Practice Development | PLANADVISER March/April 2017

Turning Virtual Contacts Into Real Clients

How to get the most from your social media efforts

By Karen Wittwer | March/April 2017
Art by Hayden Maynard

If a recent Putnam Investments study is truly representative, 85% of plan advisers use social media to develop new business—in fact, 35% who manage $100 million-plus say it “plays a very significant role in their marketing efforts.”

Key to succeeding with social media­ is to have an “authentic” company voice—one “consistent with [your] core values and culture,” stresses Barbara Bickart, chair of marketing, Dean’s Research Fellow Marketing, at Boston University, which holds a social media conference for business professionals. For advisers, she recommends language and tone conveying trust and knowledge. “Beyond that, the voice could reflect the individual character of the company: formal vs. relaxed, aggressiveness, etc.,” she says. 

A particular strength of social media is efficiency, which may be better than with traditional marketing methods. Hosting a small gathering in a restaurant could yield 20 prospects, “whereas you can spend a few minutes on social media and potentially reach hundreds,” notes Jayme Lacour, Boston-based social media director for Putnam Investments and a contributor to its “Advisors Are Social” study. Plus, most tasks for maintaining a presence can be delegated, he says.

However, time spent on the wrong platform can erase the potential gains.

Bickart says to start by assessing the interests, needs and motivations of your target group. “Identify platforms where [your prospects] are already interacting around their interests, which may or may not be directly related to retirement planning,” she says.

Lacour likes LinkedIn and Twitter especially, to reach plan sponsor prospects. “They’re more of a B-to-B audience,” he says and suggests posting thought leadership pieces, industry news and trend reports. Citing the study, he says advisers who pay for multiple advanced services—e.g., premium access to LinkedIn—see a higher return on investment (ROI) than do those using the free versions. Not to minimize using Facebook or connecting on a personal level, though, he says. These serve another role. “Facebook is more about: What’s our DNA as a company, who are we as people?”

Alex Assaley, managing principal of AFS 401(k) Retirement Services in Bethesda, Maryland, on the other hand, stumbled on a way to prospect with Facebook, and now he prefers that to the other “big two” platforms. He found that content his firm builds and posts there for financial information seekers/employees was drawing plan sponsors’ attention. “They’d say, ‘This is really cool and interesting information these advisers are sharing that would be great for our employees.’ And that usually becomes the avenue in, where we start to build a relationship, [vs.] sending something on a platform that’s geared toward the plan sponsor.”

His firm combines social media with traditional marketing methods, playing on the strengths of each. In an email marketing campaign or at a speaking engagement for plan sponsor prospects, “we’re very active in promoting our social media presence to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, connect with us on LinkedIn, and from there we’ve built a small database of very engaged users.” AFS then posts softer lifestyle pieces and follows up by phone or email to gather opinions.