputation long-term and building for the future. You can tell this just by looking at his website and blog and the type of content he produces.
Here’s how you can tell:
1. The website – www.steadyhand.com – It’s clean, uncluttered and works very well. The design is friendly, yet professional. The fund information is easy to read and not buried in PDF files. There are some nice interactive tools and calculators that add value to the site. There is even some personality and a touch of humour, so you get a sense of who these folks really are.
2. The blog – www.steadyhand.com/blog – Tom writes regularly for the Globe and Mail and repurposes these pieces for his blog. Tom has been blogging for four years already and, as you can see, he has become quite good at it. He and his colleagues at Steadyhand consistently produce high-quality investment information and analysis that helps make them stand out in the online world.
3. The videos – www.steadyhand.com/podcasts - Tom has started producing short video pieces in which he has a conversation with one of his fund managers. These pieces are not slick, over-produced ads – they are simple conversations in which investors get to see Tom and the fund managers talking about their approach and some specific holdings. This video interview of Steadyhand’s small cap equity fund manager creates a sense of transparency allowing the investor to get behind the numbers and see the personality of the fund manager and, therefore, the fund itself. It’s not riveting video – unless you are considering investing in the fund.
4. The social media - twitter.com/Steadyhandfunds – Steadyhand has a Twitter account and uses it to alert followers to new content postings or special events. Not all users want to receive their information the same way: some like being on email lists, other don’t; some like subscribing to blogs with a feed reader, others have no idea what that is; and some like using Twitter as a personalized data stream into which they can jump for a few minutes between engagements. Using a variety of social media channels allows the consumer of your information to choose – and consumers always love choice.
So, Steadyhand, keep up the good work. Your social media and content creation efforts are leading the way into the future of communications for investment firms.
A lot of individuals and businesses are thinking about social media these days. This is a good thing. But many just have no idea where to start. And this uncertainty can create indecision.
Don’t waste time being undecided about what to do in social media. Start by listening and paying more attention to the social media sphere at the same time as you consider how you can become more engaged. After 60 or 90 days of doing the following stuff, you’ll be much smarter and in a better position to have an informed discussion and make decisions about what social media opportunities are available to you and your firm.
Here’s what to do:
1. Start monitoring and tracking key sites – What are competitors doing/saying online? Is your company being mentioned in social media discussions? What blogs are the most interesting and influential for you to be following? Another way to think of this is – what sites are your clients and target markets going to on a regular basis? (There can be different answers for each of these groups.) All I’m suggesting you do is read, listen, follow and track – no interactive engagement. This may mean learning how to use Twitter and feed readers, subscribing to blogs, setting up Google Alerts, etc.
2. Standardize social networking profiles – Review your profile(s) on LinkedIn and other social networking sites and make sure they are consistent, professional and well-representative of your brand. You may also want to consider securing personal handles (eg., twitter.com/yourname and youtube.com/yourfirm) on main social media sites so someone else doesn’t take them. There are other John Smiths and Jane Does out there in the world, as well as malicious actors who poach names. This is not too terribly expensive to do and is strongly recommended.
3. Social media policy – Start reviewing and considering an appropriate social media policy for your company that takes into consideration how personal social media intersects with business activities and how you will respond to social media engagement. This is also a good context in which to discuss compliance or HR issues that may arise. (Check out this database of social media policies.)
4. Personal social media skills development – You would do well to explore social media tools personally before engaging professionally. This allows you to build up skills and knowledge that is directly applicable in the professional context.
5. Talks – Lunchtime talks are a good way to introduce social media into your firm and discuss a number of key issues. Serve lunch, bring in a speaker and discuss issues such as compliance, push versus pull marketing, social media etiquette, key blogs and online influencers, etc. Frankly, you don’t even need a speaker. There are lots of good quality videos out there by social media veterans that you could watch on a big screen and then discuss. Books are also a good way to do this. Read Trust Agents by Brogan and Smith or Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel – then discuss over lunch.
6. Coaching – Busy professionals always ask the same question: How do I find time for this? The answer is: you have to choose your tools well and make time for them. Social media skills take time to develop and there may be some “overtime” required at first. Eventually, one needs to look at time spent in face-to-face meetings, on the phone, on the web, using email and social media and decide the best balance. Having a resource on-hand that can answer questions and keep you to on track can help busy people make time.
All of these things can start happening now. All it takes is willingness to listen and engage – this IS the most important first step.
Out of this engagement, your social media strategy will come more naturally.
I recently came across Jeanne Hopkins’ summary of The Influencer Project – a veritable Who’s Who of online gurus in the trust and influence building sphere. Billed as “60 ways to increase your online influence in 60 minutes”, Jeanne’s article attempts to summarize these ideas in 60 sentences for those of us who don’t have the 60 minutes to spare.
Upon reading these 60 ideas, it seemed to me there was a lot of duplication and that they boiled down to a few key guidelines.
So that’s what I did. I dumped the 60 sentences into a spreadsheet and categorized them. Turns out they can be reduced to some rather obvious facts of human sociology.
Here are the key ideas (in order of importance based on how often they were mentioned in the 60 ideas) for increasing your influence online:
I am fond of repeating the view that social media is as much about human sociology as it is about technology. To me, this list screams human sociology.
Be interesting. Be helpful. Be smart. And get out more. These are the key steps to social media influence.
There is a growing buzz surrounding social media use in the financial services sector in Canada and the US and lots of advisors are getting online and engaged. However, there are some important questions about compliance that continue to be asked – but for which there are few clear answers.
In the US, regulators have issued some guidelines for how advisors can use social media tools in a compliant manner. See Finra’s Guide to the Internet for Registered Representatives for more information.
However, regulators in Canada are offering very little in the form of guidance for what advisors can and can’t do – other than indicating that existing compliance rules apply to social media.
In response, some firms have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, in effect saying “do what you may, but we’re not sanctioning it and we’re not backing you up.” Others have forbidden their advisors to use social media tools at all. In the long run, there is ample middle ground to be staked out.
But for now, it’s a user beware world out there. Here are some resources that may help you sort through the compliance issues and see your way forward.
1. Bringing the cloud down to earth – IIROC and MFDA representatives explain why they plan to issue no additional guidance for Canadian advisors at this time (June 2010).
2. The power — and the pitfalls — of joining the online trend – One advisor’s experience leads him to recommend listening and learning about social media so you are ready to leverage it effectively when compliance issues become clearer (May 2010).
3. SocialTurns is a US-based site dedicated to discussing issues of social media use, best practice and compliance in the financial services world. The information and conversations are very relevant to the Canadian context.
4. Socialware is a US-based company offering a social media archiving service. For as little as USD $10/month, Socialware will archive all of your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter communications. Regulators love hard-copy proof of compliance. (For information on other social media archiving services, see Summary of Social Media Compliance & Supervision Solutions.)
5. While you’re at Socialware, check out their resources on social networking best practices with specific guides for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter use. While geared to US compliance guidances, they offer lots of common sense best practices for any Canadian advisor.
My recommendation to financial advisors is to approach social media cautiously and with a long-term view. I recommend spending a considerable time listening to online discussions before you leap into social media professionally. Explore and test things out personally first. Let your brain and muscles get accustomed to the new forces at play in cyberspace.
Social media is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The more you become engaged in it, the more you will see opportunities you couldn’t see before.
And hopefully by that time, the compliance issues will be clearer.
Note: Thanks to WiredAdvisor for compiling an excellent collection of links on compliance issues in the US.
You may run a restaurant, a cafe, or a bar. You may be in retail clothing or home wares. You may run a gym, a dry-cleaner or a car dealership. Or an insurance brokerage. Or a travel business.
If you offer consumers a location-based service experience, whatever it is, you need to wrap your head around social media. Or it may rap you on the head.
Here’s what I mean.
1. Online review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and Epinions are becoming more and more important to retail businesses. As consumers and apps become more mobile, their choices will become more influenced by consultation with social media review tools like Facebook Places, Google Places and Foursquare. Your business needs to be monitoring these spaces and encouraging your best customers to add their reviews. In the case of the more recent location-based services, more than ever you need to stake our your place on the internet. For some good suggestions on how to do this, read 3 Steps to Turn Happy Customers into Cheerleaders.
2. Good reviews are great to have – lots of them create a sense of “consensus” among the crowd. But the good will come with the bad. And bad reviews carry more weight and can have a disproportionate impact – especially if your response digs a deeper hole. It takes considerable thought and energy to respond effectively to a negative review or comment. But investing in this process is critically important because when you effectively respond to a negative review, you earn the trust of others and deepen your relationship with existing customers. And you may even turn your critic into a loyal customer. For some excellent guidelines on how to handle negative comments and reviews, check out How Companies Should Respond to Negative Reviews.
Finally, if you’ve read all this and need some help, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can help.
Everywhere you go these days, people are talking about social media.
Should we set up a Facebook page? Should we Twitter? What about a blog? But what would I write about? And how much time is that going to take?
Stop and breathe. Take a deep breath again and listen to the air leaving your nostrils.
Listening to the web can help you answer these social media questions. And listening is probably the best way to formulate clear and achievable objectives for your online efforts.
So here’s my proposal. Spend the next 30-60-90 days (depending on how fast you want to move) just subscribing, searching, and reading. Just listening. Then let’s talk about where you want to go and how we’re going to get there.
Here’s several ways you can listen:
1. Sign up for Google Alerts and receive emails about the topics you are interested in. This can include alerts about your business, your area of expertise, your competitors, specific people or market niches, etc.
2. Create a Twitter account and start following people in your space. You can also search Twitter to discover people to follow. Most media outlets and many influential blogs are on Twitter and the resultant feed you create will be customized to your interests.
5. On LinkedIn, join some groups in your area of interest and start following the discussions. Also, check out the LinkedIn Answers section to see who are the subject matter experts in your space.
6. Search YouTube (and other popular content sites like Slideshare) for material in your area of expertise.
There are lots of other places to go and search. Once you start, you’ll find them. Let me know what you come up with.
Real estate is a notoriously tough business. Sellers want to ask for more than the market will bear. Buyers can be fickle and neurotic. The hours are long and creep into your personal time. And then there are all those flyers…
An increasing number of real estate professionals are getting into the social media act and extending their marketing efforts with great results.
If I was a real estate professional, here’s exactly how I would use social media to promote my brand:
1. Start blogging regularly. Focus on topics like local market conditions in areas that you are familiar. Establish your knowledge of the market and the housing inventory. Use Twitter to promote your blog posts and build followers.
2. Use your blog to promote listings. Promote your listings using a blog and engage readers to offer their comments.
3. Focus on first home buyers. There are many benefits of doing this:
4. Offer a free seminar. Partner with other specialists (mortgage broker, real estate lawyer, home inspector) and offer a free seminar to first home buyers.
5. Use Twitter 90-10 rule. Simply stated, you should be using Twitter to provide information or promote others 90 percent of the time. Self promotion should be kept to a minimum, say 10 percent of the time. Your tweets should focus on market conditions and real world learning situations. Promoting your free seminar once in a while is a perfect self-promotion because you are offering information.
Wow, this sounds exciting – maybe I should get into this business. Oh wait…dealing with sellers that want more, buyers that want to pay less, evenings and weekends. I think I’ll stick to consulting and raising a family. Not that the hours or the customers are less demanding ;-)
For more information on social media uses for real estate professionals, see:
A new report by comScore Plan Metrix suggests that women are an important force behind the social media explosion online.
According to the report, women spend 30 percent more time social networking online than men. And while men still make up the majority of online users, more women are using the web to seek out different information than men and for different reasons.
With respect to online financial content, women and men appear to be accessing online information and resources at a similar rate, but women may be using it differently — not only to do research, but also to decide who they trust.
For more coverage on the report, see the Advisor.ca story: Social media report a wake up call.
While in Toronto this week, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present to a group of professionals on the topic of social media strategies and tactics. The presentation was sponsored and organized by Simon Kay of IPS Insurance and generously hosted by the friendly folks at The Toronto Clinic.
Thank you to Simon, The Toronto Clinic and all who attended and contributed to the discussion of how SM strategies can be utilized by professionals to build their online reputations and networks.
As requested, I have posted the presentation deck and welcome any continued discussion or questions about this or related topics.