What financial advisors can learn from Lady Gaga

You don't have to be a pop star, but you do need a social media presence

Plenty of cranky old-school holdouts in the financial services business will tell you that social media—stomping grounds of pop stars and their Gen Y fans—is not necessary. And they're right: It's not necessary. But it may as well be—if you really want to do everything you can to improve your client relationships and build a long-term business.

When I refer to social media, I refer to the three big ones: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. (Personally, I rank them in that order, too.) I use them frequently, checking at least one per day and usually all three several times per day. Why? It is all about your relevance—about stating your uniqueness and your willingness to engage clients and prospects.

Lady Gaga attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
Getty Images
Lady Gaga attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.

To start with, there are three really simple reasons why I have made social media a part of my practice.

First, I enjoy it. Yes, that is a good reason, and an important one. We do things more often and get better at doing those things when we enjoy it more, right?

Second, it's about brand building. Regardless of whether or not you work for a financial conglomerate or are an independent, you are your own brand. Social media gives you exposure.

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Lastly, you are also part of the wide world of Internet search. Whether you know it or not, people are searching your name on Google and other sites. People want to get to know who they are dealing with. These days, even referrals will search you. Your social media profiles and activities will come up in a search. Why is this important? Because we are in a competitive industry. Prospects migrate to the professionals they know better, and knowing is the first step to building trust and rapport.

If someone were to ask me for a starting point, I would start with LinkedIn. It is very easy to use. The service takes you through completing your profile one question at a time, and it is easy to update. (Note: If you are on LinkedIn but only accept the occasional invitations to link with people and otherwise never look at it, then please understand that you are not really a user of social media. Having a complete profile, reading and commenting on posts that your connections share, and posting/sharing relevant content for your connections are just three examples of using LinkedIn that you could adopt right away.)

5 reasons to get over your antisocial self already

Now, assuming I can quote chapter and verse from the usual objections to incorporating social media into your business, I will proceed right on to five reasons why these objections are no good:

1. I don't need it, because my clients don't use it.
In the U.S., 58 percent of all adults have a Facebook account, and for the over-65 crowd who are online, 56 percent of them are now on it, according to Pew Research Center. But if you are telling me your clients don't use it, I interpret that another way—your clients are mostly seniors who have been passed by the social media adoption. That means you think you are quite settled in with your existing client base, right? Well, I wouldn't assume that.

Please take a small poll of your clients and ask them if their adult-age children use social media. Why? As your clients age, know that one day the kids eventually step in to help Mom and Dad. And that means they will be looking you up. If they see someone not involved in social media, they may think you are not involved in your career. So think of social media as a career-preservation tool. Your clients' adult-age children aren't necessarily looking to give you the boot, but they sure as heck want to know who is handling Mom and Dad's financial affairs. And they want to see that you are keeping current on the latest news, as opposed to resting on your laurels.

2. It's too much of a compliance headache.
No, it's not. If your compliance department pushes back against your use of social media, then it is time to think about moving to a more proactive firm that values your future employment.

I had lunch with a wirehouse rep who referenced the compliance headache excuse. I was thunderstruck. The rules have been laid out by the industry regulators for all industry members to follow. Many firms have policies and procedures in place that have both met the standards and have allowed industry professionals to become heavy social media users. Simply put, compliance is not a valid excuse.

Large and small firms and independent B/D's must have approved social media policies. Always be sure to consult your firm's social media policies before you get started.

3. I don't want people to see me say or do something stupid on the Internet.
Please! Get over yourself already. You work with clients every day. You are already out and about in your community. Aren't you already careful about what you say and how you act? Do you think your professionalism will disappear the minute you post, share or tweet something? Social media doesn't create bad behavior, but it will spread knowledge of your bad behavior. So, in that case, I can't help you. But if you are at present a good person and conduct yourself professionally, then you'll have no problem with social media. When I post, like, share or comment, I always go on the assumption that my wife, mother, mother-in-law and my kids are watching. I can't think of a better social media filter than that.

"Within my network, there is always someone who is celebrating a major milestone. How else would you know about it if not for social media?"

4. It isn't a replacement for real, live palm-pressing.
No one said to stop in-person networking and client meetings. This adds to it. It speeds up and enhances relationships. You can still continue all of your other activities, and now you have tools to add to your visibility when you miss events or are in between events. I find that, for myself and other professionals who are heavy users of social media, we are also the most actively involved people in networking and community activities.

Within my network, there is always someone who is celebrating a major milestone. How else would you know about it if not for social media? It gives us the opportunity to congratulate that person the next time we see them. Work anniversaries, charity and civic awards, the welcoming of a new child or grandchild, the list of wonderful things goes on. Why would you want to miss those things? This speaks to the incredible relationship-enhancing qualities that you're missing out on by avoiding social media.

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5. I don't understand it (and I'm afraid of what I don't understand).
This is actually a legitimate reason. Find someone you know and ask them to help you get started. This could be an expert from your compliance department.

Once you start, take a look at profiles of heavy social media users as examples to learn from. In financial services—to name people who entertain and well as educate—you can follow Josh Brown (@reformedbroker), Kenny Polcari (@kennypolcari) and Jim Iuorio (@JimIuorio). Start connecting with people on LinkedIn and you'll start to get a sense of who in your network you'd want to pay attention to. One piece of advice I will give you to help you get started is to avoid posting sales pitches—that is a social media faux pas.

You can take your time. You do not have to go "super-heavy user" on Day 1. You may have been hesitant to start with email a long time ago. How are you with it now? I'll bet this concern and all the others were raised back then, too, and now email is a part of your life that you can't do without.

A big 'but' ...

You do need to keep a few compliance musts in mind as you get started:

  1. Just like email, all social media activities need to be monitored and archived.
  2. Stagnant information, such as your bio, needs to be pre-approved.
  3. If you work for a larger firm or are affiliated with a larger broker/dealer, consult the firm's approved social media policies before you get started.

By Mitch Goldberg, president and CEO of ClientFirst Strategy, a Dix Hills, New York-based investment firm.