Back in late 2002 I began thinking about running an experiment with financial advisers to see if they would use an online group on a social networking platform to interact and engage with each other – a kind of industry watercooler.
To put this into context, you need to bear in mind that in 2002, social media as we know it today didn’t exist. Yes, people were communicating with each other on a few platforms (Ecademy, MSN Messenger, Friendster), but the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al were still but digital twinkles in entrepreneurs’ eyes.
Xing and LinkedIn were the first big networks out of the blocks in 2003, both of which broadly modelled what Ecademy had been doing since 1998, though Ecademy never really got the recognition it deserved as essentially the world’s first B2B social networking platform.
So I created a group on Ecademy (much like a group that you might find on LinkedIn or Facebook today), and I invited some of the more tech-savvy IFAs I knew to join, where they could network, share best practice, exchange ideas, moan about providers, get marketing ideas and more. Having spent the previous twenty years with the likes of NEL (broadly now UNUM) and Zurich Life, I knew that most IFAs only generally networked with each other by accident – at industry awards, exhibitions, provider events etc. But now there was a new way for financial advisers to network with each other twenty-four hours a day should they want to.
Turns out that a great many did want to
Our little online community for financial advisers soon reached four hundred members, and then plateaued because there just weren’t any more advisers out there who were ready to take a plunge into the world of social networking. Very few advisers even had a website – let alone profiles on social networking sites. So we created another version of the group on LinkedIn and also on its own standalone website, and slowly but surely more and more advisers started to join.
Fast-forward to 2020 and our LifeTalk community for advisers has a presence on LinkedIn with 7,100 members, Facebook with 2,080 members and a brandnew marketing and lead generation focused group on the Mighty Networks platform. IFAs still use the groups in the same way – to network, share best practice and to provide help and support to one another, but it’s not surprising that conversations have recently turned towards more pressing matters such as COVID-19.
There are occasionally tensions too. In any online community in any industry you will see some individuals standing out from the crowd for the wrong reasons, but over the years, members of LifeTalk have rarely caused us too many moderation issues. Since 2003, we have only ever had to ban two members, though since the Coronavirus started to take hold in the UK, we’ve not surprisingly seen the occasional bout of ‘tetchiness’ amongst one or two members as stresses begin to surface.
Most members first thoughts have been to their clients, and our groups have seen a never-ending stream of helpful suggestions on the best way to communicate with clients during this uncertain period.
But tetchiness can also be a sign of underlying anxiety, and it’s clear that many financial advisers who rely on a steady supply of leads or referrals will struggle. Several advisers within larger advice firms have privately told me that leads have completely dried up.
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