The inspiration for today's blog post was a recent conversation I had with another financial planner, who was struggling with the decision about whether or not to begin blogging and adopting social media. "I'm just not sure I have the time to add another channel to our marketing," he said, "on top of the newsletter we already produce and mail out each quarter."
"But if you're already sending out a newsletter," I replied, "then blogging and social media are just an alternative means for what you're already doing, but taking it to the next level!"
Newsletter Versus Blogs
At the core, producing a newsletter or a blog are simply different ways to accomplish the same thing - distribute content and information to a target audience. With a newsletter, articles are produced (either written internally or obtained from external sources) and distributed out to a list of readers. With a blog, articles are produced (again either written internally or obtained - "curated" - from external sources) and made available to readers.
The difference, however, is that a newsletter is only as effective as the list of names and addresses you have gathered. Building a mailing list can be a very slow process for most financial planning firms, that tend to see relatively few new prospective clients and potential affiliated professional referrers each year. In addition, it's almost impossible for good content distributed by a newsletter to be shared. Unless someone literally has the physical document with them at the exact moment it's relevant to refer, it's a near certainty that the content will never be seen by anyone except the exact list of people to whom it is mailed - which makes the process of growing a list of prospects even slower. Even worse, someone who is searching for information about a subject will never find your newsletter, as Google and other search engines cannot index and provide search results for documents that don't exist in the electronic world!
By contrast, when the content of a newsletter is published via a blog, the content has the potential for a far broader reach. Current and ongoing readers can still be notified when new content is available via email, just as a newsletter is mailed out. However, far more channels for distribution are available in a virtual world; the new content isn't just sent out to a mailing list, but also published on an RSS feed for blog reading software, tweeted on Twitter, shared on Facebook, and added to your profile on LinkedIn. In addition, readers who enjoy the content also have the opportunity to share it instantaneously with others they believe might be interested, using their own social media channels; for instance, a current or prospective client might share the article with his/her own network on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn... instantly expanding the reach of your content, with no action necessary on your part! Furthermore, people who are searching for answers to their own problems and challenges have the potential to find your content through search engines like Google. Thus, for example, your content about how to make the right decision about exercising stock options might show up at the top of a search query for an executive who wants to know what to do with a current set of stock options, leading the executive directly to you at the exact time your advice is needed! And those who enjoy the blog content can then sign up to receive your updates in the future by any number of channels! The end result - your list of prospective clients who read your content grows not just through your own efforts to gather names, but also from those who share your content with others, and those who find your content by searching for the answers to their own problems. And of course, every additional reader has a marginal cost of $0, because there's no printing cost for a digital blog!
The Blog Cycle
By publishing content via a blog, a virtuous cycle begins to build over time. Content produced for the blog and distributed via social media (and other) channels, giving the planner or firm the chance to engage with prospects, connect through the content, and have the content shared with others. This in turn leads to new people who begin to follow the blog and see the next blog post, and the cycle begins anew. And of course, the interaction with prospects can also provide the inspiration for new blog content to reach the prospective client audience. This blog cycle is illustrated in the graphic below (thanks to CosmicVillage.net and Humble Financial Services for the Blog Cycle image!).
The graphic also helps to make the point that it doesn't make a lot of sense to do just one part of the cycle. "Just" being on social media isn't very helpful, if there's not a blog to point back to and a way to keep prospective clients engaged. New "followers" and "fans" (i.e., more prospective clients) won't follow you and what you have to say if you're not producing content to share with them.
Yet at the same time, the graphic also makes the point that for a content marketing approach to work, it needs to grow an audience and reach new people - a significant failing of the traditional newsletter approach that is constrained by how quickly the planner or firm can gather names. In today's digital world, distributing and sharing content on social media - and allowing readers to share and distribute content through social media - is simply a radically faster and more efficient means of reaching people - not to mention an effective means of ongoing drip marketing.
Transitioning From Newsletter To Blog
The reality is that for firms already producing a newsletter, the transition to a blog is a relatively easy process. In the case of my financial planning friend, where his firm was already producing several articles on a quarterly basis for their newsletter, the first step of the transition was simply to shift from several articles a quarter to one article a month. The total content being produced didn't even increase; it was just a shift in the timing and schedule. As each new article was produced, it went up on the blog attached to their website, instead of the newsletter. Social media accounts were created to share the content, and the growth cycle began.
Notably, the fact that a blog was started didn't mean the old newsletter had to disappear, though. Instead, producing the newsletter simply became a process of gathering together several months' worth of blog content, and "repackaged" it into a newsletter style and format. Again, because the content was already being produced, the marginal cost and effort to reproduce it in another format is often relatively easy.
Although as the firm discovered in this case, the list of blog "followers" grew so much more rapidly than the old newsletter list had grown, that they soon transitioned entirely to the blog and dismissed the print newsletter for good! Instead, they simply allowed the monthly email notification of new blog content to become their "electronic newsletter" drip marketing going forward!
So what do you think? Does your firm currently produce a newsletter for clients? Do you see the advantages of distributing the content via a blog instead? Have you already made the transition to a blog? What was your experience?