With today's range of social media management and compliance tools, enabling hundreds of financial professionals within a firm to conduct business on social networks may seem easy. But behind the scenes, implementing a social media program at scale, within a highly scrutinized industry, can be a daunting task.
Social media is playing an increasingly critical role in conducting business, so giving financial professionals the training, tools, and content to let them confidently and securely engage with clients and prospects online is becoming table stakes.
Empowering registered representatives on social media raises a few concerns though, including compliance, reputational risk, and systems security. Because of this, we built a program with an experienced partner which helped us successfully deploy it to our broker-dealer network of 2,400 financial professionals, all while undergoing the biggest rebranding effort ever undertaken by our firm.
Here are some of our key social media learnings, from the early exploratory days and pilot through the broad rollout.
Go or No Go? Build or Buy?
In a business reliant on one-to-one relationships, enabling advisors to engage with people on social media helps them build their businesses and deepen relationships. Professionals want to use social media and the ability to do so is often considered a priority when choosing a broker-dealer. In fact, a strong social media program is becoming a recruiting tool.
That said, social media is fraught with potential pitfalls that could steer firms out of compliance, even accidentally. Endorsements, in-platform messaging systems, the ability to share content and many other features make social a minefield for those not familiar with the technology or FINRA and SEC governance rules.
We determined that finding a compliance solution was smart, not only for the firm, but also to protect our registered representatives. There are a range of solutions available on the market, at various levels of maturity and capability. For us, selecting a commercial solution, rather than building one in-house, got the program up and running faster, and allowed us to tap industry best practices.
Introducing a new technology raises concerns, as social media technology and platforms are constantly evolving. Improvements and tweaks that LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter regularly make to their platforms create new compliance risks for firms literally every day. We needed a partner who would work closely with the social networks, understand the implications of its platforms to our business, and keep us compliant. The partner we chose, Socialware, works both with the social networks and regulators, as they implement new rules or interpretations for the social space.
Not All Users are Created Equal
We ran an early pilot with a handful of professionals and, predictably, many of the people who volunteered to participate were technology enthusiasts. These tech-savvy people find social media exciting and intuitive, and our compliance platform gives them confidence to engage without fear of breaking the rules. They quickly saw returns from their investment of time, in the form of qualified referrals, new business and stronger relationships with their clients.
Not all financial professionals fit this mold; many, even most, are not technology enthusiasts, but pragmatists. Time is money and the returns need to justify the investment of time. They need guidance on how to start, what steps to take, what content to publish and how to respond to the life events that social media reveals from their networks. Many even require a basic overview of how the social platforms work.
This led us to invest in a certification program for registered representatives to make sure they were on solid footing before embarking on social media. Through this program, they learn how to optimize social profiles, identify potential contacts and prospects, ask for warm introductions from shared connections, and share relevant content to build a following. They also gain tips for effective time management and monitoring, successful approaches to social, and the types of content work well through which channels for which audiences.
Content is King
We find there is a strong appetite for pre-approved corporate content to be shared on social media. Asking professionals to create or find only original content to share is taxing for them and for compliance, even with automation.
Yet, many professionals also want the flexibility to create custom content, so we chose a practical path that walks the middle ground. There is a library of Voya content, organized into different financial topics, that allows professionals to select and share (or schedule) pre-approved content. The library is populated with hundreds of pieces of informative, educational content that is consistent with our brand and supports retirement readiness and a holistic approach to planning. They also have the ability to create their own custom content to build a personal voice on social media.
Professionals can choose what and when they share based on whether they think it is relevant to their networks. Individual metrics show which posts get the best responses so professionals can find the right mix of personal and pre-packaged content.
The Next Frontier
Social media is quickly becoming the next frontier in the steady march forward of communication. Clients already look to social media for financial recommendations, but there is still learning to do to make social a powerful and effective channel for educating, establishing trust and building a brand.
I imagine that most financial services firms are at least considering a social media program. If you are heading down this path, look for a solid technology partner, educate professionals on how to be effective on social, and give them the support they need to be successful.