Andrea Rozario, director general of the Equity Release Council, explains the benefits of using social media to network...
Last year was one of contrasts and fluctuating fortunes for social media as it continued to make and break the news. At one end of the spectrum we saw an exponential increase in its use by corporates and executives, with 95% of FTSE 100 companies now having LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.
On the other hand, there was the much-heralded Facebook flotation, which saw its shares fall way below their initial valuation and left the underwriters facing formal investigation.
However, many believe, myself included, that 2013 will be a hugely important year for social media, and therefore also for advisers and their businesses...
If even the Pope has signed up to Twitter, shouldn't you?
If it’s good enough for the Pope...
Back in December, Pope Benedict XVI officially activated his Twitter account and began tweeting to the world. With this in mind, it is about time financial services practitioners begin doing all they can to understand how these tools can be used in order to grow their networks and add real value to their businesses.
Social media and networking are ‘buzzwords’ that often come up in meetings, conversations with colleagues or discussions with wider industry contacts.
Certain phrases are heard time and time again, for example: “It is important that we are active on social media” or “that will present a great networking opportunity”. Many of these conversations do not go past the initial idea that this form of online contact is something professionals should be involved in or engaging with.
Beyond being seen to be ‘on the curve’ and embracing digital technology, there is a huge amount to gain from having a true understanding of how platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ can help build, maintain and ultimately strengthen important professional contacts.
These tools can help you reach a wider audience, raise your industry profile and develop closer or more meaningful working relationships, each in turn adding significant value to your business.
Where to start
The starting point for anyone looking to broaden their network using Twitter and LinkedIn is to ensure their profiles are completely up-to-date and actively-used. It may seem obvious, but as with any kind of social or content=based service, the end result depends on the effort and attention it is given.
Some people swear by various social media guidelines spelling out the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of online etiquette. These can, of course, be vital from a business management point of view, both in establishing boundaries among staff who are active online and for minimising reputational risks.
However, in its essence, social media is about connecting, sharing and engaging with people on a personal level and it is crucial you adopt this philosophy in your approach to networking.
It is important that you not only allow your own personality to show through (while maintaining the utmost professionalism) but also engage with people personally and gauge how they prefer to be contacted. This could be through a brief public tweet, a direct message or a longer message on LinkedIn. Everyone, of course, is different.
Turning a brief conversation or meeting into a valuable connection is far more effective if you add a personal touch. For example, a follow-up message to a new contact after an event could discuss the speaker or recommend a related article that might be of interest. This adds an element of authenticity and will help establish a foundation to nurture a beneficial working relationship.
The three Cs
Another method I find useful is by remembering the ‘three Cs’ – conversation, content and contact. Social media is driven by these three things and can provide an outlet for thoughts, discussion and commentary, either on current affairs or more specific industry news or activity.
By sharing your own expertise on an issue, you are in effect ‘joining the conversation’ and giving people more reason to connect with you (in the case of LinkedIn) or follow you on Twitter.
This could take the form of basic tweeting, joining an industry group on LinkedIn or linking to articles or blogs. In itself, I have often found this is a good exercise for reinforcing your own knowledge and awareness, and an organic way to grow your network.
As with any form of relationship, its success is built on fostering and maintaining effective communication. Simply connecting with people online and allowing your contact to remain dormant does not make best use of your relationship.
By no means am I suggesting hassling them for another meeting or trying to establish daily dialogue, but merely keeping up-to-date with their industry movements and maintaining a level of contact appropriate for how well you know them. By doing so you will ensure you register in their thoughts and you may well find they approach you with work or recommend you to a new client in the future.
In simple terms, the key to building your professional network using social media is, above all else, in its name: be social.
‘I see other financial planners as professional connections’
Alistair Cunningham, director, Wingate Financial Planning
“When it comes to my professional network, I consider other financial planners to be part of it. That is the lion’s share of the activity and contact that I have.
“I am aware that a small number of professional firms we use or know of follow me on Twitter. They don’t, however, really interact and tend to just be corporate accounts. It is only really just other financial planners that we have had dealings with on social media sites. I see them as professional connections because we learn from them, and vice versa.
“In addition, they pass me enquiries when they have been unable or unqualified to give advice in certain areas. This is almost exclusively through Twitter. We use LinkedIn to a lesser extent; I see it more as a glorified address book, I don’t use it as a networking tool.”
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