Following the FCA’s publication of guidance for advisers using social media for business purposes, the opportunity to use this free medium to communicate with clients and market your business is there for the taking, says Retiring IFA founder Stephen Hagues while, further down, SimplyBiz's group head of compliance Richard Nuttall highlights key points arising from the guidance
The spotlight was thrown on social media when the Financial Conduct Authority released guidance into its use to tackle financial promotion through the medium. While some adviser firms are prolific users of these tools to market their business, others have avoided it – perhaps because of uncertainty about how to use it or wariness of falling foul of any rules. Now the guidance has been set out on appropriate use of social media, however, the opportunity to use this free medium to communicate with current and potential clients and market your business is there for the taking.
Twitter is one of the most popular tools used by advisers, but it is important to stress that it takes time to see results and consistent use of Twitter is more likely to help you achieve this. Creating a business identity through Twitter involves tweeting about events, seminars, campaigns and other company news.
This can give more publicity and prominence to the work your firm is doing while, for example, talking about charitable causes your company supports can help your firm create a positive brand identity. One way of keeping abreast of what may be interesting to your audience is through joining industry and topic Twitter lists related to financial advice.
"Digital media communication takes place in real time but does not necessarily fall within the definition of ‘real time’ in the Financial Promotions Order"
Analysing how effective your tweets are has become much easier, as July saw Twitter make analytics free for everyone to use. This way, you can monitor how many times a tweet has been seen and interacted with, including clicks, follows, retweets, replies and favourites. While this is clearly a move by Twitter to help encourage people to sign up to Twitter ads, even if you do not use ads, looking at analytics can help you track engagement with content and, for example, work out the better times to post.
One of the most common errors we have seen on Twitter is poor use of ‘hashtags’ – a tool that makes words more searchable and thus gives users the opportunity to tap into a wider audience. To create a hashtag, place # before a word and search keywords in the toolbar to discover trending conversations and decide which ones you want to be included in. If there is a particular hashtag for an event or issue, make sure you use this one to help others find your post.
A further way to improve your engagement on Twitter is always to bear in mind it is a two-way medium. Often we see adviser firms feeding information to their audience but not interacting with them. Engaging in conversations about your industry and relevant issues relating to your business is essential as this creates a real identity and enables the building of useful business relationships.
Another social media tool that can help with brand creation is LinkedIn, which is commonly used by adviser firms as just a recruitment tool – thereby missing the opportunity to use it to effectively market their business to the right people. LinkedIn collates many strands of information in the sign-up process and gathers information on what the users are interested in. This means you can really target whom you want to reach.
Recent research from Econsultancy suggests LinkedIn is responsible for 64% of visits to corporate websites from any social media site – a figure that puts it miles ahead of Twitter. By linking to content in status updates on LinkedIn, advisers can drive followers to evidence of their expertise.
Business developments can be shared on the company page– for example, announcing staff appointments, sharing accolades, revealing your company's results or showing your responsibilities as a business, such as a charity fundraiser event. Content sharing can help advisers build their centres of influence – with accountants, solicitors, discretionary managers and other advisers.
What about reaching out to potential clients? LinkedIn allows you to join 50 groups – ‘mini networks’ where conversations with fellow business professionals can take place. Rather than just joining the groups relevant to you and your peers, you should join ones that are of interest to clients, such as business owners in your area. Having a group in common creates a reason to connect to someone on LinkedIn.
Again, analytics can help you assess the effectiveness of your posts, but there should be a strong focus on your profile on social media first and foremost. An adviser's own profile and that of their company should be used to say how they can help clients and also assist other professional connections to pass on referrals.
Owners of financial advice firms need to market their own brand as a business professional through LinkedIn, as building up a network of contacts can help introduce them to others who may not be aware of their expertise as a firm. To view a webcast offering more tips on how to create an effective LinkedIn profile, please click here.
Stephen Hagues is the founder of Retiring IFA, which is a group of consultants who sell, merge and source adviser businesses for adviser purchasers as well as offering retirement, merger and exit strategy advice to adviser business owners. Sister company Foundation Resourcing is a talent acquisition specialist that has been operating in the financial services space since 1999
"A way to improve your engagement on Twitter is always to bear in mind it is a two-way medium"
Keeping in line, online
This summer saw the FCA publish a piece of guidance for advisers who use, or plan to use, social media for business purposes, writes Richard Nuttall. This will have come as a relief to many who may have been apprehensive about dipping their toes in the social media pool without any firm rules in place. Still, since FCA guidance is not always so easy to digest, what follows is a breakdown of the most pertinent information from the paper.
Why is the FCA issuing this guidance?
One of the FCA’s operational objectives is to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers. It recognises digital media allows new and smaller firms to have an online presence, enabling them to reach a wider audience, which can enhance competition, and also acknowledges social media can be a powerful channel of communication. The FCA does not want to prevent the use of social media but, at the same time, requires compliance with its rules.
Are there any specific rules on the use of social media?
No. The FCA is not introducing any new rules into the handbook relating specifically to social media. The rules relating to customer communications are ‘media neutral’, so firms need to ensure that all communications using these channels are clear, fair and not misleading and be mindful of the specific rules relating to financial promotions.
Are there any limitations in using social media?
Some social media sites impose character or time limitations so firms should consider whether the appropriate balance and required risk warnings or statements can be included within the promotion using these channels. This is referred to as ‘standalone compliance’.
The guidance mentions ‘image advertising’ – what is that?
‘Image advertising’ consists of the name of the firm, a logo or other image associated with the firm, a contact point and a reference to the firm’s regulated activities or to its fees or commissions.
What about the distinction between ‘real time’ and ‘non-real time’ financial promotions?
A ‘real time’ financial promotion is defined in the handbook as a financial promotion that is made in the course of a personal visit, telephone conversation or other interactive dialogue. There are restrictions on cold-calling for investment business in COBS 4.8 and 'following' on Twitter, for example, or 'liking' on Facebook does not constitute an existing relationship or express consent to contact.
Digital media communication takes place in real time but does not necessarily fall within the definition of ‘real time’ in the Financial Promotions Order – for example, in the opinion of the regulator, a ‘tweet’ falls under the definition of a ‘non-real time financial promotion’.
What might be an appropriate next step?
Firms should be mindful of the potential risks in using social media, particularly the risk of breaching FCA rules relating to financial promotions. It is important firms act to mitigate these potential risks and one measure that could be considered is to introduce a social media policy.
The policy should cover issues such as who is responsible for the firm’s social media output and the approval of the output, that advice should not be given using this media and who within the firm is authorised to use social media for business purposes.
Richard Nuttall is group head of compliance at SimplyBiz