Bet you didn’t know that HighTower—recently named #13 on Inc. magazine’s 2012 list of the 5,000 fastest growing U.S. private companies—is the frontrunner in the use of social media by financial advisory firms anywhere.
It’s not surprising when you consider the Chicago-based company’s innovative ways. Unlike Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB), usually recognized as Wall Street’s social media leader, HighTower doesn’t require its advisors to select tweets from a pre-approved library.
HighTower has been attracting top talent from wirehouses and other shops. The firm is open-source, multi-custodial, multi-clearing—which means advisors can do what is best for the wealthy families and institutional clients they serve. Over 30 teams of advisors operate out of headquarters plus 20 cities across the nation.
The Set Up
Some 18 months ago, the three-year-old firm was given the go-ahead by CEO Elliot Weissbluth to set up a social media program. Now, in addition to a corporate program, most advisor teams are trained and involved. In fact, the availability of social media to engage current clients, attract new ones, and build confidence is discussed during recruiting and onboarding.
Social media veteran Rob Freedman runs HighTower’s program, working closely with CMO Regina Lahsin. Freedman learned of the position on LinkedIn and, while other financial firms have been hesitant to become involved in the new,highly-regulated space, “we ran in the other direction.”
First steps were basic: securing digital real estate, thoroughly understanding what it would take to operate the program in a compliant manner, and setting up social media monitoring and intelligence gathering tools. Archiving is, of course, essential to compliant operation and after due diligence, HighTower selected SocialWare of Austin, Texas.
The corporate program incorporates the usual suspects of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. More recently, a YouTube Channel has been added. The platforms are used for listening, sentiment on the brand, and to share news and innovations. A major campaign has been to educate followers on the fiduciary standard. Unfortunately, however, there are still no links to any of the platforms on the HighTower website.
Fold In Advisors
In early Fall 2011, a pilot program of select advisors was launched. They were put through a training program that covers how to use the platforms, how compliance is involved, and what it takes to follow the rules.
“As FINRA’s rules became clearer, our social media policy became clearer,” says Freedman. “If you share content from Golf Digest, for example, it’s post-review with sampling by a compliance officer similar to email. If it’s business-related, it’s pre-review. It took us awhile to figure out the distinctions.”
The teams have the responsibility of reaching out to Freedman. He helps them build good profiles and get started connecting with money managers, current and prospective clients, and sharing content. Now about 80 percent are on LinkedIn. Twitter is used to share blog posts, white papers, as well as radio and other media appearances.
Although Google and Bing search engines are the first and second greatest source of referrals to the HighTower website, LinkedIn is number three, followed by Twitter.
“Building out social media is an important part of our advisors’ outreach plans,” says Freedman. “They have been anxious to use it.”
While so many other financial advisor firms endlessly debate the benefits of running in the social race, HighTower has taken the lead.
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SCOTT PETERSON, co-founder of Relay Station Social Media LLC, has over a decade of experience in market, securities, and regulatory communications. His firm provides strategic communications consulting, integrated Internet marketing, training, and more to a wide range of organizations.
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