Social media platforms Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can let advisors build new relationships and market their firms, but the success they achieve varies from platform to platform.

Facebook lets advisors build a page and share the personal stories of their practices and their lives. LinkedIn allows advisors to build a professional profile, make connections and see how they may already be connected to potential prospects. And Twitter lets advisors customize their own news feed and find out where the kinds of clients they want to work with are.

All three platforms and the best practices on them were a focus at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s Social Media Seminar in New York on Wednesday, where experts said they anticipate even greater adoption of these platforms at wealth management firms.

“Eighteen months ago or even a year ago, firms were taking more of a scattershot approach to the use of social media,” said Barbara Stettner, partner at Allen & Overy. “Now today a lot of you are doing targeted directed development of social media strategies. And I would suspect in the next six months there is going to be more focus in different directions as well.”

Facebook As a Storytelling Medium

Wells Fargo Advisors is one of those firms with plans for expansion. The wealth advisory business now has its own Facebook page. Wells Fargo is also working on piloting the use of the social network to its advisor force. Starting this summer to early fall, about 40 Wells Fargo advisors will start testing the social network.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how we can tap into the passion point of consumers, because Facebook, unlike LinkedIn, is the passion component,” said Renee Brown, senior vice president, director of wealth of brokerage at retirement at Wells Fargo. “You have the opportunity to learn and grow in relationship with clients and customers in a deeper way.”

Financial advisor David Armstrong, of Monument Wealth Management at LPL Financial, said he discovered that his practice could use Facebook to connect with clients when he first started using the network to connect with his friends from the Marines.

His team’s Facebook page emphasizes images and content intended to help foster a personal connection with their followers. That includes posting pictures from when one partner attended the recent air show in Baltimore, Md. and when another partner had a baby. One prospect who saw the baby’s pictures on Facebook stunned that advisor when he congratulated him at the start of a phone conversation, Armstrong recalled.

“It’s evolved into this fantastic story telling tool, without it looking like a contrived story telling medium for business,” Armstrong said. “The story that you tell on Facebook with pictures and posts is very genuine and very personal.”

LinkedIn As A Business Card Extension

Another firm that has recently broadened the reach of its financial advisors through social media is Wedbush Securities. Beginning in January of this year, the firm began allowing its financial employees to use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

“What we have found so far on the advisor side is the highest concentration has been on LinkedIn,” Natalie Taylor, vice president of marketing at Wedbush Securities, said.

LinkedIn was a priority for Wedbush when it recently came up with a four-stage strategy for its financial advisors to grow their presence all social media platforms. The strategy starts with the advisor web page and the creation of a profile that can subsequently be used across all social media platforms. The second step is establishing a presence on LinkedIn, followed third by either Twitter or Facebook, and then other social media sites.

“It’s a business essential these days,” Taylor said of LinkedIn. “It’s an extension of your business card. It’s where your clients look to find you and validate you as a financial professional.”

Fay DeBellis, senior vice president and wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, said she has created a profile that shows what she most wants potential business contacts to know about her, including her role as a board member of a local health organization in St. Paul, Minn.

From there, DeBellis said she consciously chooses who she wants to connect with on LinkedIn based on who she wants to develop a relationship with, as well as who can introduce her to prospects. Searching on LinkedIn has helped DeBellis find connections in organizations she wants to access.

All of those efforts do not replace old-fashioned forms of connecting, DeBellis said, including phone calls and coffee dates.

Twitter As A News Feed

Using a corporate Twitter feed has allowed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to listen to clients in a way that it cannot do anywhere else, according to Douglas Ellington, senior vice president of digital marketing at Bank of America.

After this past weekend, when Merrill Lynch’s new advertising campaign ran during the U.S. Open, the firm was able to quickly create a report on Monday morning of the reaction to the commercials on Twitter.

“It’s by far the platform where we get the most chatter or feedback from our followers or the public in general,” Ellington said.

That kind of data can be just as useful for financial advisors who want to closely follow the events affecting certain kinds of investments, according to Chad Bockius, chief executive officer at financial services technology provider Socialware.

When a mad cow incident erupted in California a couple of months ago, chatter about the news first began one morning on Twitter, Bockius recalled. That was ahead of traditional news outlets that picked up on the news more than an hour later, followed by an announcement from the Department of Agriculture they would put out a press release later that afternoon.

“That information could have given you a huge advantage if you were trading on those kinds of futures,” Bockius said.

Financial planner Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial at LPL Financial, said that he has been surprised by how well he can access his target clients in the mass affluent middle market on Twitter. Cox, who is based in Richmond, Va., said he has seen his following jump from zero to 14,000 in the past year and a half.

Many of Cox’s client prospects, including telephone and power company employees, join Twitter when they become iPhone users, he said. He also uses applications like Klout to help determine where to find prospective clients.

“This tool has allowed me the ability to engage with these people at scale,” Cox said of Twitter.