The Long Awaited Return of Twitter's Google Juice Is Here

I joined Twitter back in October of 2007 at the urging of a PodCamp Boston presenter. For several months after that I failed to see the value in the service. My "Ah ha!" moment came when I noticed one of my friends had added a link to his Twitter profile on his email signature and I decided to explore why he would such a thing.
 


When I checked his Twitter profile I noticed that he had accumulated 600 followers. Then I googled his name. Sure enough, a link to his Twitter profile popped up on the first page of results. As I started to poke around a bit more I realized that each tweet created a unique URL. So, Google was indexing every single tweet as it would for any other page of content on the web. I immediately got it. I thought to myself:

Whoa! Twitter is Google juice!

That's right, every tweet a user posted had the potential to show up in someone's search results. That made Twitter extremely useful as a publishing tool.

Sadly, in July of 2011 Twitter decided it didn't need Google anymore for search and ended the tweet indexing relationship. At the time Twitter was riding high and some people were predicting that its real-time search results were going to put a serious hurt on Google's bottomline. 

How has Google's stock performed since Twitter canceled their tweet indexing relationship in July 2011? The chart above tells the story.

How has Google's stock performed since Twitter canceled their tweet indexing relationship in July 2011? The chart above tells the story.

Now that Twitter is a public company and scrambling to onboard new users and keep existing users engaged, they have decided that having tweets display in Google search results might not be such a bad idea after all. (Note: This is just my analysis of Twitter's likely motivation. There have been rumors that Google is in talks to acquire Twitter due to, what is considered by many as, a failure of Google+ to catch on.)

So what does the impending reappearance of tweets in Google search results mean for you and your business?

  1. Everyone can see your tweets. The big appeal of Twitter, for business, is that tweets are public people can view them and subscribe to your account with ease. The problem is not that many people actively use Twitter. A newly released Pew Research study of American social media usage revealed that only 8% of American adults use Twitter daily. (Note: 23% of American adults use Twitter. Only 36% of these people use the service daily. 23% * 36% = 8%) The average person simply has no real need for Twitter when they have Facebook for social. However, everyone uses Google. Once the tweet indexing is reactivated you can expect your tweets to reach a much wider audience.
  2. The SEO value of your tweets matter. There's only so much real estate on the first page of Google results. If Google is going to start displaying tweets there you want to be sure yours display where and for whom you would hope they would. Keywords, time, date, location, the size and relevance of your Twitter network, and the engagement of your tweets are likely to impact whether your tweets or someone else's display as a result for a given search. 
  3. Search Plus Your World is likely to be really important. About a year after Twitter terminated the tweet indexing relationship Google launched Search Plus Your World which allows you to see search results based on stuff your friends have shared on Google+ or YouTube. When Google announced the service they said they were open to including other social network results but Twitter declined. With the Twitter relationship rekindled it's a sure bet that who follows you and/or has your Twitter profile in their Google contacts will play a big role in what results display when they use the search engine.

The takeaway, Twitter might become much more important to your digital marketing strategy in 2015 and beyond. It's probably a good idea to start thinking about how you and your team will adjust your efforts.

How to Differentiate Your Financial Practice Online

It's easy to stand out in the crowd when you choose the crowd.

It's easy to stand out in the crowd when you choose the crowd.

Sometimes it's the little things that cause us the most consternation in our businesses. Of course these little things don't feel so little when they are plaguing our minds and holding us back from achieving our goals. 

I've seen the little details hold financial professionals back from fully committing to using social media in their practice more times than I can count over the years. The little things range from "I don't know what to post." to "I'm not sure I can be myself on Facebook if I'm connected to my clients." to "What if someone says something bad about me online?" and beyond. While these little things may seem trivial to you as you read them I promise you they are holding back many well established, seasoned professionals from embracing digital marketing.

Yesterday I was reminded of another little thing that I have heard frequently while working with financial advisors, insurance agents, and wholesalers. Blane Warrene, of QuonWarrene, while attending the Morningstar Investment Conference tweeted "Number one question first day of social media lounge at #MICUS - "so many on social now - how do we differentiate?" cc: @MStarAdvisor".

I had heard this concern in the past mainly as a negative reaction to the canned content libraries that many large financial firms require their financial professionals use to post to their individual social media accounts. The common lament was "How do I stand out when thousands of other advisors are posting the exact same thing to their accounts?"

While the "How do we differentiate?" question Blane reported is a much deeper concern than the frustration of having little to no flexibility in what you can publish the solution is the same. 

Focus On A Niche

The challenge of differentiation in terms of your brand or the content you share is easily resolved when you focus on a specific target market. It sounds insanely simple but this fundamental business concept is the most powerful thing you can do to stand out from the crowd.

Why? Because with a niche you are playing to a specific crowd. When you refine your target market you build your network of connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and beyond in custom fashion. Your audience is no longer the same as your competitor's so you free yourself from the anxiety of differentiation and focus on sharing content that resonates with the people you have chosen to serve.

Who cares if another guy shared a link to the same content with his followers? Who cares if every other financial advisor in the country has access to the same stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and insurance products as you do? You only care about your followers, the people on your email list, and the visitors to your site.

Focus on sharing content that is interesting, relevant, and useful to your target market and you will never have to worry about a little thing like differentiating yourself online.

The Formula for Calculating the Expected ROI of Social Media for Financial Advisors and Insurance Agents

The “What's the ROI of social media?” question has been a topic of debate, analysis and discussion ever since marketers started making the case for business use of social networks. The reason the conversation on social media ROI persists is that for most businesses it is relatively difficult to get even a reasonable approximation of the true financial impact of social.

That’s why Gary Vaynerchuk’s famous “What’s the ROI of Your Mother?” portion of the talk he gave at Inc 500 in 2011 resonated so loudly throughout the digital marketing community and is still referenced today. Social media marketing, by its very nature is about interacting with people and there will be a lot of time and energy invested in what may often look like non-business related engagement. This is no different than going to real life networking events or belonging to a local BNI or Rotary Club chapter. In these offline social networking activities you know that you will eventually get new business from them but you just don’t know exactly when or how much business that may be. Yet, very few financial professionals question the value of networking time invested within their local community.

In my experience the reasons many financial advisors and insurance agents question the ROI of social media in their practice are a sense that their target market isn’t using social and the belief that social media usage will be a huge time suck. The first objection is an easy one to overcome with data. Over 70% of all adult Americans use social networks regularly and the numbers get much higher than that in younger segments. More importantly, 90% of high net worth individuals are using social routinely. The time objection is really a lack of appreciation for the value potential of social media usage. If advisors and agents really knew how many potential new clients and how much impact regular engagement with their existing clients might have on their book of business they’d make it a priority.

In this post I am going to share a simple formula with you for calculating the expected ROI of your social media engagement as a financial professional.

social media roi formula

 

The “as a financial professional” caveat is there for a very specific reason by the way. Most of what is written about social media ROI is written for marketers at large brands or enterprises that are dealing with customer populations in the tens of thousands or even millions. But as a financial advisor or insurance agent your business is unique to you. You are the brand. Your clients are doing business with you. Even if you work for a large wire house or are affiliated with larger firm the client sees you as their “guy” or “gal”.

While the big brands and enterprises talk about "client relationships" and  "engaging with the customer” you live and die by relationships. And social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and so on are the most powerful relationship management tools in the history of business. It’s the power of these tools to make it efficient for you the advisor or agent to manage a very large number of relationships with prospects, clients and referral partners that makes it easy to craft a predictive model for the financial return you’ll see from your social media efforts.

The formula looks like this:

  • C x E% x W% x R x Y = Revenue
  • T + P + Ed = Investment
  • (Revenue - Investment) / Investment = ROI

Before we move on the components of the formula I want to touch on one thing real quick. There is a legitimate case to be made that ROI is not an appropriate measure for evaluating social media marketing spend. The reason being is marketing is an expense not an investment. Sean Jackson, CFO of Copyblogger, cowrote a fantastic post titled "There is No ROI in Social Media Marketing” that really articulates argument well. You should read it. As a financial professional you’ll love it. But…finish reading this post first because this one is going to make a huge impact on your business.

Okay…onto the formula components for your social media ROI calculation:

C = Connections

Connections are what make a network work. Especially connections to people in your target market. The expected value of your social media marketing efforts is driven mostly by the quality and scale of the network of connections you have. It sounds so obvious but you would be absolutely amazed at how often I have heard a financial professional tell me that “social media just isn’t working for me” and I take a look at their LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles and none of them have more that 100 connections. If you want to build a large book of business you are going to have to connect with people. Lots of people. Lots of high quality people.

If you are an adult living in America you have almost certainly met thousands of people over the course of your life so far. Many of those people are high quality connections who may someday be in the need of your services as an advisor or agent. Many more will have the opportunity to refer business to you. The easiest way for these people to stay connected with you and for you to not lose touch with them is to connect with them via their preferred social network.

Size matters when it comes to your network. You would never think that you could build a profitable book of business by sending a mailing to only 100 people or only talking your close friends and family right? Of course not. Success with social media begins and ends with your network. Make it a serious priority to add lots of high quality connections.

E% = Events Percentage

The business of financial advisors and insurance agents is largely event driven. As I have often said from stage when speaking to financial professionals:

Not everyone you meet is in the market for your services right now. But eventually most of them will be. So you need to be paying attention to their life to notice when those events happen.

People use social networks to broadcast major life events to their connections. Sure there’s a lot of selfies, food porn and cat videos but the money in motion events are there too. Your connections will update Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and  more with news of job changes, marriage, divorce, new babies, new homes, new cars, death in the family, and just about any other major life event you can imagine. You have the ability to be in the loop for every potential 401k rollover, 529 plan or insurance policy needed simply by connecting with people via social networks and paying attention.

The paying attention part is important. Digital marketing professionals call this part “listening.” You are listening to your network for updates that indicate a need for your assistance.

Now, the reality is not every member of your network is going to have a money in motion event each year. Some percentage of your network will however. What that percentage is will vary by network composition. Certain segments might change jobs more frequently or be in prime childbearing years while others might be in preretirement. But you can make an assumption and test it against actual activity over time. For example, you might assume that 20% of the people you are connected with will change jobs in a given year. Seem too high? Too low? You can test it via LinkedIn’s Year in Review application. When I run it for my network I see that 203 people out of the 959 that I am connected to on LinkedIn changed jobs or got promoted at work. That’s about 21%.

Assuming an even distribution across a 48 work week year that would be 4 prospects to reach out to per week about a potential 401k rollover, financial plan, or discussion about life insurance. How would your business change with four new qualified leads per week?

Of course we know that you aren’t going to win the business of all of these people with life events in a given year. Some will already have an advisor or be “all good” with insurance. Some will not be the right clients for you because they fail to meet your asset minimum. This leads us to the next formula component.

W% =  Win Percentage

What is your win percentage? How often do you convert a prospect into a client? Here again it is going to vary based on the quality of your network and your ability to close business.

Let’s say that 50% of the people who have money in motion events in your network are true prospects and are in the market for the services you provide. Great! Now, let’s say that you have an average close rate of 50% on qualified prospects. This translates into a win percentage of 25% on connections with money in motion events discovered via social media. If we continued my LinkedIn Year In Review numbers from above we would expect you to close 25% of the 203 people who changed jobs during the year resulting in about 51 new client relationships for the year.

Now things are starting to get exciting. But how exciting? Let’s go to the next formula component to put some dollar signs on this opportunity.

R = Revenue Per Client Annually

In this formula component I am going to keep things really simple to make it easy for you to convert the math to your revenue model. There are just far too many fee and commission schedule variants in the financial industry to cover. I’m going to use an asset management fee approach that is common for RIAs which is what I am most familiar with given my background in investment management.

Let’s assume that each new client, on average, will open an account with $100,000 and you earn 1% annually on assets under management. That’s a revenue stream of $1,000/year for each new client. It’s a small amount but again, adjust as you see fit.

Y = Years Per Client

Most financial clients have a multi-year lifetime relationship with their chosen financial professional. If your business is transactional in nature this number would be 1. But for most advisors and agents client relationships will continue to generate revenue annually.

Here again you will need to make an assumption or use actual numbers from your practice. I am also going to keep things super simple and avoid using a net present value of an annuity stream for this number. Feel fee to do that if you want but personally I don’t think that level of precision is needed in this process.

Let’s assume you keep a client for 7 years on average. I chose that number because I used to work for a very large financial firm with a huge retail client population and that was average client lifetime according to actual data over 60+ years and millions of clients. Results may vary on your end.

Revenue

Okay, here we go…ready?! Below is the revenue formula based on the numbers I shared above.

959 Connections x 21% Events x 25% Win x $1,000 Revenue Per Client x 7 Years = $352,432 in New Revenue

Key things to remember:

  • This is the result of your first year’s efforts with social media marketing.
  • Imagine how your practice might be transformed over the course of a few years.
  • We are keeping things super simple here and avoiding any discussions about social media strategy and tactics.
  • If you want to learn how to make this new revenue stream a reality the courses on finservMarketing will help.

Investment

Once again, we’ll categorize these expenses as investments to keep on track with the ROI theme but as a matter of business management these are marketing & advertising, education and service expenses.

T = Time

Your time is valuable and it certainly should be considered as should the time of any employee tasked with social media management on behalf of your firm. The one important note here however is to avoid over allocation of time spend on social media as cost associated with your business. Be efficient and purposeful with your efforts and consider only the costs of business activity.

Over the course of a year you may spend, on average, 5 hours per week adding connections, scanning updates, reviewing alerts, publishing content, commenting and reaching out to prospects via social channels. Again, as a matter of practicality this time is no different than attending networking events, using email or making phone calls but for purposes of this exercise let’s quantify it.

In keeping with our simple theme let’s use an hourly rate of $100. Now I know a lot of top producers have effective hourly rates that are many multiples of this figure and that’s fine. If that’s the case you would also adjust the average client account size above in the "Revenue Per Client Annually” component as well.

At $100/hour and 5 hours a week spent on business use of social media over the course of a 48 week work year your time investment would be $24,000 for the year.

P = Paid Marketing

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, your business is dramatically different than many businesses using social media to attract customers. Your business is based on relationships. As a result your expected paid marketing expense is likely to be very low compared to most businesses. Below are a few out of pocket expenses you will likely have as you begin to make social a priority in your practice:

  • Social Media Management Solution - As a regulated professional you are going to need a solution that ensures your activity meets compliance standards. Social media activity of a business nature, like all electronic communication, must be archived for record keeping and be supervisable by appropriate management and your compliance team. There are several solutions available at a variety of price points depending on your business structure and firm affiliation. If you are an independent professional with full autonomy over your regulatory responsibilities you should explore HootSuite or RegEd’s Arkovi system. If you are affiliated with a larger firm that has compliance supervisory authority over your practice you will likely be using Hearsay or Actiance. The annual price for these solutions range from $100 to $500 per user for the year.
  • LinkedIn Premium Account - Of the four major social networks, LinkedIn is the only one that offers premium solutions. You can get a lot done with a free account but there are a few features that make having a premium account worth it. Prices of premium accounts range from $100 to $900 per user per year.
  • Social Media Advertising - While you can certainly feel free to experiment with ads on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to increase your fans and followers, I’m not convinced this is the best investment for a financial professional at least in the early stages of building your practice. Once you have scaled your client base it may begin to make sense to take advantage of the social graph advertising options available on the major networks but you should expect your spend to be relatively low. Let’s say $1,200 a year for ads maybe. Note: Ads are also a challenge because they will need to be pre-reviewed by compliance.

Altogether you may have a maximum out of pocket spend of $2,600 for the year on paid marketing.

Ed - Education

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one.

The price of education is either paid through years of experience in trial and error or it’s paid in the form of hiring a professional who will share his knowledge, skills and wisdom. This is the value proposition of hiring a financial professional and it is the value proposition for finservMarketing as well.

Coming up to speed on social media marketing, and more broadly digital marketing, can take quite a bit of time. Our goal is to shorten that timeframe dramatically with easy to follow video tutorials and live webinars at a price point that is approachable for financial professionals at any stage of business development. We’ll take the guess work out of your social media marketing efforts and give you actionable strategies that produce results.

A year of finservMarketing courses might cost about $1,000, depending on how many courses you take.

Important Note: Your firm will likely require you to attend compliance training on the dos and don’ts of social media. If you operate an independent firm you should ensure all of your licensed professionals complete social media compliance training.

Investment Equation

Now let’s put together the investment (actually expense) side of the equation.

$24,000 Time + $2,600 Paid Marketing + $1,000 Education = $27,600 Investment

Key things to remember:

  • The time expense is really a managerial accounting expense. Unless you hire an individual specifically for the task of managing your social media efforts this expense is not likely cash expenditure.
  • This “investment” is a single year expenditure of effort and expense that generated the multi-year revenue stream above. Of course you will continue to invest in your social media marketing efforts in future years but in each year the investment/expense should be evaluated on their own merit.

Putting It All Together To Calculate Your ROI

($352,432 New Revenue - $27,600 Investment) / $27,600 Investment = 1,177% Return on Investment

That is is a pretty exciting number for any business. What makes it so realistic is the very nature of the business model of a modern financial professional. You build your business on relationships and as a matter of course traditional marketing expense is very low, compared to other businesses, while recurring revenue is the norm.

The numbers look pretty solid even if we only include the first year’s new revenue of $50,347. In that case you would still realize an 82% ROI. As a general rule, if you produced an 82% return to your clients in a year they would be very happy customers.

Conclusion

The point of this in-depth exploration of social media ROI was to empower you with a process for evaluating social media usage for your business. Too often advisors, agents and wholesalers shrug off social as being a waste of time and not worthy of their attention. But as you discovered here, social is almost tailor made for the way financial professionals do business.

If you have questions or would like to dig a little deeper on this or any other topic please let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Shorten the Sales Cycle for Financial Advisors and Insurance Agents

There is a big challenge that every financial advisor and insurance agent is likely to face in building a practice. It's a challenge that few people in the industry talk about yet it is one of the most significant factors contributing to the high washout rates for new professionals entering the financial services field.

The sales cycles for financial advisors and insurance agents is very long.

Time Image

It is not uncommon for it to take several months or even a few years to convert a prospect to a client. To a person who has never been a financial advisor or an agent this may seem absurd but the reality is there are real fundamental reasons for why it takes so long to bring on new client relationships. Some of these reasons are structural in nature and beyond the control of the advisor or agent but others are easily manageable by employing new processes and leveraging the wealth of digital solutions available to modern financial professionals.

The goal of this post is to help financial professionals (and the broker-dealers, wire houses, and insurance carriers who rely on these individuals) dramatically shorten the time it takes to create a profitable and sustainable book of business.

To get a better idea of what an advisor or agent can do to speed things up let's break down some of the factors contributing to the long sales cycle for new financial clients.

Structural Reasons for Long Sales Cycles - Limited Control Items

  • Booking the Initial Meeting - Oh for the good old days where rooms full of stockbrokers where making cold calls to sell prospects on the latest hot stock that they just had to get in on before it skyrockets. Things were much easier then. No need to schedule a meeting to talk to the prospect about his goals and risk tolerance and so on. Build a relationship?! Relationships were built on picking good stocks. The world is different now. Advisors and agents need to meet with a prospect first to explore their needs. To make matters worse, affluent and wealthy prospects are typically very busy and it can take weeks to get on their calendar.
  • Developing a Plan - Once the initial meeting has taken place the financial professional needs to plug everything he's learned into the system and craft a plan that fits the prospect's needs and goals. Technology has already made this process pretty quick but you can still expect it to take a few days and revisions.
  • Booking the Follow Up Meeting - Ideally this meeting was scheduled at the conclusion of the initial meeting. Remember this phrase "book a meeting from the meeting" never leave the prospect without knowing when you'll see him or her next. Like the initial meeting, this can take weeks and it isn't uncommon for it to be rescheduled.
  • Booking a Second Follow Up Meeting -This happens more often than any financial professional would like to admit. The prospect wants to explore adjusting the plan or has also met with a competing advisor or any number of other reasons. The best thing to do in this situation is learn from it. Pay close attention to why this meeting is happening at all. If it is something fixable in the process be sure to fix it.
  • Application Processing Time - This is getting shorter but there is still an insane amount of paperwork required to establish a new account, initiate a transfer or assets (TOA) or rollover request, set up electronic bank transfers and then comes the waiting for funds to clear once the dust settles. If you are lucky and there's a reasonable amount of electronic exchange of information you might see the relationship established within 10 days. Of course if there is a form returned as NIGO (not in good order) or there is a 401(k) rollover that needs to be processed it could be over a month.
  • Underwriting Time - New life insurance policies or long-term care coverage? Wow! That's going to take a couple of months.

Process Reasons for Long Sales Cycles - Controllable Items

  • Life Events Dictate Timing - Not everyone an advisor or agents meets is in the market for his services right now. Eventually many people will be. Unfortunately, there's really no way of know when "eventually" will happen. The affluent Senior Vice President an advisor meets today may stay at her at her current company for another five years. That means she won't be ready to rollover her $1 million dollar 401k account until then. If she could she certainly give the advisor her business but at the moment she has relatively little in the way of investible assets. There are few things to do here to improve the overall sales cycle:
    1. Increase Your Pool of Prospects - Think of this process as being similar to creating a bond ladder. Only this ladder is a bit random in nature. Not every prospect is going to mature into a client at the same time. So, the trick is to have a lot of prospects in the mix.
    2. Stay Connected - Losing touch with a quality prospect is like losing touch with tens of thousands of dollars. It should never happen. Staying connect means you will always be at the top of the prospect's consideration set for their business in the future. It also means you aren't leaving things to chance. You should know when that SVP you met five years ago changes jobs.
    3. Take Their Small Business Now - If you have identified a high potential prospect find a way to make them a client now. Why leave the future up to chance? Aren't client relationships supposed to be lifelong? If you think this client is going to grow over the years why not lock them up now? Many firms have asset minimums and that makes sense on an ongoing basis but if there is a case where you have a high degree of confidence that a prospect will grow into the asset minimum in the not too distant future...bring the client on.
  • Lack of a Target Market - The first course we produced on finservMarketing is focused on the importance of having a target market. Every business in the world needs to be able to answer the question "Who is your customer?" and yet the majority of financial advisors and insurance agents have given the notion little thought. As a result their marketing efforts are random and generalist in nature. The most successful financial professionals know exactly who they are looking for and their entire business is designed to serve that client niche. Having a well defined target market makes everything about your business more efficient. Including your sales cycle.

The most important things a financial professional can do to shorten the sales cycle in his practice are to develop a target market, spend a lot of time developing prospects within that target market, and get really good at managing the meeting and onboarding process. As his practice matures it will develop a momentum of its own and sales cycle time will be less of a concern. But until then, every effort should be made to speed things up.