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Successful client prospecting used to mean two things: cold calls and face-to-face meetings. But times are changing as more advisors are using social media to stay ahead of the competition.

Employing social media is a good business move, says Hannah Barnes, founder of HB Finance Marketing in Edmonton, who often helps advisors with social media.

“Face-to-face is very important, but you know you’re going to run out of contacts eventually. Using social media is a great way for you to get those new leads in front of you,” she says.

Many advisors tend to agree. One 2017 survey from Putnam Investments in the United States showed that 88 per cent of advisors who used social media for business said it made information easier to share, increased the frequency of communication and helped them to develop a better professional and personal relationship with clients. Also, 86 per cent said they had gained at least one client through social media; that’s up from 49 per cent only five years before.

But doing social media right means more than posting on the right sites, otherwise it can be a waste of time and resources. That’s what Michael Angiletta discovered a couple of years ago when he started posting his own informational financial articles and podcasts online.

After decades in the banking business, in 2016 Mr. Angiletta launched an advisory firm, Montreal-based Movative Financial Services, and set out to land investing and insurance clients. But after spending more than $6,000 on a professional website and following advice to create online content from scratch, he realized he was getting nowhere.

“Without an audience, I do not think this is the best method,” Mr. Angiletta says now. He also tried ads on Google and the social media sites Facebook and LinkedIn, but the return on investment just wasn’t there, he says.

Social media is good for building brand awareness, he says, but in an effort to "balance out the digital presence with the real world,” he has since gone back to relying primarily on face-to-face meetings and personal connections to land clients.

But perhaps Mr. Angiletta had simply missed the point of social media. Online prospecting has evolved over recent years, says Paul Copcutt, a personal brand consultant in Hamilton, who has clients in the financial services industry. Rather than posting industry newsletter blurbs on Twitter or Facebook, advisors shouldn’t be afraid to get a bit personal.

“Social media or social networking? You know, that first word is kind of a giveaway – it’s ‘social,’” he says.

In other words, advisors should consider ditching articles about, say, dollar cost averaging or the importance of diversification. Everybody else is doing that. And while it’s a good idea to say you’re trustworthy, honest, accurate and accessible in your posts and on your website, "they won’t be the differentiator. They won’t be the reason why I hire you over someone else,” says Mr. Copcutt.

Instead, stand out by showing off a little of your personality on social media and in in-person meetings, he says. The goal is generating an emotional response in a potential client.

He points to one of his clients who realized his family knew he had a great sense of humour, but co-workers and clients didn’t. He had effectively shut down that side of his personality while at work. But after working with Mr. Copcutt, the man realized he wasn’t being true to himself, and he started sending out a funny joke or cartoon online each Friday. His “Friday Funny” paid off, and soon more people were reaching out to him.

To build a quick and fun personal connection with people online, polls and surveys work well, too, says Mr. Copcutt. “The one thing I find with social media is everybody loves to have an opinion.”

Maybe that means using a survey or poll button on Facebook – or Instagram and YouTube, if the goal is younger clients – and writing something along the lines of, “I’m redesigning my office. Which of these two chairs should I buy?” Or perhaps ask followers to vote for their favourite business or investing books.

The best part? These kinds of casual, personal posts rarely have to go through corporate compliance departments.

“You’re not saying, ‘I’m going to guarantee these books are going to give you X-per-cent return,’” he explains. “That’s where I think financial advisors probably are missing the boat sometimes. They think everything has to go through compliance.”

In fact, many clients and potential clients don’t actually want to read the kind of content that requires corporate approval, at least according to a 2018 study from the software company Hearsay Systems. It showed that non-financial, lifestyle-oriented content was the most popular with clients (48 per cent) compared with branded corporate posts intended to sell financial products (42 per cent). Only 27 per cent of people bothered reading non-branded, financial literacy posts. The study looked at social media data from 77,000 financial advisors and insurance agents in the United States.

Over all, don’t be afraid to find a niche market and create content that’s relevant to clients and prospects. Taking a scattershot approach to social media – like all prospecting – just doesn’t work.

“You’re building a relationship. You’re building trust. You’re becoming somebody they look to for help or for interesting articles,” Ms. Barnes explains.

Building those connections can take time, but they eventually pay off. “This is not a quick turnaround. You’re playing the long game.”