YOUR PRACTICE-How to use LinkedIn without riling regulators

Reuters

By Deborah L. Cohen

CHICAGO, Nov 19 - San Diego-based financial adviser LeonardWright has found a way to boost his exposure on LinkedIn without running afoul of regulators.

To stay within industry compliance boundaries, Wright, acertified public accountant, promotes his role as a cohost of"Financial Fridays," a Las Vegas radio program that helps peopleincrease their financial literacy. His LinkedIn profile avoidsdirect mention of his 17-year practice.

U.S. regulators restrict investment advisers from certaintypes of promotion including using testimonials andendorsements, which are among the features available onLinkedIn.

"Issues completely unrelated to your practice have the mosttraction," says Wright, whose LinkedIn activity offersconnections to rebroadcasts of the show, news stories ofinterest to financial-oriented readers and other usefulinformation.

Wright says building credibility as a financial expert goesa long way toward boosting his name recognition, something thatultimately filters back to his primary role as a financialadviser. And data from at least one broker-dealer firm showsthat active participation on the LinkedIn site can have apositive effect on a practice.

"Increased awareness, even when you're not promoting yourbusiness, is a very powerful tool," Wright says.

To be sure, many financial advisers wrestle with how to takeadvantage of LinkedIn - considered the most useful social mediaplatform for professionals focused on business - without makingregulatory missteps.

Most broker-dealer firms take a conservative approach,vetting material deployed by advisers in their networks throughthe use of third-party software that filters content for reviewand shuts off certain LinkedIn functions. While independentregistered investment advisers (RIAs) may have a bit morelatitude, they must still follow the rules.

WORK WITHIN BOUNDARIES

Even without celebrity credentials like Wright's to fallback on, regulatory restrictions should not deter advisers fromtrying to carve out a legally acceptable presence on LinkedIn,says April Rudin, a Fort Lee, New Jersey-based consultant whospecializes in digital strategies for the wealth-managementindustry.

Using LinkedIn can dramatically boost your street cred withtargeted audiences, she says.

Use a professional photo and develop a profile thathighlights information people can relate to on a personal levelalong with your work history, including volunteer work, hobbiesand alumni associations, advises Rudin. Join discussion groupsoffered by LinkedIn where you can participate, even if updatesare vetted for compliance purposes.

"Stay away from legal (groups), stay away from accounting,"Rudin cautions, noting that participation in those areas willaccomplish little other than placing an adviser's name in frontof audiences filled with competitors.

Instead, if your practice targets entrepreneurs, join groupsdesigned to help startup ventures. If your focus is executivesin the energy sector, become active in groups affiliated withclean energy such as wind or solar industries. And commit toupdating and sharing information on a regular basis - at least afew times a week.

Do the efforts pay off? While LinkedIn will not replaceface-to-face interaction, Morgan Stanley, for one, hasseen evidence that commitment to using the social media sitefrequently can help a financial adviser's practice.

In a recent poll, some 80 percent of about 4,500 MorganStanley advisers participating in the broker-dealer's sponsoredLinkedIn program said regular use helped them identify newprospects, says Lauren Boyman, who heads digital strategy forMorgan Stanley.

Seventy percent said LinkedIn positively impacted theirrelationships with clients. And 29 percent said they convertedat least one lead to new business.

"For advisers I think the bar is pretty low," Boyman says,noting that using basic features can make a difference. "Theydon't need to be doing anything mind-boggling."

UNTAPPED RESOURCES

Paying attention to the right details can make a bigdifference in a virtual space where users go to conductbusiness, experts say. In addition to key words, includedescriptions of the types of clients and particular industriesserved, as well as articles and related material you may haveauthored, says Wayne Breitbarth, a consultant who advisesprofessionals on how to use LinkedIn, and author of "The PowerFormula for LinkedIn Success."

Among the most powerful features available to financialadvisers using LinkedIn's free basic service is its advancedsearch capability, a tool that lets users identify contactswithin specific industries, geographies and other finely honedparameters, making the old practice of purchasing leads ancienthistory.

One of Breitbarth's clients, a financial adviserspecializing in the agricultural industry, used the searchfeature to target large family-owned dairy and grain farms;another was able to find top executives within thepharmaceutical industry.

What advisers do with potential leads varies. Sometimesthese leads are connected to people already in an adviser'sLinkedIn network, and he or she is able to ask an existingconnection to make an introduction over the platform or on thephone. Or names can be targeted for marketing in other ways,including special events.

Evan Levine, a financial adviser in the New York City areawhose firm is an RIA, has joined LinkedIn groups targeting chieffinancial officers and other decision-makers involved in pensionadministration, one of his focus areas.

Levine recently shared with his connections and targetedgroups a blog he wrote about the role of fiduciaries. He is alsoexperimenting with a free trial of a paid LinkedIn membershipthat affords him the ability to connect directly withindividuals who are not affiliated with people in his network.

"The more you're active with (LinkedIn), the more you'reexposed," he says.

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