The financial powerhouses of the world have got entire departments dedicated to driving social media strategy. They have round-the-clock monitors and regularly measure their social media footprint.
Understandably, small businesses aren’t quite in the same boat. And, in the main, SMEs are yet to have effective and appropriate social media strategies executed for their businesses.
“I believe that those that are doing it and doing it well are getting a lot of reward for their effort,” The SMSF Academy’s managing director Aaron Dunn told SMSF Adviser.
“Those that are using it are more likely to be in larger practices than the smaller businesses. But those that are using it are getting benefits because they’re sharing information, they’re being a resource for their clients,” he said.
While resourcing is a significant factor in SMEs, some struggle to hit the nail on the head with social media, and general misunderstandings regarding the role and purpose of social media in an advice practice still persist.
“There’s still a perception that social media is there as a replacement tool to conversations that clients are having as opposed to it being complementary and enhancing the existing relationship,” Mr Dunn said.
Further, many practitioners are yet to see the benefits – and the downfalls – of integrating social media into their business marketing model.
Amplifying your brand
In days of old, an office foyer or a business brochure might’ve been how prospective clients got their first impression of your business. Now, most people will Google you before they consider your services.
“I encourage people to use it because everyone is checking out new advisers on the web first before they go to see them, so you’ve got to have some sort of online presence and reputation,” Verante Financial Planning’s Liam Shorte told SMSF Adviser.
Mr Shorte suggested your social media profile can go so far as to reassure existing and prospective clients that you are the right person for the job.
“It builds a lot more confidence with your clients that you are a professional in your area because they can see your views on different articles and it gives them that extra bit of confidence,” Mr Shorte said.
If clients are shunning banks and institutions and looking to an SME for their finances, they’re likely seeking a practitioner with relatable personality traits and values. Social media can help form that profile, says Quantum Financial principal Tim Mackay.
“I argue you’ve got to let your personality come through,” said Mr Mackay. “So you’ve got to put your own personal slant. Not necessarily what people want to hear, but what you actually think.
“People aren’t seeking advice from a corporation; they’re seeking advice from someone that they can trust, and they need to get to know that person. Showing your personality and potentially your interest can be a signal to clients, so that they can learn a bit more about you.”
Is social media a necessity?
While social media is a core part of many financial services firms’ strategy, Mr Mackay believes it’s not a necessity for every firm.
Importantly, despite the marketing and branding advantages, he doesn’t believe social media presence and success necessarily leads to direct client leads.
“My view on social media is it’s got to be a natural fit; you can’t force it. It either gels into your personality or it doesn’t. Some people will just read it and others will participate. If it’s forced it’s clear to the readers that is the case,” Mr Mackay said.
“I think also people shouldn’t be afraid of it, they should give it a try. If it’s not for them, then move on, don’t force it, because if you’re forcing something it’s never going to work,” he added.
It’s having a broader online presence, however, that is crucial.
“The website is the first impression as people look you up before they even walk in your foyer. So yes, you have to have a website. Do you have to have a link to Twitter on it, for example? No. But you need to have someone professional on your website at the bare minimum,” Mr Mackay said.
Getting the vehicle right
There are a variety of social media channels a business can use, with the more popular ones being Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. However, the medium is often the message, and it’s important to consider which avenue is going to deliver your message in the way you intend.
“It depends on the client,” Mr Mackay said. “So for instance, if they’re professionals who are still working, then probably LinkedIn is the best avenue. We get a lot of positive feedback on that.
“If they are more in the retired space, then they typically will be a little bit more involved on Facebook because their grandkids are on it or family members overseas or interstate,” he said.
Facebook is often dismissed by professionals as being too personal or trivial to use as a vehicle with which to engage clients about their finances.
However, Mr Dunn argues that it’s hard to ignore the ever-growing influence of Facebook, even in a professional sense.
“We’ve found that our Facebook likes and use of Facebook has probably nearly doubled in the past three or four months, because there are so many people using Facebook now,” Mr Dunn said.
“Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that for the first time ever, they had a billion visitors on Facebook in a day.
“For example, if you’re wanting to share information and content through to a trustee segment, well, maybe they are more likely to be reading and referencing back through the Facebook feed as opposed to a LinkedIn feed,” Mr Dunn said.
However, Mr Mackay stressed social media updates and interactions should never trump direct communication through email.
“I still think email is the main form of correspondence, clearly apart from having meetings and talking to them, email is by far still the main way of disseminating information to our clients,” Mr Mackay said. “But the other avenues act as a reinforcement.”
Having a strategy
One of the most common – and most simple – errors that SMEs make when they enter the social media realm is not having a concrete plan with clear aims and objectives.
Mr Mackay has a few key guidelines that he sticks to when delivering content via social media to his followers and his clients.
“You need to have decent content. It needs to be interesting and it needs to be good,” he said. “The medium is great, but if you’re just re-tweeting stuff that’s not interesting, then people aren’t going to read it.”
Content should also be as thought provoking as possible, Mr Mackay says. He is a firm believer in putting views and beliefs forward, even if you know they’re not views everyone agrees with.
“If you’ve got slightly different views then using social media as a platform to put those forward makes it far more interesting for readers, I’d argue,” Mr Mackay said.
It’s also pertinent to actually engage with people on social media, which is something busy practice principals in particular may be inclined to neglect.
“It’s not just media – old media is one way. It’s ‘social’ media, and that word social gives the connotation of it being at least a two-way if not a multi-way conversation,” Mr Mackay said.
“So if you’re setting something up and you’re just putting stuff out there without reciprocating then you’re not really adopting a social media strategy, you’re just adopting a broadcast strategy."
For Mr Dunn, a key to his social media success has been remaining true to the “type of person” he wants to be known as on social media
“I am someone that enjoys creating discussion, news, and so forth. So I’ve used my blog obviously as a medium to share views and share updates and then use various social media channels to amplify that message, and that has naturally progressed over time,” Mr Dunn said.
“So are you wanting to be a creator of that news? Are you wanting to just be a sharer or news? Or are you wanting to be a commentator and curator of content?” he said.
Combining all of these factors into a social media strategy can be time consuming, so Mr Shorte uses tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer to save himself some time.
“They allow you to schedule,” Mr Shorte said. “So you might spend a half hour through the week setting up, rather than trying to do something every day yourself.
“Once you get yourself into a routine and you use some of the tools available, you save a lot of time. It looks to people that I’m very busy on there, but in fact it’s taking less and less of my time every week,” Mr Shorte said.
What not to do
Drama and disputes can escalate quickly into unwanted attention via social media. While keyboard warriors don’t tend to be as big of an issue for SMEs as they are for major corporations, there are still some key things to keep in mind when you face disagreements on social media.
“I think you have to keep it civil. I’ve seen it escalate quite quickly where people get into arguments, so you’ve got to avoid that. I don’t think you have to be positive all the time, but certainly the interactions need to be civil,” Mr Mackay said.
“I’d argue the old adage: if you’ve got nothing nice to say then probably say nothing,” he said.
For practitioners, it’s also important to ensure you’re not overstepping the mark in terms of the advice or conversations you’re offering on social media.
“Be wary of whether you’re stepping over any sort of personal advice stage. You also need to be quite clear, if you’re operating under an AFSL, what the obligations of the licensee might be,” said Mr Dunn.
Mr Shorte, a prolific Tweeter and blogger, has made it his golden rule to never get into an argument on social media.
“Just cool down the situation as quickly as possible,” Mr Shorte said.
“Sometimes I’ll try to cool it down over social media, and then either over email or have a phone call with the person offline, because usually it’s just a misunderstanding over a rule, and it’s just a matter of clarifying that rule,” he said.
“If it’s an argument over a strategy, you’re better off solving it. But if it gets nasty I’ll pull out of it – I don’t believe in getting personal,” he added.
Patience is a virtue
In a Q&A with Mayflower consulting director Sarah Penn, Ms Penn told SMSF Adviser that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
“Marketing your business is a bit like seeing a personal trainer – you can’t go to the gym once and then throw your hands up in the air if it all doesn’t work,” she said.
The same principle applies to social media.
“You shouldn’t expect results fast and I can’t imagine that everyone gets results from it,” said Mr Mackay.
"I mean I’m sure a lot of people put in a fair amount of time setting it up and never see any results – they’ll put two or three things up and give up and move on. If there’s a solid stream of quality content over time, then it’ll naturally attract interested counterparties,” he said.
For Mr Shorte, it took approximately three years to gain some traction in his social media presence.
“It takes time to get noticed,” he said. "By covering a wide range of subjects, more and more people find you. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. You’ve just got to be regular and consistent.”