Despite the constant drumbeat of financial executives, marketers and compliance officers alerting advisors to engage in social media to capture millennials' attention, no consensus exists on the most effective way to predict or measure the success of such efforts. While some social media campaigns elicit a clear, positive response, others lead nowhere or, worse yet, turn off existing or prospective clients and damage the advisor's reputation.

"If anyone has given you a great answer, share that with me," jokes Joe Nadreau, head of innovation and business strategy for Wells Fargo Advisors, who is charged with the task of measuring the firm's social media campaigns' effectiveness.

Nadreau, like others in the financial advisory market, has taken some intruiging approaches. He oversees a systematic review of Wells Fargo advisors' websites, for example, to see if they are robust, with photos and credible resume information. He scores each site and provides feedback if he finds room for improvement.

He has also initiated systems that count the number of visitors to advisors' sites or their posts on social media channels, clocking the time visitors spend with the content and how often they share it. He also tracks conversion rates—how often online visitors becomes clients.  But those measures "don't tell you about causality," Nadreau says, noting that more sophisticated measures will glean answers to the more important question: Has advisors' use of social media helped the wirehouse meet its ultimate goals — retention and growth of client assets?

GATHERING DATA

With that in mind, Nadreau has begun to collect data so he can make direct, "all other things being equal" comparisons between the performance of those who engage in social media and those who don't. More than 70% of Wells Fargo's 15,163 financial advisors have Web profiles, but only 100 are actively engaged, with management support, in developing an interactive professional social media presence, which includes blogging, posting and tweeting, Nadreau says.

He has collected data about the client asset retention and growth of those engaged advisors with comparable data of about 100 advisors who aren't engaged in social media but are about the same age and have roughly the same amount of business experience and assets under management.

Nadreau declines to give specifics about his findings, except to say that the group engaging in social media is surpassing the control group at retaining and growing client assets.

This has spurred him to develop even more sophisticated comparisons—for instance, to determine if advisors who post self-authored content are more successful in terms of client asset retention and growth than those who post pre-authorized content. Wells Fargo is preparing to have more of its advisors launch social media campaigns; by this time next year, Nadreau expects about 1,500 of the firm's advisors to be blogging and tweeting.

BRAND MANAGEMENT

"Social media metrics don't apply as well to our business," says Mike White, chief marketing officer for Raymond James. That's not to say Raymond James advisors have shied away from social media. With White's encouragement, about 3,200 of the firm's 6,000 affiliated advisors post on Facebook, Twitter and Linked in; they publish both pre-approved material as well as and their own content, which often attracts more favorable attention from both existing and prospective clients. Their use of social media is "really important from a brand management point of view," White says.

But White doesn't believe a "typical advisor"—one he describes as having about 300 clients and adding five to 10 new clients each year—needs thousands of Twitter followers to improve the bottom line. Instead, he encourages advisors to individualize their social media approach so it serves as "an extension" of what they're already doing. If an advisor typically draws clients from referrals by centers of influence, such as accountants, the advisor should use social media to capture the attention of those same COIs. Advisors' social media efforts will not have "a standalone" return on investment, he contends.

Hence, White engages in no quantitative analysis to determine, for instance, how many times advisors post on Twitter in a given time period and how much their assets under management grow in that period. Rather, he captures and reports the level of positive response (retweets and likes) a particular piece of pre-approved content garners, so other advisors know the content's potential impact before posting it.

Mitchell Slater, a UBS advisor, agrees that quantifying social media use and then trying to estimate an ROI misses the point. "A lot of people try to assign dollar values to social media, but this is about engagement; it's not a campaign, it's a commitment," says Slater, who leads the Westfield, N.J.-based Slater-Trainor Group, which has $250 million in AUM. Says Slater: If you're not on social media, "you don't exist."

Still, he doesn't measure his other team members based on their social media engagement, rather on if they address clients' financial concerns about family, education and health; those "kitchen table" topics are what cement client relationships, Slater says.

STATE-OF-THE-ART TOOLS

Gail Graham, chief marketing officer for United Capital Private Wealth Counseling, one of the fastest growing planning firms nationwide with more than $10 billion in AUM, believes her firm's size is ideal for measuring its advisors' social media engagement. "I can do a lot more than smaller firms," she says.

Graham, like Nadreau at Wells Fargo, measures clicks and click-throughs on advisors' websites to establish baseline statistics. The firm posts "money-mind exercises" on its sites, which drive traffic to the sites and keep users there. Graham also measures "shares"—when its advisors' posts are picked up by other social media platforms. And she has started using a metric she calls "share of voice" to identify what percentage of Web users focusing on a particular investment topic are drawn to the firm's advisor content.

Graham has set up benchmark rivals whose advisors blog and tweet about similar topics to her advisors. She compares the clicks those rivals' posts receive with those her advisors' content garners to help advisors address the question, "Is your content share-worthy?"

She is also exploring state-of-the-art tools from several vendors to measure campaign effectiveness," she says. Contenders include Hubspot (Cambridge, Mass.) and Marketo (San Mateo, Calif.), both of which offer products to manage and measure social media marketing, although neither exclusively services the financial advisory market. Marketo says its products "determine quickly which campaigns are effective and provide detailed program success reports and analytics to sales and management." Hubspot boasts dozens of customer success stories on its website, with numbers reflecting the percentage increase in sales or revenues each customer has achieved using its tools. Graham aims to use the tools to achieve "more predictable results," she says.

NO TURNING BACK

Nadreau at Wells Fargo shares that goal but says no one in the financial advisory market will achieve 100% predictability, given the inherent limitations of marketing analysis and the rapid pace of technological change in social media channels. "Not everything in social media is created equally," he says. "I can never measure causality exactly. The control groups are the only way I can even get close."

Still, he says, there's no turning back to a time when advisors could ignore the Web and social media. Most clients today, even when getting a recommendation from a friend about a trusted advisor, turn to the Web to corroborate it. "Your first instinct is to Google it," he says.

 

Miriam Rozen is a contributing writer for On Wall Street and a staff reporter at Texas Lawyer in Dallas.

 

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