Financial services firm figures out how to do social safely

Macquarie Private Wealth gets brokers up and running on LinkedIn and Twitter, with compliance officers looking over their shoulders

The freewheeling flow of information on public social media sites may cause many people in conservative, highly regulated industries such as financial services to shudder. But one Canadian firm has taken the plunge, believing its employees can use social tools in a safe and ultimately profitable way.

The benefits of using social media outweigh the regulatory overhead, said Silu Modi, vice president of digital marketing at Macquarie Private Wealth, during a session this week at the E2 conference in Boston. Benefits include the ability for Macquarie's specialised brokers "to demonstrate they really know their industry" and achieve "thought leadership" through blog posts and Twitter messages, Modi said.

In other words, brokers that develop strong social personas can help raise Macquarie's profile and bring in more business. To that end, Modi noted, 25 per cent of LinkedIn users hold senior management titles or above and 41 per cent earn six-figure salaries, he said. "If you're a private wealth firm, that's exactly what you're looking for."

But Macquarie faced some challenges in developing its social strategy. "The regulators put a nice little box around what you can do before you start a social media program," he said. For one thing, all social media activity must be captured and maintained for years, and even user profile information has get the sign-off from the compliance department, he said.

While users can still work with LinkedIn and Twitter like they'd normally do, the experience isn't quite the same as that found off the job.

Posts that brokers want to make to sites are captured and held for approval by Macquarie's compliance team, Modi said. When the social program was launched in December 2011, it typically took several hours for a post to be approved. Now that delay is down to between 15 and 45 minutes, but "can still take hours if compliance is busy," he said.

Out of thousands of social messages posted so far, however, only four have been rejected by compliance, according to Modi. In addition, the activity so far has brought in a significant amount of new business, he said.

Macquarie started out with a small pilot program and is now looking to get more of its brokers involved with social media.

But there aren't any automatic invites, he said. Candidates for the program need a clean compliance record, must write all of their own posts, and "have a solid set of information you want to convey," he said. "If you're a general advisor, it's not going to work."

Modi also issued a caution that could apply to any corporate social media effort.

"It's not going to fix what ails you," he said. "If you don't have a good marketing program ... this is not going to help at all. This is just a tool. And it's a lot of work."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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