A large number of financial advisors in Canada who use social media are failing because they are using social media as marketing tools, rather than a way to build and strengthen relationships, say experts.Some statistics suggest that about half of financial advisors use social media for business, mostly through LinkedIn, says Jay Palter, an Edmonton-based social strategist and coach.

LinkedIn provides all kinds of information about “connections,” including where people work, how long they’ve been at their current position, their likes and dislikes. In addition, it shows connections to other people (prospects) who advisors might want to talk to in the future.

“Anyone who is ignoring LinkedIn is ignoring a vast source of business intelligence that is readily available to them,” says Palter.

The problem is, they’re not using LinkedIn properly – rather they are confusing it with a marketing tool.

Confusion reigns

“Most advisors I observe are failing at social media. Why? Because they misunderstand it,” says Palter. “Social media is not first and foremost [a] marketing [tool], it is an extension of our communication channels and our relationship building. So if they have a business network … social media is a technological extension of their business network.”

Selling insurance is essentially leveraging relationships, agrees Noam Sharabany, co-founder of Toronto-based Agent Partner Inc., a social media services and technology company aimed at helping financial advisors increase their business through social media.

An advisor might meet potential prospects who aren’t keen on making a decision today, but if you keep in touch with them and stay top of mind, you might well be the one who gets their business in the end, says Sharabany.

“Facebook and Twitter are not considered social media networks for professionals. LinkedIn is. This is where people connect – not just when it comes to insurance, but in every industry,” says Sharabany, noting there are seven million Canadian users of LinkedIn.

As many advisors know, relationship building takes time and energy. Most advisors know from experience that if they go to a networking activity and don’t pay attention to people and what’s going on in their lives, they’re not going to get much out of that activity, says Palter. The same thing happens with LinkedIn.

He says the fundamental key to getting something out of social media is to invest real time in getting to know people in your network. Out of that will come real relationships and hopefully, new business opportunities. “If you don’t put that time in … you miss the real opportunities of social networking,” says Palter.

Clients look you up

People generally make up to 40%-50% of their decisions before they actually meet a financial advisor, says Sharabany. They often Google the advisor before the first meeting, which inevitably leads to the advisor’s LinkedIn profile.

If they don’t check you out online before the meeting, then they most assuredly will do so afterwards, he says. And while you are still top of the prospect’s mind, as soon as you get back to your desk, connect with them on LinkedIn.

It’s a non-intrusive, professional way for prospects to read any articles you post on LinkedIn and allow them to stay in touch with any number of issues.

“If you are looking for immediate leads, this is not for you,” says Sharabany. “This is about relationship building and enhancing it and being where your clients are making decisions. If you are not on LinkedIn, you are doing huge damage to yourself as an insurance broker.”

Not only can advisors use social media to make the first official contact, it is probably one of the best ways to stay in touch.

Sharabany says once an advisor sells a product to a client, there should be the possibility of making a second connection to sell them more and different products. In fact, some experts say that half of an advisor’s business should come from an existing client base. But he says his company has determined that most advisors who come to him are not taking the time to systematically stay in touch with their current client list and pitch them additional products.

Social media is not the be-all and end-all solution to increase prospects and retain clients. “But what we are saying is that you have to speak to your clients where they make buying decisions and in today’s world, clients make their buying decisions online. They make buying decisions on social media and if you are not on social media, you are missing a large chunk of your target market.”

Palter says it’s never too late for an advisor to learn the ropes of social media and use it as a long-term relationship-building tool.

“Social media is called the Social Phone for a reason – we are communicating with each other using these networks. If you want to be in business beyond the next five years I think you have to become literate in social networks and learn how to use them as part of the array you use to communicate with people.”

Keeping up

Many of the current technologies being used today weren’t around even seven or eight years ago and it will be tough to say if any of them will be around in their current forms five or 10 years from now.

“But if you understand them today and how they’re being used you will be in a much better position to understand what comes next,” says Palter.

Here are some suggestions to boost your social networking results:

  • While testimonials are part of a good website, there’s really no way potential clients can validate if they’re real. But on LinkedIn, if someone is recommending you, prospects can easily check out these people via their own LinkedIn profiles and connections. “The trust of having someone recommend you on LinkedIn, I would say is 10 times stronger than you would put on your website,” says Sharabany.
  • Spend time on LinkedIn every day being interested in what your network connections are sharing. Do the same thing on Twitter, says Palter.
  • Regularly share content you think your network will be interested in, says Palter.
  • Register a domain name based on your name and start a blog, he adds.