Despite the recent public scrutiny of various social media platforms, the number of active users on mediums like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram continues to grow exponentially, making social media an increasingly attractive channel for financial advisors to not only reach prospective clients and centers of influence, but to nurture relationships with existing clients as well. Yet, it’s also incredibly easy to spend a lot of time (and potentially money) on social media, only to find that your efforts have been for naught, leading many to wonder if social media really matters for financial advisors at all.
In our fourth episode of “Kitces & Carl”, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication guru Carl Richards sit down to discuss the question of the extent to which financial advisors should or “have to” participate in social media (or not), why it might be a worthwhile endeavor if done correctly, some ideas that advisors can use immediately to get more out of their social media efforts, and why, ultimately, using social media successfully is ultimately about a series of “micro interactions” to better connect with other individuals.
The first question to consider is whether or not it’s absolutely essential for financial advisors to build a social media presence to begin with. As while there are numerous stories of advisors landing multi-million-dollar clients solely through social media, the reality is that the only non-negotiable virtual presence that every advisor must have is a modern, professional-looking website (not a social media account). Because, in a world where consumers are far savvier and more informed than they’ve ever been, the one thing you can count on is that a prospective client will have done their due diligence on you before they decide to book that first meeting, and there’s no better way to throw ice water on a warm prospect than an outdated website… or one that prominently features a sailboat, lighthouse, or long, winding road tapering off towards the horizon, that doesn’t really connect with prospects today.
Beyond that, though, for financial advisors, the task of getting in front of prospective clients has always been primarily a social endeavor, and at its core, social media is an avenue for humans to communicate and interact with each other. Which means that social media can not only augment and amplify how you present yourself to the public, but it can be a particularly effective means of connecting with others… especially if you have yet to crack the code of networking events or other organized social activities. In other words, whether face-to-face or through “the interwebs”, authentic communication is the best pathway for developing relationships, and social media is simply one of many channels to do so.
And when it comes to social media, a side benefit is that even those you’re not interacting with can see how you communicate with others, and can form their own opinions about you and decide whether or not they want to learn more about you and your services. Because one of the most powerful aspects of developing a social media presence is that it allows you to reach a much larger audience than would be possible by concentrating solely on in-person events. Moreover, social media can also open avenues of access to centers of influence and other people in your target market that you might not have access to otherwise.
Ultimately, though, the key point is to recognize that developing a quality social media presence takes time. There are no overnight successes, and you won’t miraculously have a line of people who want to hire you banging on your door because you sent out a tweet or few, but (as is the case when helping clients build their own solid financial foundations) small actions taken repeatedly can still lead to massive changes. Or stated more simply: repeated authentic interactions compound over time, whether in-person or via social media. In other words, regardless of the way in which you make it happen, in the end, communicating authentically with others is the most reliable and effective way for any financial advisor to build a successful practice. Social media just happens to be a particularly efficient channel to do so. At least for some advisors.
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
Kitces & Carl Video Transcript
Carl: Greetings, and welcome to another episode of "Kitces & Carl." Michael, this is episode what?
Michael: Four. Episode four.
Carl: Four. Episode four.
Michael: Four. We're on a roll now. We're at four.
Carl: Episode four. So good. How are you?
Michael: Doing well. I'm doing well. I'm excited. I'm a little freaked out. We're already in March. Time is flying. I realized as I was talking to someone a few days ago that in 9 months, it will be the '20s, right? The '20s was always the Roaring Twenties, the bull market that led to the Great Depression.It's the '20s. Because we didn't really have that word for the teens or the aughts. No one talks about the 1900 aughts, but we're going to cue into the '20s. We are now officially repeating the decades I studied when I was young, and they were past tense. And it's about to get weird. I'm freaking out a little that 2019 is blowing by and we're about to start the decade to the '20s.
Carl: Yeah. But I just feel good because you have a blue shirt on. All is well in the world.
Michael: All is well in the world.
Carl: I went to get a shirt out of the closet. I actually did this out loud. I have a shirt just like this that's blue. I pulled it out, I was like, "Oh, I can't wear that," and put it back because I knew you would have a blue shirt.
Michael: No twinsies? No, twinsies? All right.
The Anxiety Around Social Media [01:34]
Carl: All right, so social media is the topic today.
Michael: Social media?
Carl: Social media.
Michael: All right, I've heard of that.
Carl: Yeah. Here's what I want to do. My impression, and we can talk about whether or not your impression is different, but my impression as I travel around to big conferences of groups of financial people: financial advisors, financial planners, whatever we want to...wealth managers, whatever we're using these days, I go to these conferences and there's always a social media consultant or a social media expert that gives a...
Michael: Yes. I believe the term du jour is guru. For a while, it was social media ninja, but now I think it's just social media guru.
Carl: Somebody tried to introduce me that it is a thought leader and I was like, "No, no. I can't. I don't even know. I don't even know what that is. What does it mean? Where are they? Where are the leaders? The thoughts that I'm leading. Is it like the Pied Piper?"
Anyway. Guru. So there's a social media thought leader who gives a breakout. And we know some of these people that actually are good. There are some. So I want to be clear. It's a little bit like financial advisors, right? There's real ones and there's fake ones. Unfortunately, we often run into these fake ones, and my sense is the sense of anxiety that I feel. It feels like it's died down just a little bit, but it's still there. The sense of anxiety that I feel from the advisor industry around social media because somebody told them that if they are not active, really active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, they may as well crawl under a rock and die because no millennial will ever hire them as an advisor. The anxiety level to me sort of reached a pitch, I don't know if it was a year ago, six months ago. It seems to be dying down. I'm thinking it's dying down with Facebook's problems. We're just not hearing as much.
But I want to talk about the...it'd be interesting for us both to talk about how we view social media because I think we view it very differently. But most important to the viewers is there's a big difference between maybe how you and I... both why and how we're using social media. And how we would, if I was back running my own independent financial planning firm, I would probably be doing, in fact, I know I would be using it much differently. So let's just start there. What do you make of all this social media stuff?
Michael: Well, so first and foremost, I'll put myself squarely in the camp of, no, you do not need to be on social media to survive in the future, even with millennials. It's not an essential piece that, "Thou Must Have An Instagram Feed That Has Cool Pictures And A Facebook Page And Twitter Account," and all the rest.
The Only Non-Negotiable Online Asset For Financial Advisors [04:37]
Michael: Yes, no required hashtagging. But, and there's actually a but to this, but you do need a website. That part I think actually does matter. We are in the age where, no matter what someone says, I don't care if you do all of your business development by referrals, someone types your name into Google, right? They just want to make sure you weren't Bernie Madoff's lesser-known partner that comes up in the headlines. People check you out online. It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to follow you or that you have to have an awesome Instagram feed in order to capture them as a prospect, but they're going to check you out. They're going to do something to at least just validate you are, A. Not a known criminal with bad headlines, and, B. That you are somehow a bonafide professional. And I don't think you need a social media presence to do that, but I think you actually do at least need a website that actually looks decent in at least the current decade and not from the prior decade.
It is a credibility factor, right? Twenty years ago, I would make this assessment by coming to your office and looking around just seeing, do you have the office that I think a professional would have? That's part of one of those credibility markers. And now I think the online website is the equivalent of your digital storefront first impression. So I don't think the social media part is crucial, but I actually do think the website part is.
Carl: Well, I didn't expect to get here so fast, just because I think...
Michael: You thought I was going to defend social media more ardently first? All right?
Carl: No. I think we still have plenty of room... but websites already, I'm just, what do you make of this? Because there is, I agree with everything you said, but my favorite website in the whole world, and we can't really necessarily share. It's altgroup...
Michael: We can't share it. We'll link to it in the transcript for anybody that wants to look into it.
Carl: So it's www.altgroup.net, okay? Alt Group is a marketing design firm in Auckland.
Michael: Yeah, nice website as I pull it up.
Carl: And it's a pure white website, and the bottom left-hand corner it has their name, their address, and a phone number and a Twitter handle I think. The middle of the website, the bulk of it, like 95% of the website is white space, and in the middle, it says "this page intentionally left blank." Now if you hover over "this page intentionally left blank," it's a hyperlink. You click the hyperlink and it takes you to a blank page that the domain name is onepixel.net. Now, this has been here for 10 years. These guys are one of the top design and marketing firms in the sort of Oceania. So it's New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. This is countersignaling.
Michael: Yeah, this is deliberate countersignalling. Right... in order to look like a professional, I have to show up at a meeting dressed in my suit and tie. Unless I'm a certain status level and then I could show up in flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt and pull it off because I'm that badass. Right, most people can't, but if you're at a certain level, you can. So okay, I get it. If these guys are so cool in what they do that they can get away with the non-website website and pull it off, more power to them, but I don't think the other 99% of design firms can get away with a design firm website that says "this page is intentionally left blank" with one link and it's a broken dead link and pull this off. So, kudos to them that it works, but I'm not sure I would replicate this strategy for the average design firm.
Carl: Nonetheless, it is my favorite. I've probably shown that website to 100 people over the last couple of years. But here's the point, I think. What you can't have is a website with a picture of a couple holding hands walking on a beach. What you can't have, unless you actually sell, you cannot have a picture of a sailboat.
Michael: Does that mean I can't have a picture of a lighthouse unless I'm actually on a point and get off this is a lighthouse?
Carl: I forgot. Yeah, yeah, I forgot. Or a compass. Unless you have used the compass, you can't have a picture of a compass.
Michael: You can't have a picture of a compass unless you know how to use one. Okay.
Online Assets As Self-Selecting Tools [09:26]
Carl: Yeah, yeah. So all I'm saying is, yeah, website, awesome. I think the point of this, I'd be curious about your take because we can use this with all the tools, all the tools all the time, is these are tools, the social media, your website, these are tools I think to stalk you, right? I think they're an opportunity for somebody to window-shop, to get a sense of how you think. And you can use those pretty...if you're smart about it, you can use those as a self-selecting tool, too, right? You know, you want, you don't want.
Michael: Yeah. I put up a video of just me talking about financial planning and how I communicate, and some people are going to look at that video and be like, "This guy is weird. He talks too much with his hands." That's cool, because if you hate how much I talk with my hands in a video...
Carl: Wait till we get together.
Michael: ...you'll really hate it when I'm your financial advisor trying to convey a concept doing Kung Fu in front of you. But if you like that communication style, I know we're going to click because you already watched my video or seen me on the website. And as you said, it becomes a screening tool for the most fundamental thing that it takes for almost any advisor inclined to make a connection, which is communication style.
Carl: Right. The reverse of that would be, if you don't believe that, you don't want to be focused on investment performance chasing and you don't want clients who are focused completely on investment, which I'm hoping is everybody we're talking to, it may not be a great idea to have a market update section on your website, like a running ticker across your website or a small link to the Financial Pornography Network.
Michael: They're so interested in markets that they want to get continuous updates, but they have not been introduced to MarketWatch, CNBC, Yahoo or anything else. Like, "Oh my God, your website as an advisor can finally tell me how the stock market did today because I had no other way to find that out."
Carl: It's a little bit like walking into your foyer in your waiting room and having the TV on to the Financial Pornography Network, right? So I think all of those… So to me, let's get into it a little bit like this distinction. Because I think people look at the way you use Twitter and other social media tools. Well, the way I use Twitter has changed, and it's much different than the way you use it now. And there's no right or wrong. By the way, there are no rules. I used to get a lot of heat for, "You don't follow enough people." Hey, where's the rule book? That's not how I use it, right? So let's talk about the difference between the way you and I use Twitter, or at least talk about the way you use it versus how you think an individual financial planner should use it or could use it.
Michael: So you made an interesting comment earlier in saying, how you use social media now is not necessarily how you would use it as an advisor if you were trying to grow your practice. Because how I use social media is exactly how I would use social media in trying to grow my practice. I still do that to some extent because, I'm two hats. I've got businesses serving advisors, but I'm still partner back to an advisory firm. And part of my blogging, writing social media world actually is business development for the firm.
Why Twitter And Other Social Media Tools Are So Useful For Advisors [13:01]
So here's how I view it. If you start from this framework that you need a website because people want to check you out, some of them are going to so so far as stalking you. The reason they do it is they're essentially trying to figure out, "Do I like this person? Can I trust this person? Will I be able to communicate with them well? Am I going to be miserable if this is how they communicate to me?" So if you kind of take that as the presumption, as the starting point, then to me social media just becomes the extension of that. As I view social media, it is nothing more than kind of literally a medium for being social. It's a place to interact with other human beings. If I was more extroverted, I probably would do this at networking meetings, but since I'm an introvert, I hate networking meetings and I prefer me some Twitter.
So to each their own about their style of interaction but the point, in essence, to it is the same. I show up as a human being on Twitter to interact with other human beings on Twitter, because when human beings interact with other human beings, sometimes you form relationships and make connections, and those become either the foundations for trust, business building, client development, or at a minimum, if you're doing that in a social environment, other people can see those interactions as well and begin to form opinions about you, right? "Oh, I haven't met that person yet at the networking meeting, but that seems the person that everybody wants to meet, so I want to meet that person as well." That social dynamic exists in the same way in social media because it's just another medium for being social. And so I view it very much that way.
Now, if I was only doing client business development and not some of the other things that I do, the particular things I talk about on social media would probably be a little bit different. I would do a little bit less industry stuff, which clients don't care about. I would do a little bit more what matters to my clients because they care about what matters to them, but the essence of it is still the same. To me, it's just another medium for being social. So you show up, you be authentic, you try to be helpful. You try to convey some level of professionalism about what you do, some people will not like it, just like some people won't click with you when you show up at a networking meeting, but some will, and those are the people that I hope to connect with and extend the relationship. It's kind of that simple, with sort of the cool asterisk that if I do this at a networking meeting, I can get 1 people, 5 people, 10 people. I do this on social media. “Oh, I just sent that out to 50,000 followers all at once.” So it's a more multiplied medium, which ultimately is one of the reasons I like it, just sort of literally feels more productive to go one-to-many, and then follow that up later with someone who wants.
Carl: Yeah, totally. I think to clarify, I think if I was building a local business where I wanted to… I'm living in my town in Park City, Utah and I want people to come into my office and meet with me, and I know there are plenty. Please, there's no ethical or moral discussion around right or wrong around this. Plenty of people who build virtual businesses. No problem, right? But if I was building a... Because I think we still, for most people, a face-to-face meeting is still awesome, right? There's a level of connection that happens there. So if I was building a local business, which a lot of the advisors that I still talk with are trying to build local businesses.
Michael: Overwhelming majority as far as I know by numbers.
Carl: Yeah. Yeah.
Michael: Most of us, if we get a virtual client, it's like, "Hey, I don't live near you, but I'd like to give you my life savings." "Oh yeah, I'll take your money. We'll make that work." But it's not how they're marketing. It's not how they're trying to build their businesses.
Carl: Yeah. And you and I both know people who have been very successful at actually doing specifically that, right? I built a virtual business. But I think most people building local, for me… I always sort of joke, here's social media for you… schedule a breakfast meeting, invite 10 to 12 people there. When they show up, shake their hands, that's social, and then give a 25-minute presentation. That's called media, right? So, that's okay, too. And I think to me the goal of all of this, just keep in mind, I think this is probably the most important part, is, what's the goal? Because if the goal is to get Twitter famous, that's one set of...nothing wrong with that… that's one set. If the goal is to get mentioned in national press, that's one way of behaving. It's not any less authentic, but it may not be the most efficient way to serve you in building a local business.
We can think of counterarguments to that. But all I'm saying, if you keep the goal in mind. And if the goal is to build a local business, right? I think taking some of that energy, to me, that energy that I could be spending interacting on Twitter or Facebook or whatever, and applying it in ways that local business...and figuring out creative ways to multiply that, the ability to expand your network there locally, right? Become a really trusted resource for the business writer at your local paper. Show up at local meetings and speak. All of those sorts of things, it's just a different set of goals. And it's really, I think it's really easy to get confused about that because you've got the social media guru telling you it's so important. So I just think if you keep the purpose in mind, it will help drive the decisions about how you're going to use those tools.
Michael: Well, I agree because again, look, even if you're doing this locally, someone may still google you and make sure it's a legit website. Unless you're from a really small town where everybody knows everybody, right? There's still a little bit of due diligence. The internet is still the Great Due Diligence vehicle. So again, I think the website matters even in that local context. But once we get past that, again, I just view social media as another medium for being social. It's another medium. Other mediums include all the ones that we've done historically, right? Business networking and seminars and educational events and chamber of commerce and all those things, those are a bunch of other ways to be social.
Carl: I hear you.
Using An Online Presence To Scale Your Reach [19:47]
Michael: So we're a people business, we're a relationship business, you probably have to do something social at some point to form some relationships if you're going to get some clients. But social media is just one particular platform for doing that, again, with this kind of asterisk, at least for me. But it happens to be particularly good for one-to-many and scale and volume. And you can do it locally as well even if you want to. I will bet 50 to 1 your local business writer for the local paper probably actually still has a Twitter account because journalists love to use Twitter to find sources. So, your local reporter might find you as a local source on Twitter when you tweet stories out about local news. So, there's that aspect to it, but it's just another medium for being social.
Carl: Let's talk about that real quick because I think that could be really valuable for people to understand. So my general view is, we ask our websites to do way too much. I think the website should do exactly what you said. Somebody googles me, they go there, "Oh, it matches what I heard or what I expected." When I get there, it's not like you've got a picture of you juggling flaming knives.
Michael: Unless that's your niche, and that would be really cool.
Carl: Yeah, and we're back to good niches.
Michael: If juggling is your thing, but otherwise, no.
Carl: Yeah, good niches, flaming knives, good. That's a good niche. That's just as good as the, you're an unlikeable person niche, which we gave away for free in episode 17 or negative 2, whatever it was. So the website, you land there, I don't think you're going to convince somebody. So I think, to me, a website should give me an opportunity to find out more about you. And I think the best way to do that is via an ongoing… we could either call it a blog, or if you want to be more sophisticated you call it updates, or an opportunity to sign up for a newsletter delivered in my inbox of useful information written by you. Not written...probably going to get in trouble for this, but not written by somebody else. But you show up at the website. Beyond the website...
Michael: You've got to build trust in your expertise. At some point, you have to show up and demonstrate your expertise.
Actionable Social Media Ideas For Advisors [21:59]
Carl: Yeah. And I think that's...and if you like video, great, start a YouTube channel. But I think one thing, maybe we should just end by diving into this a little bit because I love if we give people something tangible to do. If you're going to use, let's just talk about Twitter because you and I both had… I've had career-changing, you have too, right? We both had career-changing experiences on Twitter. But those were on sort of a... Here's what I would do. If I was interested in using Twitter locally, I would. I would go find every local journalist, every local radio show host. I would find anybody in my niche. Let's say that I work with entrepreneurs locally, I'd find every entrepreneur that was on Twitter in my...and this isn't hard to do. A couple hours with no extra tools, you could just do your own searching and find it. Follow those people, and never...please, please, please, don't ask for anything. You're not allowed to say, "Please, retweet this" ever.
Carl: You just can't. Anyway. Josh Brown, once, we were having this conversation and Josh Brown was like, "Yeah, well, what I like to tell people is say something worth retweeting and I will." And of course, he was being nice about it. So, all you're going to do is add. "Hey, John, hey, Melissa, I really thought that was great." Or, "John is looking for this. Did you know Melissa over here does that?" Or, you just start... And if you devoted, I used to do this. I did it with email, right? I would devote an hour a day. I would just stare at the wall, and I would say, "What can I send to...?" I had a list of 20 people that were either clients or really influential people, and I would say, "What can I send them that would add value to their day?" And the emails just look like, "Hey, Melissa, I read this and thought of you."
Well, now you can do that with Twitter. And when you do it, other people see that you're doing it. That's what I would do if I was building something locally. Because you could quickly get that list of 400 or 500 people, you're never going to show up to a networking event with 400 or 500 people. And you could get access to people on Twitter that you can't get access any other way by adding value.
One Underappreciated Aspect Of Twitter (And Other Social Media Channels) [24:19]
Michael: Well, and that to me is one of such striking points around, I think Twitter in particular. Yeah, it's like a direct feed access. If you called random reporter, you're going to struggle to get through, only because they're getting hit by 47 other PR firms. And you want to call random local small business owner in town? Good luck getting through. But that random small business owner probably only has 172 followers on Twitter and only gets 1 or 2 or 3 tweets a week of someone that interacts with them, so, you tweet at them, it gets noticed really fast. You're much more likely to get through. You're much more likely to get a response. You can actually begin to form spontaneous connections that turn into conversations, that can turn into relationships. Because most people don't actually have a bajillion Twitter followers, but if they're there at all... interactions become tangible very, very quickly.
It's part of the cool thing about Twitter in particular because it's this live medium ability to have back-and-forth real-time conversations. To me it's the only social media channel where I actually have conversations with people. Granted, it's 280 characters at a time, so short sentences, but you can begin to have actual conversations with people and get access to folks that you probably can't get access to any other way. That's part of what makes it so powerful. When you're bringing useful stuff to the table. Like you, I hate the thought leader label, but the essence of it, of just, when you continuously bring new, useful things to the conversation, people tend to welcome you into those conversations, and you start forming connections and relationships with the people you're trying to get to.
Carl: Well, and particularly, I love that little small business owner example, right? What if that small business owner, you read an article, it has to do with something around tax law change in your town or something, an event that's not your own event. And you said, "Hey, John, thought you might find this interesting. Small business owners are meeting for this." If you just look to add value. Here's the problem. I can already feel this. I already know exactly what's going to happen. No one is going to do this, right? Because some social media guru can promise them something else. And I think what we're talking about is the boring part of the compound interest curve. I think of it as the compound influence curve.
Carl: And what happens is all advisors want to get to this. We all are humans, we want to get to the steep part because that looks exciting out there. And we look at people that have a bunch of Twitter followers and we think, "Oh, that's exciting." And those people say, "Follow one person, add value. Follow one person, add value." And we think, "Oh that's so boring." And then we hear somebody at the social media conference tell us that we could use hashtags and we could pay $5,000 and we could buy this list, and we can do that. And I'm just sort of begging people to believe, there's no fast way through the boring part of the curve. And if all the people that should understand small actions done repeatedly over time lead to massive change, it should be us.
Michael: There's no shortcut to accumulating a bunch of dollars. There's no shortcut to accumulating a bunch of influence, to use that word. It's repeated authentic interactions with other people that compound over time.
Carl: Yeah. And so let's wrap with this, just because I know I also...it's about this moment in a presentation that I give that I see advisors go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." And then, "Oh crap, what do I say?" Right? And I just want to encourage and sort of beg viewers to understand. I know you don't believe this, but you have something incredibly valuable to say. That story you used in the last meeting about diversification, right? The way you explain risk, the way you explain a stock or a mutual fund, right? All of those things, those are incredibly valuable. You don't think they're valuable because they've become second nature to you.
Michael: Because you've done it so many times over and over again with every client. Same connotations, feels boring in old hat, but it's news to non-clients that you haven't had that interaction with yet.
Carl: Are you okay with the encouragement to just do some of your work in public? Show your work?
Carl: Yeah. I don't think there's anything more valuable. And what about this fear that if I show my work nobody will want to hire me because they'll have seen it all?
Michael: Well, look, we built our entire business, in fact, multiple businesses now, off the Nerd's Eye View blog, where all we do, we write 3,000 to 5,000-word articles every day. We could not give away more detail of everything you possibly need to do all at once. You try. It doesn't matter. Because the reality at the end of the day is, there's a subset of people, you can tell them everything to do, they don't want to do it themselves. They want to hire someone else to help them to do it. Those are people who hire advisors. Those are your people. You can't give away too much. The only people that take what you give away for free and use it are people who are probably never going to hire you in the first place.
Carl: Amen. That's such a great place to end. Please, yes, show your work. There is no danger in showing your work.
Michael: None at all.
Carl: Be authentic. As hard as that is for me to say out loud, be authentic.
Carl: And no more sailboats.
Michael: No more sailboats. No more compasses, unless you use one. No more lighthouses, unless you live in one.
Carl: And no juggling flaming...
Michael: And no juggling.
Carl: ...knives, unless that's your niche.
Michael: Unless that's your niche.
Carl: Okay. Amen. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Thank you, Carl.