Image credit: Watcharakun

Financial companies are finally starting to leap on the social media bandwagon. Many weren’t comfortable with the medium until they saw other, larger companies jumping in over the past couple of years.

Registered investment advisors, broker-dealers and other financial professionals must comply with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules governing what financial professionals can say and to whom.

A 2011 study by American Century Investments showed that while many investment professionals are still “lurking” most are participating regularly in social media. Half of the financial professionals who participated in the study said they were moderate or extensive social media users. Another 35 percent said they were lurking in the shadows, trying to understand the value.

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube are the mediums of choice, with blogs taking the forefront of what financial professionals are using to break into the market.

Securian Financial Group decided to enter the fray this year.

“We knew that if we waited for ideal conditions to launch a social media campaign we’d fall behind the curve,” said Angela Schema, manager of communications for Securian. “So we picked a topic, ‘Long-term goals need a long-term partner,’ that was both representative of our brand and comfortable for our compliance department. We hired a small crew, walked to a local park and conducted spontaneous interviews.”

The interviews were highlighted in four videos that supported Securian’s brand proposition of financial security for the long run. The videos were posted on Securian’s YouTube channel and featured people and pets sharing their views on personal goals, financial strategies, debt, retirement savings and more. In November, Securian posted one video per week and promoted the series on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

The company’s goal for the campaign was to increase Facebook “Likes” by 25 percent, increase Twitter followers by 15 percent, build brand recognition for Securian and promote Securian’s commitment to helping people reach their long-term financial goals.

The campaign exceeded their expectations, with Facebook “Likes” increasing by 27 percent to 571 and Twitter followers increasing by 19 percent to 191.

The numbers aren’t large, but Schema said, the company believes the experiment was a success.

“Finding a way to be both creative and compliant with social media was a win,” she said. “Even better, our results show that our long-term value proposition is resonating and we can build a social media community around our brand.”

Spectrum Management Group had been talking about social media for a while, but the owners were concerned about the regulatory requirements and “the uncertainty around what they were allowed and not allowed to communicate with clients and potential clients via these new channels,” said Doug Huber, director of operations for Spectrum in Indianapolis, Ind.

“Some of that has been alleviated by watching others do it. If they are not getting in trouble and if we follow their lead, it seems safe,” he said. “There has not been a lot of guidance from the SEC. They haven’t spoken about advertising. It is really up to us to look at it through the advertising lense and understand what is acceptable and what is not.”

Spectrum has taken a very conservative approach to social media. The company started a blog and a Twitter account.

“Our client base doesn’t use social media as much as a younger demographic would, but it is a good way to reach a lot of people,” Huber said.

He added that he doesn’t believe that using social media will make people think the company’s advisors are better because of it, but “it is another way for potential clients to find us, see that our advisors are smart people and have great insights on the market and economy, and they can make better decisions, even about whether to visit us for the first time, based on these things.”

Social media is a great tool because with tools like Google Analytics, companies can find out almost immediately who and how many people are looking at their website.

Spectrum launched its blog about three months ago and it uses its Twitter page to let everyone know there are new posts available.

“We don’t do commentary on Twitter. We aren’t at the point where we are projecting out information or commentary on Twitter itself. …We’re very conservative with it,” Huber said.

The company doesn’t have big social media numbers yet, with only 24 Twitter followers, but it has seen an uptick in its website traffic.  It receives about 15 viewers per day on its blog.

Spectrum is not using its blog as a marketing tool. “We are not trying to convert people to filling out a form or contacting us,” Huber said. “We want people to come to our blog because the topics are relevant.”

Chad Parks, president and CEO of The Online 401(k), said his company just recently started participating in social media. Seven of the company’s executives blog, including Parks.

Because the company is not a registered investment advisor, it doesn’t have to worry about FINRA or SEC compliance.  It falls under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service, and they have been silent on the subject of social media, he said.

The Online 401(k) can take advantage of all social media platforms out there and has a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

The company’s blogs deals not only with retirement plans and 401(k)s, but also how retirement planning and saving fit into people’s lives. “We try to humanize it,” Parks said.

Parks and his company have been very creative in how they use different social media. The company even has an employee recruitment video on its YouTube channel that gives a tongue-in-cheek view of what it is like to work at the company.

The one tip about getting into social media is you can’t expect to get millions of followers immediately. Parks likened a social media campaign to planting a garden. You have to till the fields, plant seeds, water and weed. The same is true for social media. You have to find and create content, share stories with people who want to follow you and hope they tell other people about you. It has to be nurtured over time.

The Online 401(k) is finally starting to see social media followers who don’t work at the company and are not related to the employees, Parks said with a laugh.

The company hired a new director of marketing two years ago to work on marketing, branding, identity and new websites. In the last six months the company has focused a great deal on social media.

The last four months “we have finally been actively pursuing it. We are seeing small measured growth. We do not have tens of thousands of followers right now, but we feel it is paying off,” Parks said.

For more information:

Social media has huge impact in the retirement space

5 rules for safer social media use

Why you need a professional face on Facebook