Spotlight on Actiance’s Joanna Belbey: Social Media for Financial Firms

belbeyJoanna Belbey is known as one of the ladies of #socialmediafin, i.e. social media and finance, in New York City. Today, she works as the social media and compliance specialist for Actiance Inc., an enterprise social business solution provider for regulated industries. ClickZ met with her to shed some light on who she is and on financial institutions’ use of social media.

Belbey’s original background is in marketing: She has 20 years of B2B marketing under her belt, working for firms delivering services (primarily training) to the financial services arena.

She worked at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, also known as FINRA. There, Belbey was on the marketing team and managed the development of 300 educational events a year. While there, she learned about compliance and “became profoundy respectful of what the regulators were trying to do to protect the investors.”

Fast-forward to today: “I’m very social – a little too much on social, people tell me,” Belbey confesses.

Funnily enough, how Belbey came to social media is pretty much the same as everyone else: through friends in marketing who told her she needed to familiarize herself with this new medium. Which she did, five years ago. While on vacation in Vietnam, she started tweeting her breakfast and small elements of her days, until she grew fond of the channel as a poetic outlet.

In an adventurous move, Belbey left FINRA to run her own training business: she offered training on how to use social media while complying with rules and regulations. At a trade event, she met Actiance, who was to become her next employer after she applied via Twitter. “Someone from Actiance tweeted they were looking for a social media and compliance person in New York. I tweeted back ‘done.’ We went through the recruiting process and I was hired in August 2011.”

Belbey recommends mixing personal and professional social content – as long as you check that you have the green light from your employers. She says being helpful is the leading editorial line. What she does for her personal Twitter account, @Belbey, is pick 10 pieces of content every night, which she schedules for the next day. She also loves to live-tweet events she attends, and always makes sure she shares pictures of the stage and speakers. For LinkedIn, she shares two to three pieces of content a day, and as for Facebook, she keeps it private – that space is reserved for personal connections only. For all of the scheduled content, she uses Feedly as her source.

As for professional accounts, financial services firms typically use social media on a corporate level first. 

“They may leverage existing content and make it ‘snackable’ for use on social media,” says Belbey. For example, she says, firms might use a 30-page analyst report and break it down into 30 separate tweets, all linking back to the original report. Or, they might use existing brochures and articles that may already appear on their websites. According to Belbey, in some firms, this approach has led to the creation of new content specifically for social media. In this case, firms may tap internal writers or work with outside content providers. “Typically, a corporate editorial calendar is crafted in a way that reflects the brand,” she says.

“As a next step, financial services firms may elect to allow their registered persons (financial advisors or producers) to access social media in a ‘read-only’ mode,” explains Belbey. In other words, she says, advisors and producers may use social media for research and prospecting, but not interact with anyone on the native social media sites themselves. This initial approach has already proven successful. “Advisors in the ‘read only’ mode can attract new business and new accounts, as it allows one to see ‘money in motion’ or ‘life events’ such as accepting a new job, getting married, moving, having a baby – all perfect times to offer appropriate financial products,” says Belbey. In this mode, she continues, advisors see the opportunity online and then use other means (such as email or the phone) to reach out to the prospect.

Once companies begin to see success by only allowing a “read only” view, some decide to allow their registered persons to share content online, and even perhaps, to interact in real-time, Belbey explains. “In this case, firms typically create a library of pre-approved content that their employees may use as well as train their employees on how to use social media appropriately,” she says.

One important note: “Due to the regulatory requirements of the financial industry, firms tend to work with a third party to record all the business electronic communications on social media (record keeping), to make sure the content is pre-approved and appropriate (advertising), and to evidence that they are supervising the electronic communications of their registered persons (supervision).”

Finally, with regards to the biggest challenge for financial firms in terms of the use of social media and content, Belbey says, “In my opinion, the true challenge is making adoption of social media a priority for the firm. At this point, firms have received enough guidance from the regulators to interpret industry rules and regulations. There are third parties available for training, adoption, and content development. And of course, there are technology platforms available to keep firms in compliance. In other words, the major risks have been mitigated. It just becomes an issue of when the benefits outweigh the risks and cost of adopting social media. Once we begin to see demonstrable ROI, we will see broader adoption of social media by financial services firms.”

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