You’ve worked hard to establish your firm’s culture. You have been cultivating your office atmosphere since the day you moved in. Employees create and support your firm’s brand with diligence. You have built the atmosphere your clients and potential clients feel and appreciate when they come into your office.
Question: Have you taken the same sort of care to sculpt your online reputation?
1) Does your online presence reflect your firm?
How do you use services today? It isn’t 2003 or 1993 anymore. Your online brand is an inextricable component of your marketing engine and your firm’s brand. Even if you mostly build your firm from referrals, a potential client will probably Google your firm or use the internet to research you before they pick up the phone.
It’s just as likely for someone to look up a restaurant’s website to get their menu as keep one in a kitchen drawer. What do you think of restaurants with outdated websites? Are they the posh dining establishment that can garner a high-dollar plate? Do you form opinions on how clean they keep their kitchen if they’ve left a messy online presentation?
A high class restaurant has a web presence that reflects the culture and atmosphere they nurture in their establishment. As a high class financial planning firm, you need a website and online image that reinforces your firm’s brand. This is effective Online Reputation Management (ORM).
2) Are you managing your online reputation? If you don’t, it’s being done for you.
I suggest that the “ostrich strategy” isn’t the most effective approach for ORM. Just because you haven’t put up a website or been active on social networks doesn’t mean you don’t have an online presence; it means that you aren’t in control of it. Your online image needs to be managed and cultivated by you or people you know and trust to do it right.
It could be people with similar names who have a sordid past. It could be that your name is unique and people find photos or other details about you that don’t build the image you’d like to sculpt. My dad’s name is Dick Wagner; do you know any other Richard’s in the biz or famous Richard Wagner’s? There are more than a few. 1500 people with that name in the USA alone, and Google tends to find the composer. If you’re a CFP® Professional you might recognize him because of his reputation and articles, but online and off he only has a limited area of influence.
Effective Online Reputation Management means that someone knows that they’ve found you and that you’re the person they wanted to find. If someone needs your services, you want them to find you easily, and like what they see. You want them to get to know you through the image you present. This begins the trusted relationship that encourages them to look to you as their advisor.
How confident can you be in converting this person into a paying client if their first impression of you is your online presence and it doesn’t reflect the impression you work so hard to make in person? The reality is that sculpting your online image is now a standard best business practice.
3) Will your online presence convert the clients you want in your practice?
It is critical to sculpt your online image even if you cater to a niche that doesn’t use the internet. Their current trusted advisors, likely their children and probable inheritors, complete their due diligence through reviewing a firm’s online presence.
Some practices are growing and want to convert new clients, others are more interested in being aware and managing their online presence. In either scenario the message is the same; you want your online image to reflect, support and build the rest of your efforts.
4) Is the scope of your strategy too big? Or too small?
Effective management starts with a strategy. Then following and evolving that strategy. It’s critical to create a strategy and schedule that is manageable. Avoid networks where you won’t have adequate time to sculpt your presence or build an effective strategy.
At the same time, if you don’t have an adequate presence your potential client or client is likely to find your competitor before they find you. You’ll miss opportunities to build your business.
What was effective one day might not be the next. Reviewing your strategy regularly and monitoring your online presence will keep you at the top. Techniques and strategies evolve over time. This should be a modest commitment. You want to be helping your clients, not working on this stuff, so having a manageable plan is the key to your success.
5) Do you have a clear understanding of what does and does not need to be reviewed by Compliance?
I am continually amazed by the variance in the compliance needs of individual firms. Your firm’s compliance department has the duty to review and prohibit uncompliant material and these standards vary as greatly as styles of planning firms. There is a wide range of what is acceptable or not for your firm’s compliance requirements. Your CCO has the veto vote. Get them on board with your strategy and follow their guidance in maintaining compliance.
There is no harm in being courteous. Clear procedures and mutually agreed-upon "rules of the road" will minimize potential conflicts. For example, you can set up a workflow for quickly submitting blog posts, status updates, and whatever static content you post that they might need to review. (It goes without saying that you should always clear any content you post with them before you put it up). Know your firm’s social media policy. If you don’t have one, get one. I’m happy to help you with that.
NEVER give advice in a public forum. Follow your CCO’s direction. Provide disclaimers that any public comments should not be considered advice. Place your disclaimers to build, not overwhelm, your online image. Providing rules of thumb is usually acceptable but be cautious. If they want advice specific to their situation they need to be a client with a formalized engagement. This is a great opportunity to convert a contact into a client.
6) What are good manners on the internet?
Same as in the real world, meshing good manners with your internet marketing is one of the keys to success. You can’t control what other people say about you on review sites but you can manage what you put out there and how your image is found.
The same way you don’t show up for in-person networking events with uncombed hair and stains on your clothes, you need your online presence to support your marketing efforts and build your brand. You need the functional equivalent of a firm handshake and a great smile when people look to learn more about your firm.
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This post was authored by Jacob Wagner. Being raised in the industry, the financial planning profession is in Jake's DNA. He offers a decade of experience in the financial advisory industry and over a decade of experience working professionally with technology and IT. Wagner Communication Systems coaches their clients in Online Reputation Management, technology selection consulting and ComConnect File Sync, an enterprise grade file sync SaaS. They provide easy to implement solutions that enrich your firm’s presence and support your efficiency to improve your bottom line.
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