Social media has made it to the financial advising industry, and it can be very powerful—if you know how to use it.
If you have good content, people will read it. But if you have great content, people will share it—and that's key if you want to exponentially grow your business. An effective social media strategy can single-handedly create a following of thousands—and a flow of prospective clients—in just a short period of time.
CNBC.com spoke with several advisors—successful social media pioneers—about their strategies and tactics.
Certified financial planner Eric Roberge founded his virtual fee-only practice, Beyond Your Hammock, in August 2013. In 17 months he has picked up 21 clients.
How? By "spreading myself across the Internet," he said. "I just started writing my blog, and that created everything else."
That original content led to yet more content, as his existing blog posts served as writing samples when he pursued writing guest columns for major media outlets.
Roberge's columns created a buzz.
For example, he wrote an article called "Here's a good reason not to fund your 401(k)" for Money.com. On the first day, 137,000 people viewed his article, driving more than 1,000 people to his website. This turned into almost 100 new subscribers for his firm's newsletter, generating three prospect meetings and resulting in one new client.
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"I realized when writing for other sites, the more controversial your posts, the more traffic," Roberge said. "I make sure my topics are something people are going to talk about."
He added, "Young people, especially, want to hear something different."
He then repurposes these types of articles into posts for social media platforms and mentions them in his own blogs and newsletters to continue the buzz and reinforce his brand.
Social media strategies
Financial advisor Eric Roberge of Beyond Your Hammock shares his different strategies for each social media platform. He posts links to his blog posts, his and others' media articles, business activities and thought-provoking quotes. "The key is to balance self-promotion, education and sharing other people's stuff," he said.
- Facebook personal account: "I'm educating my network, not targeting any specific group. I share my personal philosophies, my authentic beliefs and feelings."
- Facebook business page: This is used as a public hub for Roberge's thoughts, writings and activities.
- Twitter: "Here, I'm talking to my industry," Roberge said. About half his follows are other advisors, and he makes a point of following and communicating with journalists.
- LinkedIn: Roberge uses this site for networking with several targeted groups: parent/teacher associations, estate-planning attorneys and advisors who refer lower-asset clients to him.
Original content is key, said Jon Ulin, CFP and founder of Ulin & Co. Wealth Management.
"It provides credibility and helps your organic [non-sponsored] search results and search optimization, and the search engines recognize that you're providing compelling content," he said.
Not only is it more credible, it is more shareable.
"If you use canned content, why would someone else with a large following share or repost to their own readers?" said Ulin, who spends about three to five hours per week writing his newsletter articles and blog posts.
Beyond the technical advantages of original content is the opportunity to show who you are.
"Blogging allows me to display my unique voice; it helps people get to know how I think," said Cathy Curtis, CFP and owner of Curtis Financial Planning. She spends about an hour a day writing and blogs every two to four weeks.
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"Facebook is especially powerful because you're seeing the person's life—and it's risky for the same reason," Curtis said.
For his part, Ulin of Ulin & Co. said that "in our industry, which has been tainted with mistrust, being friends with our clients online adds a huge amount of transparency, trust and confidence."
"Clients can get to know a bit more about me personally, and I can know instantly what is going on in [their] lives, from job changes to major life events," he added.
The more you post, the more findable you are.
"My high social media activity increases my rank on Google," said Curtis, who has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. This, in turn, results in prospective clients, 80 percent of whom find her via Google search.
Brittney Castro, CFP, is the founder of online practice Financially Wise Women. Since launching two years ago, she has built up a strong base of followers on Twitter (5,200), Facebook (4,500), Instagram (1,500) and YouTube (760). Her firm's e-mail newsletter is sent to about 4,000 subscribers, with a 20 percent open rate.
This social media success has helped her build up a client base of more than 80 clients already.
"People want to connect to you," Castro said. "The more I showed my authenticity, the more success I had."
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This authenticity is especially shared through the upbeat weekly YouTube videos, reminiscent of short TV shows, that she shares with her vast online network.
If Castro weren't doing social media so religiously, where would she be?
"Attending hours and hours of networking events—only to find myself able to generate half of the business I've done through online marketing," she said.
—By Deborah Nason, special to CNBC.com