Financial services companies have been slower than their
brethren in other industries to
embrace social media, but a recent report by Boston-based
Dalbar suggests that investment firms
may finally be joining the Facebook-enthused Twitterati. In
May the independent research firm released its first-ever
ranking of social media engagement by financial services firms
(awarding them up to five stars). The winners: Ameriprise
Financial, John Hancock Financial Services, New York Life
Insurance Co. and Prudential Financial.
What does it take to be a top-ranked financial services
firm? It used to be enough to attract mega-assets while
offering a great lineup of products and excellent customer
service. Those qualities are still important, but the bar has
been raised. As Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have made
increasingly deeper inroads into the communications landscape,
fund companies have entered a new arena in which to compete
with their peers.
Everyone has skin in the game, explains Kathleen
Whalen, a principal of Dalbar, which has been vetting
investment and insurance companies, financial professionals and
retirement plan providers since 1976. This is a huge part
of how people communicate these days.
Dalbar started ranking investment companies in the 1990s on
their web site features and functionality, and it views social
media prowess as a natural extension. To ferret out the
savviest social media players, the firm undertook an in-depth
exploration of 60 companies, judging them on two criteria:
follower engagement (the average percentage of
total followers that liked, commented upon or shared) and
intentionally engaging posts (the percentage of
posts meant to initiate engagement).
The winners successes provide a road map for other
firms to follow, that is, if they want to reach an audience
that uses social media.
Were a relationship business, not just a
transactional business, says Jon Pauley, who oversees a
small team as head of digital strategy and marketing at
Ameriprise Financial. If our prospective clients are on
Facebook, thats where we need to have the
Minneapolis-based Ameriprise, with $783 billion in assets
under management, was the only investment firm to achieve a
five-star rating on its Facebook page. Those posts that
were meant to engage and actually did engage came together to
form a superstar of social engagement, according to the
John Hancock and New York Life shared top honors for their
LinkedIn presences, though each firm garnered only two stars.
Boston-based John Hancock was lauded for its skill at
soliciting comments from its followers while still
maintaining the professional attitude expected on
LinkedIn. New York Life was given credit for applying
the ideas behind their high engagement posts on other
social networks to LinkedIn.
For its part, Prudential Financial earned top billing for
its Twitter presence, with a three-star rating. The Newark, New
Jerseyheadquartered companys Twitter posts
often built around interesting questions, like where followers
would like to retire engage without trying too
hard due to their interesting and educational content,
Niharika Shah, vice president of marketing and advertising
strategy for Prudential Financial, which has $1.1 trillion in
assets under management, says the firm launched its social
media campaign with questions about longevity in a 2013 Super
Bowl ad on Facebook. Most of its mass consumer engagement is
about investing and saving for retirement. Its that
fine art of balancing who were talking to, the platform
were on and the content were bringing to the
table, she explains. The strategy mixes elements of
infotainment, product solutions and thought leadership.
Shahs group uses an editorial calendar to plan its
information launches and what she calls a triaging
process to handle incoming questions, with a monitoring
team that works 24/7.
Ameriprise began to create a local Facebook and LinkedIn
presence for its advisers in 2009, explains Pauley. Each
adviser has his or her own web site, which the firm helps set
up and maintain; it includes information about the adviser,
including a detailed profile, areas of focus and members of the
team. Advisers tweet only from a corporate perspective.
We cultivate clients, says Pauley, who views
each social channel as a cocktail party at which you dont
plan what youre going to say. The firms social
media sites are refreshed frequently after contents are tested
to see what works and what doesnt. We dont
want to sound like a commercial, he adds.
Were not just speaking with a megaphone.
Other financial services research firms are examining social
media, albeit to a lesser degree than Dalbar. In January
Cambridge, Massachusettsbased Cogent Research, the
syndicated division of Market Strategies International,
published its annual Advisor Touchpoints report, based
on a survey of 4,000 affluent investors. It turns out that 69
percent of those investors use social media. Not surprisingly,
Generation Yers (also known as Millennials, born from the late
1980s through the 1990s) are the heaviest users of social media
to seek out financial advice. Only 14 percent of those surveyed
reported using social media to learn more about advisers; fewer
use it for direct communication.
To optimize their social media presence, both Ameriprise and
Prudential maintain strong direct relationships with all the
networks in order to gauge their next move. Components like
privacy features or the look and feel of each outlet can change
suddenly. Theres a lot of potential in leveraging
the capabilities of the Big Three and engaging in more two-way
dialogue than we have in the past, says Prudentials
Shah. The important lesson, she advises, is not to put all your
apples in one basket. There could be a whole other
Twitter in three or four years.
No matter which social media outlet has supremacy, financial
institutions have no choice but to sign on, says Dalbars
Whalen. They have to be part of that community because
thats where their clients are.
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Follow Frances Denmark on Twitter at @francesdenmark.