Among wealth-management firms, Balentine’s presence on Facebook isn’t at all typical.
The firm’s “wall” is crowded with news and insights from staffers, including messages from industry conferences, summer-reading recommendations and descriptions of kids’ baseball games.
It looks, in other words, like the Facebook page of an outgoing and intelligent person. And that’s exactly what the firm has in mind.
“People don’t go to Facebook to look up mutual-fund performance,” says Joe Stallings, communications chief at Atlanta-based Balentine, which manages about $1.5 billion. “We use it to let people know that we’re people with families who like to share things.”
That’s how Facebook and other social media can help firms build positive brand awareness–and do it at a safe distance from compliance obstacles, according to Mr. Stallings.
Mr. Stallings’s background, somewhat unusual for a wealth manager, has perhaps given him a sharper sense of how to use social media. While he began his career in financial service 20 years ago, he spent most of the past 13 years as a producer with Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), one of the world’s biggest computer-game companies.
“He’s absolutely right about the power of social media to put more depth on a firm’s brand and personality,” says Derek Brown, head of content at Jennifer Connelly Public Relations in Parsippany, N.J. “It shows that more advisers should be looking outside their industry for marketing ideas.”
Mr. Brown has shown his own talent at using social media for marketing financial advisers, helping JCPR shape an entertaining YouTube spot for wealth-management firm HighTower that ended up going viral.
For the moment, most financial firms seem frightened of social media–even though the Securities and Exchange Commission recently made it clear that regulators view social-media communications as they do any other type of electronic publishing.
To be compliant, a company–a registered investment adviser or broker-dealer–has to have approved the “profile” page. The back-and-forth chatter inherent to social media such as Twitter and Facebook isn’t subject to prior compliance-department approval, but it is subject to common sense. So don’t make performance guarantees, don’t make specific investment recommendations, and don’t post testimonials. On the “do” side, post a disclaimer if outsiders can chime in, and make sure every scrap and utterance is archived.
In a recent examination of seven independent firms’ public Facebook pages, picked at random, Dow Jones Newswires found that none encouraged interaction. Two looked like placeholders, with no profile or identifying information other than the firm’s name. The others featured only a company name and contact information.
To be successful with social-media brand building, Mr. Stallings says it helps to understand what brand building means–and how much time and money it warrants. “Branding is about the immediate associations people make with a company, but it’s not about getting referrals or new business, so we don’t spend much time on it and really no money,” he says.
It is also helpful to grasp the nuances of social-media types. While Facebook works for touchy-feely branding, Twitter is better for “asserting thought leadership” through short statements linked to economic analysis and other compliant content, he says.
Mr. Stallings doesn’t claim that Balentine has social media all figured out, however. “All we’ve got are anecdotal insights; people saying it’s refreshing we’re not talking about investments and products and services–and of course it’s nice when the same people who told us we didn’t need to be on Facebook in 2010 call now to ask for help with their own social-media plans,” he says.
– By Thomas Coyle
Posted by Steven Maimes, The Trust Advisor