The relationship between the financial services industry and social media marketing is an uncertain one. Banks, asset management companies, brokerages and insurance companies are heavily regulated, and financial services management generally has been reluctant to explore the Wild West of social.
Those financial services companies that are venturing into social media are establishing clear guidelines on how they want to use the medium to avoid running into trouble. For Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, that means viewing Twitter content as “static” content, requiring preapproval of a growing library of potential thought-leadership tweets and closely monitoring its use by financial advisers.
“We all know that social media is a global phenomenon, not just a passing trend,” said Lauren Boyman, director-social media at the brokerage and wealth-management company, during a webinar last week titled “Social Networking: Embracing New Media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney,” hosted by online publisher FierceFinance. “But financial services has been slower to adopt it. As an industry, we have regulatory obstacles holding us back, in addition to the real-time, fast-paced nature of social media.”
Boyman said a solution for most financial services companies has been to talk about anything but their products and services.
“Firms attempt to build brands by talking about social responsibility or sports sponsorships, for example,” she said. “As a result, sometimes there are even requests or questions that are just left idle, which is worse than not being on social at all.”
Last June, Morgan Stanley launched a test with some 600 financial advisers to see how they cope with social media content as static, as opposed to interactive, communications. That is, all so-called static postings on Twitter are considered to be like advertising and require preapproval.
“I know it's not ideal right now,” Boyman said. “It's a very new communications medium, so everyone is getting used to the tool.”
Boyman said Morgan Stanley treats LinkedIn differently. Here, initial professional biographical overviews must be preapproved, but after that such scrutiny isn't necessary for interactive communications with potential customers. However those off-the-cuff communications are captured and archived for future review, the same way Morgan Stanley manages email, based on its reading of social media compliance guidelines
for financial services companies.
Other financial services companies, especially those with consumer-oriented products, are more aggressive. Last month, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. wrapped up a $1 million Facebook sweepstakes giveaway
encouraging customers to “like” its Chase Freedom credit card. Bank of America is hoping an aggressive Twitter outreach
will help improve its poor public reputation.
Also last month, American Express Co., whose AmEx OPEN portal provides services for small businesses, teamed with Google's YouTube video-sharing site to launch a video contest
encouraging businesses to “tell their stories.” The campaign promotes AmEx's OPEN portal of small-business advice, and its Small Business Saturday
promotion, encouraging shoppers to patronize local businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Listening to the social buzz is key to finding appropriate topics, said Chad Bockius, CEO of Socialware, a social consultancy and software company that focuses on the financial services industry, who shared the webinar panel with Boyman.
“For example, if someone is reading a lot about 529 plans, for educational investments, the more content you can put out the better on educational thought leadership,” Bockius said. “If 401[k] rollovers are a top topic, you may want to focus on that.”
For Morgan Stanley, that means a gradually growing library of preapproved tweets, ready to be distributed as needed.
“Providing our own thought leadership is a competitive advantage for financial advisers,” Boyman said. “Most aren't even sending out their own unique content, even given the option.”