Updated Saturday, November 1, 2014 as of 7:11 AM ET

Social Media's New Champions

MAY 5, 2014
1:00am ET
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Morgan Stanley wasted no time. As soon as FINRA released its first industry guidelines for blogging and social media usage in January 2010, the firm began developing ways for its advisors to launch themselves into the blogosphere and beyond.

 “We were early adopters,” says Valentina Chtchedrine, executive director for digital strategy. “And we continue to be the only wirehouse that allows advisors to use LinkedIn and Twitter with full access.” She estimates that about 35% of the firm’s advisors—or nearly 6,000 of them—have gone through the process of getting approval to engage in social media networking professionally.

To ensure those advisors are compliant, effective and comfortable with their social media activities, Chtchedrine and her team tap into a wide array of tools, such as those from Socialware and Hearsay Social, two technology companies that provide software for ensuring that advisors and their employers remain within regulatory bounds. Their offerings include features like content pre-review and archiving of all posted materials. 

Other products are designed to help advisors market and promote themselves via social networks. These include offerings from vendors like Relationship Science, which offers search tools to help advisors uncover relationship-enhancing details about clients’ business and charitable contacts, and PeopleLinx, whose products help advisors establish a strong social media presence. Still other providers, like New York-based Vestorly, sell online services that let advisors post items, such as a tweet or a blog, and then track which of their clients read and share it and with whom.

“There has been a proliferation of companies offering to serve a myriad of needs,” Chtchedrine observes.

For the past two years at Morgan Stanley, advisors engaged in social media marketing have relied on tools from Socialware, based in Austin, Texas, to remain compliant. These include a dashboard from which they can dispatch and track their Web postings, have their content pre-reviewed for compliance and ensure that it’s archived—as FINRA requires. The subscription service starts at about $20 per user per month.

Wells Fargo is another Socialware customer. Chris X. Moloney, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Wells Fargo Advisors, says the firm started using Socialware in September 2012, as part of a pilot project involving about 100 of Wells Fargo’s roughly 15,500 advisors.

The software, according to Bruce Milne, Socialware’s chief marketing officer, “automates the process of authoring, reviewing and approving social media profiles, obviating the need for error-prone and time-intensive manual profile editing and review and preventing unapproved profiles from misrepresenting the advisor’s credentials.”

Now Moloney, who prior to joining Wells Fargo helped launch social media marketing for Scottrade and Experian, is planning to expand the project tenfold, as part of an effort to facilitate social media usage among more than 1,000 Wells Fargo advisors. But as he prepares this more sweeping effort, the wealth management exec says he’s undecided as to whether Socialware’s offerings will remain part of the solution set he ultimately rolls out.

When the company first chose Socialware for its tool set, the choice was “very much driven by its compliance capabilities. At the time we made the selection, Socialware’s ability to cater to our business was attractive.” But since then, the market has become crowded with new vendors offering new products, inducing Moloney to revisit the investment firm’s original decision.

One reason is the amount of time it takes an advisor to get up to speed with the software, something Moloney became increasingly aware of through the course of the pilot program.

Although Milne claims it only takes an hour for advisors to become “proficient” with the Socialware platform and less than five hours to become “effective,” Moloney expresses less confidence about such an accelerated learning curve. “The way all the companies describe this to you, it seems as if you just push a big orange button and all this works,” he says with a chuckle. “But we know that is never the case with software.”

While the principal “driver” for whatever social media marketing technology he ultimately chooses for Wells Fargo will remain compliance, workflow is another important consideration. “How easily does the tool interconnect with our archiving tools?” is the sort of question Moloney expects to pose to prospective tool providers.

Other points of comparison on his list include how readily a tool can be used to track who has clicked on, read and engaged with advisors’ postings on various social media sites.

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