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How to Make Social Media Work for You

Social media is just a tool.

Carl Richards, 10/10/2013

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of MorningstarAdvisor magazine.

I don’t consider myself a social media expert, so I hesitated going down this path of offering advice about social media. However, so many of you have asked me through email and at conferences about how I handle social media that I want to address what seems to be the most common question: How do I make social media work for me?

When I talk to advisors, I get the sense there’s a lot of pressure to embrace social media. So, my first suggestion is a simple one: Relax. Take a deep breath and ignore the guru whispering in your ear. Then, put social media in context. It’s a collection of tools and channels that are now available to you. It is not, however, the solution to every problem.

The goal of social media, like many of the other business tools you use, is to make it easier for ideas to spread.The good news is that you and I are in the ideas business. We’re all about helping people make good decisions about money. So, if my suggestion is to relax, how can you do that and use these tools? Start by asking a different question. If the goal is to spread ideas with social media, then you need to consider what makes an idea spreadable. Social media might make it easier for an idea to spread, but it doesn’t automatically make a so-so idea better, which leads to my next suggestion.

Questions from advisors will sometimes focus on this idea of shortcuts. Is there a faster way to spread my ideas? Shortcuts may work in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable in the longer term. The only things I’ve seen work consistently follow three steps:

1. Create interesting stuff. We need to provide people with an experience that they think is worth sharing.Lucky for us, the bar isn’t that high in our industry. We work in an industry where honesty is a competitive advantage. So, find ways to demonstrate that you’ll treat your clients with the same care that you treat your mom. You will be noticed.

2. Make it easy to share. People will share if you make it both easy and clear why they’re sharing. For example, instead of saying at the end of an email, “Please share,” consider: “You may know someone who is dealing with this same issue. If you think it will help, feel free to forward this email, and let me know if you have questions about a specific situation.” See the difference? In one, you’re asking for something. In the second, you’re offering help and making it clear how they can share. It seems like a small thing, and yet it goes a long way.

3. Repeat.

The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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