Advisers told not to overstep the mark on social media

17 January 2013

Social media may help to build strong professional relationships - but it is crucial for financial advisers to have in place an online strategy to avoid overstepping personal boundaries with their clients.

For The Humble Investor director Colin Williams it comes down to knowing your core market and targeting the demographic most active on social media.

While there is always the potential for crossing the personal line, Williams said most clients are quite savvy about what they choose to post and are often required to 'connect' with someone or change their privacy settings before a planner can even view their online profile.

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He said LinkedIn possibly gave advisers the best opportunity to stay in touch during a significant event for the client.

"It's a great opportunity to give a client a call or send them a quick email to say congratulations on a new job or new qualification," he said.

Wealth Enhancers managing director Sarah Riegelhuth said sites like Facebook tend to be more 'private' in nature and although she has connections to some clients via her personal page, she would not necessarily encourage her advisers to do the same.

"Advisers should use social media as they would use any other form of communication with a client, be that telephone or email. You really need to gauge the type of relationship the client wants to have with their adviser," she said.

Richard Dunkerely, head of marketing for Zurich Australia's life and investments business, added advisers need to display the consistent business acumen they would maintain in any other interactions with clients.

"Ultimately, as with email, clients can always 'opt out', although the preference is that they don't feel forced to, which means striking the right balance of 'getting to know me' and 'here's the reason you pay me to be your adviser'," he said.

Riegelhuth said it's important to be reactive and conversational when it comes to business Facebook and Twitter accounts. This means responding promptly if you are generating interest, she said.

Experience Wealth Advice director Steve Crawford said the general rule of thumb he promotes to his staff is to default to professional communication if there is any doubt that their social media activity could potentially reflect negatively on the business or themselves as financial professionals.

He said having a robust social media policy in place is key to maintaining the professional and personal dividing line.

Crawford added that he does not send 'friend requests' to his clients as it can appear pushy on the part of the business, but rather he allows his clients to instigate the process.

"You always let them set the agenda in terms of how you're going to interact with them in this space, and the real skill is interacting with them on the level that they're most comfortable with. Make sure you know - before they know - when you could be potentially crossing a line, and just don't do it," he said.

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