For years financial adviser Mitchell Rock spent many of his nights at networking events to drum up new business. These days he spends his evenings with LinkedIn.
Rock is a senior vice president with The Rock Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, a team that specializes in clients who are looking to sell all or part of their middle-market businesses.
Nearly every night he browses user profiles and group pages on LinkedIn to find such business owners and people who work with them, including accountants and estate attorneys. When someone looks promising, he uses Internet sleuthing to find their business phone number.
This social media strategy generated about 28 percent of The Rock Group's revenue last year, including one $70 million account, said Rock, who declined to provide his group's total client assets under management.
Rock and other advisers shared their tips for prospecting online at a social media conference sponsored by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association last Friday in New York. A common theme: enhanced features on social media sites, particularly LinkedIn, have helped them get a lot smarter about what prospective clients they target.
Regulations surrounding social media are evolving, so a visit to your firm's compliance officer is in order before implementing the strategies these advisers recommend.
LINKEDIN GROUP PAGES
LinkedIn's group pages are a prime place to mine for prospective client leads. Rock tries to spend 20 to 90 minutes each night on LinkedIn. He is a member of about 50 LinkedIn groups, many of them created for business owners whose profiles he studies to learn about their work experience and identify other groups they are in.
LinkedIn spokesperson Krista Canfield said advisers should think like their potential clients when searching the site's group directory. Rather than search for terms like "wealth manager," look for, say, a group for working parents, and see what members are talking about, she said. If, for instance, people are worried about their kids' college fund, advisers can try to answer their concerns.
Canfield also suggested that advisers peruse the "answers" section of LinkedIn, where users can post questions to their network, or the entire LinkedIn community. Treat these forums like a large business lunch, Canfield said. Provide thoughtful answers to questions to establish your credibility rather than just posting a pitch for your services.
JOB CHANGES = 401(k) ROLLOVERS
LinkedIn sends its members an annual email chronicling which of their contacts changed jobs in the last year.
When that email landed in the inbox of Anita Heisl, a vice president of practice development with Ziegler Wealth Management, she saw an opportunity for her firm's 70 advisers: a list of people they could target with an offer to help with 401(k) rollovers.
Wisconsin-based adviser Paul Hees says after he joined Ziegler from LPL Financial last summer, a former client kept saying that she wanted to keep her business with him, but had not gotten around to the paperwork. One day Hees saw an alert indicating the woman had switched jobs. He used that as a reason to get in touch. Soon after, he was back to managing two IRA accounts for her, and was researching her 401(k) options.
"It's almost as if LinkedIn, by giving me more information, gives more opportunities for personalized contact," Hees said.
You can also go to LinkedIn.com/signal to see the latest updates from your connections, including their job changes.
COLLECT EMAIL ADDRESSES
An easy way for advisers to warm up their cold calls is to get to know prospective clients over email beforehand, said David Armstrong, co-founder of Monument Wealth Management in Alexandria, Virginia, with about $250 million in client assets.
He collects email addresses with the help of research papers he writes on topics like the "10 Rules All Investors Should Know." He posts these papers to his firm's website and then sends out Tweets with the link. To download the report, users must submit their name, email address and zip code.
Armstrong tracks frequent downloaders and checks to see if these people also subscribe to his blog. When he finds someone who appears to be particularly interested, he reaches out directly to discuss his advisory services.
DON'T EXPECT A MIRACLE
Armstrong said his research papers have yet to directly bring in new business, but he has had several promising meetings with high-net-worth individuals.
He thinks he will have more success once he starts writing papers more frequently.
Advisers should not expect social media to quickly transform their business, Armstrong warned. "People aren't going to start burning up my phones, dying to do business with me, because I'm Tweeting," he said. "I still have to extend myself."
The key with any social media strategy is to know your target market, said Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's Rock. His efforts on LinkedIn have been successful because he serves a niche market - business owners - and can focus on mining that area for leads, he said.
"If your mandate is to just provide wealth management services to wealthy people, you're going to be lost," Rock said.
(Reporting by Jennifer Cummings in New York; Editing by Jennifer Merritt and Matthew Lewis)