Today’s blog post is by Victor Gaxiola, Subject Matter Expert: Social Media, Actiance. Follow him on Twitter at @VictorGaxiola
Last week Team Actiance participated at the LinkedIn Connect conference in New York City. The two day event that began with a pre-conference on Wednesday and a full day on Thursday provided a full agenda and overview of the state of financial social media. Throughout the event, both Joanna Belbey (@Belbey) and I were tweeting on the activities and presentations that were also being live-streamed by LinkedIn.
At the final reception, I shared with Cathy Curtis (@cathycurtis) that Joanna and I were collaborating on a blog post to share our thoughts on the themes and observations from the event based on a series of questions I had provided. To my delight, Cathy who is a Certified Financial Planner and owner of Curtis Financial Planning, LLC in Oakland, CA, volunteered to participate.
What follows are our own independent thoughts and observations of the event:
Question: This was the second time that you participated in LinkedIn Connect. What were some of the biggest changes or trends that have emerged from the last event in May 2013?
Cathy Curtis (CC): More firms are using LinkedIn’s Marketing and Sales solutions to engage with their customers and are happy with the results especially as far as their ability to hone in and get relevant content in front of key target clients. What has not changed is that firms are not sure how to measure the ROI.
Victor Gaxiola (VG): I observed the same. It would appear that the platforms themselves have improved in providing business users with better functionality to leverage the information on social to uncover opportunities. I also noticed that social is way beyond the fad stage and the novelty of it’s “newness” has worn off.
CC: Their is no doubt this year that firms have to have a strong social media presence. It’s no longer an option.
Joanna Belbey (JB): Overall, both at this LinkedIn event, and with our clients in general, I’ve noticed an evolution in perception. Last year, marketers expressed concern that compliance with the rules and regulations were obstacles to deploying social media. This year, I see an acknowledgment that the regulators have offered enough guidance so that Compliance departments can begin to interpret the rules and regulations for their firms so that they may craft employee use polices to move forward. We are slowly evolving from “no” to “how”.
VG: A general acceptance of social as a viable communication channel was clear, and necessary to maintain and manage a corporate image and an individual brand.
CC: Many of the speakers referred to the image problem of the financial services industry and that social media may be a way to change that by allowing more interaction and engagement with customers than traditional advertising.
VG: I found this a little surprising. However, it appears that there is still a need to repair the image of many firms, and they are finding that the one-to-many and one-to-one opportunities that social provides to tell their stories and represent their brands helps. Time will heal these wounds.
Question: Tell us about the sessions or speakers that inspired or impressed you the most?
CC: As an investment advisor, I was thrilled to see and listen to El-Erian speak and he didn’t disappoint. He came off as humble, intelligent, funny and insightful. And, he gave valuable insights as to his thoughts about the global economy. That was a treat. Kudos to LinkedIn for signing him up as an Influencer and getting him to speak at LinkedIn Connect.
JB: As a former economics major, I was fascinated by the interview of Mohamed El-Erian, CEO, PIMCO (@PIMCO) by Jill Schlesinger, Business Analyst, CBS News (@jillonmoney). No news that El-Erian is leaving PIMCO, I’m just disappointed, as he has the unique ability to explain complex concepts in an easy to understand way. When asked “what keeps him up at night”, El-Erian explained that monetary policy will not be enough to solve our structural economic problems resulting from debt, persistent unemployment and over reliance on consumer spending to propel growth. Central banks are important, he said, but, not sufficient. El-Erian also cautioned that unless we solve the problems soon, they will just keep getting harder to solve, yet with the current polarized Congress, he doubts that will happen anytime soon. As workers, he challenged us to be agile and resilient. And as investors, El-Erian warned that volatility is ahead. Personally, I am looking forward to see what he does next.
VG: I agree, as a former advisor I enjoyed the Mohamed El-Erian’s discussion and found him to be very humble, and down to earth. I am still unclear why he is leaving PIMCO, but have no doubt he will resurface and make an impact wherever he lands. I was also impressed that despite the weather we experienced on Thursday morning he still made it to the event.
CC: I also enjoyed the nuts and bolts presentation that Amanda Rendle of HSBC gave on their partnership with LinkedIn. The HSBC team has obviously put a lot of resources towards their social media initiative. I wouldn’t doubt if they are one of the firm’s that figure out how to measure ROI.
VG: Let’s hope they do so the rest of us can finally have a universal metric we can apply. My takeaway from many of the presentations is that we are not alone in trying to figure this out. To me this underscores the value that an event like LinkedIn Connect provides. Although many of the folks in the room are competitors, we share a whole lot more in common that we do differences. If we are truly devoted to serve as advocates for the investment community and the clients we serve, then we need to collaborate.
CC: David Edelman’s presentation on On-Demand Marketing was fascinating. I like the picture he painted about seamless digital experiences…I know from my busy life that any company that makes necessary but tedious tasks easier will win my dollars.
VG: That makes two of us. I got the feeling that we are only scratching the surface of the value social can provide and how the buying process will change as technology improves and becomes more integral to our daily lives.
Question: Were there any surprises? If so, what were they?
CC: I was surprised that speakers are still talking about best practices for social media, such as having an authentic voice, being human, not being afraid to take a stand, as if it was new. It seems obvious to those of us who have been using social media for 5-6 years now.
VG: I agree. It felt like we are all still learning the letters of the alphabet as opposed to talking about reading. When you start to go to enough of these social media conferences there is a lot of repetition of ideas, so it is fascinating to me that someone would find many of these concepts as new. It’s like the teenage kid with a Ramones t-shirt acting like they discovered the band in the first place. We need new ideas that get beyond the why of social and more case studies that illustrate the how, and how much.
JB: Well, I was a bit startled to learn that in 10-15 years, all of our jobs will be obsolete. Allen Blue (@allenb), Vice President, Product Management, LinkedIn made a point that technology and other forces will change the world and we need to stay up to date to keep up. He also said that coding is the new literacy. No argument there, however, I think they will always be the need for the personal touch of a financial advisor, but maybe I’m wrong. With technology making financial information and advice more broadly available to the masses, perhaps advisors of the future will only be for the truly affluent.
VG: This was interesting and supports a theory on financial services delivery that was introduced to me in the late 90’s. The theory held that in the future, financial services was going to be delivered in one of two models: full service or no service. The full service model would mean that investors would be surrounded by advisors to assist them with the complicated decisions around investment planning, tax laws, estate planning and to filter out the noise of financial media. The no service model would be based on custodial accounts managed by investors who have plenty of information at their fingertips today via the internet to do it themselves. I agree that once can do it themselves, but they need 3 things: the knowledge, the inclination and the time. Most clients we had could not do all three and found it much easier to work with an advisor. As for being obsolete because of technology? Let’s just say I am getting more and more suspicious of my microwave.
Question: What challenges are impacting the growth and adoption of social media in Financial Services?
CC: Compliance is always a challenge: how to get out timely and useful info when it has to go through a compliance lens first.
VG: I am not sure this will change, however do think it’s getting easier and compliance departments understand the need to adopt to new technologies. This isn’t new for this industry we went through a similar exercise with email adoption.
JB: At this point, firms have had enough guidance from the regulators to craft compliant employee usage policies, so compliance is no longer an unknown. There are writers, agencies and training firms that specialize in social media, so help is available for adoption and content strategies. There are tools that measure sentiment and technology solutions to capture, archive and make all electronic communications e-discoverable to adhere to the record keeping rules.
VG: I think technology is making it easier for advisors to communicate with clients, prospects and partners, however many are finding it challenging to find the time to curate or craft the right message.
CC: The challenge of producing copious amounts of relevant and interesting content on a regular schedule.
VG: Right. I think before adopting a social strategy, advisors need to sit down and decide if it’s worth considering in the first place for the audience they want to target and service. An established advisor that is not looking to grow their book of business may see social media as yet another work stream, however if they are considering a succession plan, having a social strategy may make sense to connect to the next generation of investors that will inherit the assets.
JB: There is even anecdotal evidence that suggests that clients are interested in communicating with their advisors via social media.
VG: True. You need to be where your customers are, and people are living and sharing on social. Making it easy to connect via social or mobile channels will improve the ability to service clients needs. Any thing else?
CC: The final frontier: figuring out how to measure ROI so that management will continue to support social media efforts.
VG: Agreed. I have found that the greatest catalyst for social adoption is illustrating the success that another advisor or agent has had. If the advisor in the office across the hall or across the street is having success, and that success can be attributed to social, it will certainly encourage behavior.
JB: For me, I think the greatest challenges are simple: a lack of bandwidth and budget.
Question: In your opinion, how can the financial services industry overcome these challenges?
CC: For compliance: hire a firm to help streamline and automate compliance as much as possible. As Amanda Rendle advised: have the compliance attorneys sitting by your side from the very beginning so they have bought into the strategy.
VG: So true. The sooner the better, and those clients that have had an easier time with implementation and adoption of social are those that brought compliance in early in the discussion. Advisors also have to break away from being hard wired and asking “can I” as opposed to “how can I” when it comes to new ideas. I’ve written about this in the past and think it will take time for this to evolve. I also think that the role of an advisor hasn’t changed, they still need to communicate and connect with prospects and clients and provide information that matters by creating or curating content.
CC: HSBC seems to have found the answer to producing content – partnering with many other firms and also producing their own.
VG: That’s a good formula and one others are very likely to follow. Putnam Investments and The Principal are also having success connecting with the advisor community.
JB: As with all things in business, the pace of deployment of social media, and resultant reallocation of budget and resources, will depend on demonstrating ROI. When it becomes evident that social media generates revenues in the near term, firms will shift their priorities. Lack of bandwidth and budget will no longer be an issue.
CC: As far as ROI, I think the firms have to ask themselves the question: what if I wasn’t using social media….how would that impact the the bottom line.
VG: Right, what’s the ROI of being obsolete?
Question: What do you expect will happen between now and the next LinkedIn Connect event?
CC: I think there will be more successful and measurable campaign stories to tell. So far, American Express has the most quantifiable story. They took their strength in the small business market and used it to develop successful social media campaigns. Others will no doubt do the same.
JB: In the next 12 months we will begin to hear more success stories that will drive firms and advisors towards adoption of social media. There may be some hiccups along the way, but, I am predicting slow and steady growth.
VG: I agree. I think success will continue to be the catalyst and as more professionals adopt social, there will be a direct correlation between social activity and production. The ROI of social will be measured in more assets, improved relationships, and client retention.
CC: The LinkedIn team will develop more tools for companies to use. Perhaps LinkedIn will find an answer to the ROI question.
VG: Let’s hope they do if HSBC doesn’t find the answer first.
Question: What role do you play in making a difference in this space?
CC: I was unusual in the crowd because I’m an independent RIA. But I find social media to be a very powerful tool for both big and small firms. I share my knowledge and expertise with the RIA community when I can.
JB: With my background working for a regulator in the securities industry, and passion for all things social (a little too much I’m told!), I hope to continue to show firms how to use social media effectively while complying with the rules and regulations.
VG: As a former advisor and one who understands the challenges of working in this space, my goal is to continue to be an advocate for the silenced voices that are looking to embrace social to provide better service and connect with customers. Events like these give me hope that we are moving in the right direction, and although we are not moving as quickly as I’d like, I understand that it is more of an evolution, than a revolution.
I’d like to thank both Joanna Belbey and Cathy Curtis for their contributions to this post and hope you found the format and information useful. What about you? What are your thoughts on the future of financial social media? Provide your thoughts in the comment section below.