Super bloggers with real street cred are the missing ingredient for casting a Web net

January 11, 2013 — 5:28 AM UTC by Lisa Shidler


Brooke’s Note: I’m a huge skeptic of social media strategies. See: Early adopters of social media, RIAs are growing disenchanted with its power to drum up new business. But this one seems to be showing results. I think an obvious reason it’s working is because it’s about people with quality ideas at its core. In short, BAM Alliance hires bloggers with killer Google page ratings who get found by the smart set that do independent research on the web. If these smart people are then affiliated with an RIA and that information flows through social media — then a virtuous cycle is created.

Buckingham Asset Management LLC is doubling down on the marketing approach that’s already helped it nab 50 flush Facebook clients. See: Why sudden wealth at Facebook is gushing into a $17-billion RIA and triggered a merger of two DFA giants.

The St. Louis-based firm with an office in Silicon Valley recently announced that it had brought aboard bestselling author and financial blogger Dan Solin as part of the BAM Alliance, the overall group that includes both Buckingham’s TAMP and RIA. Solin is known for writing the “Smartest” series of books including “The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read” and “The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read.” He also writes a weekly blog for The Huffington Post and U.S. News and World Report.

One growth strategy of Focus Financial Partners”: largest RIA has been to bring over media darlings who have access to tens of thousands of affluent investors through national blogs and websites — that Google loves. See: Gathering assets with long tails: Exactly how RIAs of any size can market with the big boys with 'Google Love’.

As a bonus, Buckingham’s outreach team networks with its current clients. See: Buckingham Asset Management creates a structure with Focus Financial that enables it to roll-up the 120 RIAs that entrust it with $13 billion of DFA TAMP assets.

Three blogging amigos

A year ago, the firm brought on author and blogger Carl Richards. Already on board was Buckingham principal Larry Swedroe, who writes a blog for and has penned more than a dozen books including, “Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett: The Winning Strategy to Help You Achieve Your Financial and Life Goals.” See: RIA items of interest: Mag Black-Scott expands beyond Beverly Hills and BAM adds an advisor who contributes to The New York Times.

“Between the three of us, our access to digital marketplace is pretty broad,” Solin says. “The digital marketplace is the great leveler. It doesn’t take a lot of money to write a blog. The three of us are blogging so broadly, and between the three of us we’ve written more than 20 books and we’re all conveying the same message — that there’s a better and more responsible way to invest.”

Golden ticket

Buckingham CEO Adam Birenbaum says these media stars help the firm lure big clients and that it couldn’t have carved out its niche among Facebook employees if it hadn’t been for the national media presence that allowed those prized prospective clients to learn about the RIA through Internet searches. See: How RIAs can maximize their web marketing with nary a 'friend-ing’ or tweet.

Dan Solin: Between the three of us, our access to digital marketplace is pretty broad.
Dan Solin: Between the three of
us, our access to digital marketplace
is pretty broad.

The BAM Alliance has more than $17 billion in assets, having added more than $5 billion in the last two years alone.

“We don’t think it’s happening anywhere else. We wouldn’t have had the Facebook opportunity if it weren’t for Larry Swedroe spreading our message,” Birenbaum says. “We can’t compete with the wirehouses’ brand because they have unlimited funds in that area, but we can compete against them with our own educators, who are basically spokespeople for the movement we’re trying to develop.”

Third-party credibility

Advisors who have national blog posts on well-respected websites can observe results immediately, says Joe Anthony, senior vice president at public relations firm Gregory FCA Communications. Using a tool such as Google Analytics on an RIA’s site will typically show spikes when an advisor is featured in a national site or appears on television.

“The secondary peaks are often the days when the article or video is promoted on their blog/website after it runs,” he says. “The clients see the tangible evidence of the power of a real media presence. Better yet, they see that more people are taking the time to visit their website to see what they are about.”

Anthony points out that what is important about getting publicity on business news websites such as that of The Wall Street Journal is that they help RIAs gain authority.

“In the RIA world, what is often lost is the fact that the aura of 'third-party credibility’ — being seen as credible authority by a respected source — cannot be replicated or conferred by your own blog or Facebook page alone. That is still best accomplished by real media coverage, with things like social media and blogging to support/amplify that,” he adds.

Joe Anthony: Being seen as credible authority by a respected source ... cannot be replicated or conferred by your own blog or Facebook page.
Joe Anthony: Being seen as credible
authority by a respected source …
cannot be replicated or conferred by
your own blog or Facebook page.

Zero to 50 in 12

Buckingham went from having no Facebook clients a year ago to having 50 currently, and the Silicon Valley influx helped Buckingham close its merger with Cupertino, Calif.-based RIA Founders Financial Network LLC. See: Could engineers be the answer to the RIA talent shortage?.

Birenbaum hopes this media strategy will draw more ultrawealthy Silicon Valley clients to the firm. They appreciate hearing from national thought leaders, says Joe Goldberg, director of business development and a principal at Buckingham.

“They like knowing that we’re expanding our reach. There are few voices that have as broad of appeal as Larry Swedroe, Carl Richards and Dan Solin. We’re trying to corner the market with these three great guys.”

How Facebook clients are feeling now

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the firm’s Facebook clients since the social media site’s April IPO. The stock price started out at $38 a share and most Facebook employees had to wait at least six months before they could sell. By then the price had fallen to about $22 a share. The stock has since risen to $31 a share. See: RIABiz’ 10 most-read stories of 2012: What fascinated you and why.

Some of the Facebook clients wanted to cash out all of their stock after six months and others chose to cash out only parts of it. “Some of them sold to pay off debt and buy a house, and kept some positions.” Goldberg says. “The people who sold everything would have had at least 30% more if they waited.”

Joe Goldberg: I can tell you that all of the [Facebook] clients who sold everything don't have any regrets.
Joe Goldberg: I can tell you
that all of the [Facebook] clients
who sold everything don’t have any

Even so, he emphasizes that none of the Facebook clients who sold their stock came out losers. They were, after all realizing a huge amount of money any way you looked at it.

“It’s amazing because there were some people who sold shares as quickly as they could and others who have waited,” Goldberg says. “I can’t put myself in their shoes today, but can tell you that all of the clients who sold everything don’t have any regrets.”

Wealth being created

Goldberg says many of Buckingham’s Facebook clients are already leaving for other start-ups. In order to attract more Silicon Valley prospects, Buckingham is holding seminars at its Cupertino office about every four to six weeks.

“We feel there is significant opportunity with all of the wealth being created to increase our presence there,” Goldberg says. “About 25% of the clients we were working with have already left and gone to another start-up. The rest are waiting for one of their last vesting dates and they’ll go somewhere else. Who knows where the next company will be with a liquidity opportunity. We hope we can continue the momentum we’ve built with the current Facebook clients.” See: 19-advisor firm in Santa Monica jumps to LPL with social media-fueled strategy for the underserved under-40 set.

Mentioned in this article:

Gregory FCA Communications
Public Relations Firm, Marketing Firm, Blog/Social Networking Tool
Top Executive: Joe Anthony

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Elmer Rich III said:

January 26, 2013 — 2:08 PM UTC

The claim that data, evidence and standards of professional proof are out of place in financial services and professional investment advice is telling but unsupportable for any profession — and probably presents legal liability.


Brooke Southall said:

January 26, 2013 — 12:22 AM UTC


I like data but in a business like ours, we don’t always have that luxury and this is a business of qualitative and quantitative factors.

People who want all data all the time in this business may have missed their calling. They might be better suited for a field like biotechnology where you don’t even get up to the plate until you have stage four clinical trials stretched out across decades.



Elmer Rich III said:

January 25, 2013 — 11:52 PM UTC

No, like an advisor needs to have evidence to make professional recommendations and results that can be replicated, so marketers need to have proof – well beyond one case.

If there is not hard data backing up any recommendations and opinions, why spend time on anything? Swapping opinions and stories isn’t professional information exchange.


Aaron J. Courtney said:

January 25, 2013 — 9:35 PM UTC

Hey Elmer – that will be pretty easy; all it takes is one contact to become aware of a firm’s brand due to social media – there’s your increase. It’s going to be much more difficult to actually quantify that relationship, which is why I didn’t even try.

I’m not saying to spend hours maintaining a social presence – quite the opposite. Read the articles I’ve written on the subject and you’ll see that’s not what i’m advocating. What I advocate is to use a web 2.0 development framework with actual content creation and then tag social on to the backend of those efforts.


Elmer Rich III said:

January 25, 2013 — 5:30 PM UTC

The facts are that these kinds of claims are common but conjecture. There simply is no evidence that somed is engaging at all, especially for anyone but 20 somethings, let alone that it leads to buying behavior – even in B2C let alone professional B2B.

The biggest marketing problem we see is “cost of sales” not being a line item in the budget. All firms disinvest in sales and growth – that’s the industry culture.

In addition, there is accumlating research that somed has little business impact.

Please provide data to support “The fact that social media will almost always increase brand awareness via social sharing”.


Aaron J. Courtney said:

January 25, 2013 — 4:27 AM UTC

When you begin to look at social media as a distributive conduit for your intellectual capital used to increase client engagement, then everything tends to fall into proper place. The fact that social media will almost always increase brand awareness via social sharing is simply icing on the cake. I’ve spent the past 20 years embedded in the RIA community and the single biggest marketing-related problem I’ve seen present at the vast majority of firms is their inability to get their intellectual capital outside the firm’s four walls. And this is why coupling content/digital media creation for inbound marketing purposes with social media is the killer combo today, especially considering the proliferation of mobile device usage.

Of course, then you have the multitude of real-time communication possibilities provided by social like G+ hangouts and YT hangouts on air. Throw in some live streaming media sessions when appropriate and now you’ve essentially become a broadcaster – all for an infinitesimal investment compared with the legacy broadcast technologies the major networks are stuck with. We are living in exciting times!


Elmer Rich III said:

January 22, 2013 — 8:32 PM UTC

Here’s a little science of social media.

Professionals of all stripes need to learn and change our communications styles to better fit what is memorable to our brains.

“Effortless chatter is better than well-crafted sentences at tapping into our minds’ basic language capacities—because human brains evolved to prioritize and remember unfiltered information from social interaction.”

For good or ill, there is evidence that the casual, conversation and somewhat offhand style of social media is actually most adapted to how our brains naturally take in information. It makes the most memorable kind of communications!

More on this research here:


Elmer Rich III said:

January 15, 2013 — 8:07 PM UTC

There is a report out from SEI and Standard Charter Bank called FutureWealthy. One of the findings is that:

“Wealthier Clients Demand More Communication
Donald Jay Korn Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The more wealth a client has, the more time they spend communicating–and that includes communications with their financial advisors.

“Their finances are more complex so they need more attention,” Wealthier clients spend more than half their communications time digitally, using email, web portals, social networking, SMS, instant messaging and VOIP calls. “

The highlights emphasize:

- The primacy of email as the main communications tool

- The greater wealth the more communications are demanded

- The increasing importance of private and secure websites/portals for information exchange.

We work with clients to build these private portals vs. social media – they are important and proprietary.


Elmer Rich III said:

January 14, 2013 — 4:02 PM UTC

OK, so what do we have? We have a correlation of some events – self-reported. It appears more activity on the PR side correlating with significant asset gathering from a single company or population.

Can we say one thing caused another? There have to be many other factors at play. If you look at other B2B sales processes you see internal, and not public, factors are the strongest.

It is easy to believe, and claim, that what is publicly available and easiest to see and talk about is what’s most important. That is probably not true.

The missing piece is data and evidence of claims. The label of “skeptic” is misleading. Is an advisor a “skeptic” if they demand evidence for investment claims?

Here are a few reasons for sober thinking: – The evidence is that social media has no buying influence in other industries, including B2C. IBM just published some stark data — from the Christmas season. – Even if an advisor wants to adopt this strategy — they can’t. There are very few headline worthy bloggers – and they are already taken.

The idea that by writing some articles billions of dollars in new assets will flow into your firm is a appealing fantasy but likely not much more.


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 12, 2013 — 3:04 PM UTC

Hi Joe! I was referring to the quote under your pic. The word “alone” wasn’t in there and that is the more visible one :). I completely understand your point that without the compelling message you absolutely can’t be successful, but I don’t agree that you must have 3rd party credibility to be successful. I’m living proof of that and so is Carl. Carl created a fantastic message and committed himself to marketing that message…and then it opened doors for him. He didn’t start out as a NY Times Blogger. It happened as a result of his hard work.

If you do get picked up or quoted by the big media outlets (and I have as well) it can help to accelerate credibility and visibility (as well as publishing a book can) but it’s not an absolute requirement for business success. With a solid digital marketing message and plan, industry thought leaders can attract their audiences organically and develop business opportunities on their own and that is the point I was trying to make.

Regardless, I think the BAM marketing strategy is terrific, and the 3 guys creating the educational content are compelling thought leaders! It’s an interesting way to “scale” the plan if you will, so that many advisors can leverage the great work they are doing…but I believe those advisors still need to build their own brands and share their own unique messages.


Joe Anthony said:

January 12, 2013 — 4:19 AM UTC

Stephanie, note in your first comment that you left off “alone” in your reference to my quote. The point I was making is that you need to have something to deliver on your blog and a compelling reason people will want to listen to you. It isn’t just about starting a blog or having a Facebook page…that’s a piece of the puzzle not the entire puzzle. Good discussion all!


Brooke Southall said:

January 12, 2013 — 1:08 AM UTC


I appreciate your forceful tact!



Susan Weiner, CFA said:

January 11, 2013 — 11:38 PM UTC

This is a fascinating story. Glad I found it through the participants’ tweets.


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 11, 2013 — 8:17 PM UTC

Great comments Pat!


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 11, 2013 — 8:16 PM UTC

Lisa you are right on. I think you have to have a passion for marketing as well as making it a priority. Believe me I have many dark days where I don’t make an appearance at all. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to unplug here and there. Twitter is not my favorite channel either. It’s more noisy than the others, but it’s an easy way to strike up a discussion with someone you don’t know and have no barrier to entry.


Ben Yeakley said:

January 11, 2013 — 8:11 PM UTC

I totally believe in BAM and totally believe in what they are doing. First the people there know what they are doing. Second they are not afraid to share great ideas. Third, social medial is real and I see if work every day in a number of business situations. However, you need to have talent and write information that is valuable and relevant or you are just wasting your time. The fact that they went beyond their own great knowledge and talent pool and hired Dan Solin speaks to their commitment.


Lisa Shidler said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:57 PM UTC

Hey Stephanie, You’ve obviously hit it on the nail about the strategy and systematic approach. Most of us just don’t have that. I know you and Pat are both completely swamped and can’t spend all of your energy on social media.

But my point is that despite how busy you both are – you both MAKE the time for several interactive Tweets a day and that’s what many others fail to do (myself included) Heck, if one of my kid’s gets sick – suddenly I’m so busy with everything else, that I forget about things like Twitter and LinkedIn and “go dark” with no interaction on those sites a few days.

Where you both excel is your consistency. Because regardless of how busy you are, you both make it a priority to offer interactive Tweets – in addition to your other systems that you already have in place.

I think the real skepticism about Twitter/LinkedIn/social media is this false notion out there that it’s “easy” to build your profile and get 10,000 followers in a few weeks and it’s not easy – unless you’re a celebrity or a politician.


Pat Allen said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:51 PM UTC

I started out communicating in print (as a journalist even). But just as I was starting to bump up against the ceiling and floors and walls of print, I learned about the Internet. For me it was like being in the stacks at a university library and opening one book that led to another that led to another. The Web opened a world of possibilities that I am still not over.

Now it’s my perspective that publishing a Website about your products and services and then just going on with your life in the real world (only) also has limitations. Social media enables interaction and listening in a way that elevates personal and business experience. It requires some learning and practices, as Steph says, but to use the Web to find like-minded people, interact with them and be influenced by them is a modern-day invention. The world is flatter now, and there’s opportunity here unrivalled by anything that’s gone before, even and especially for time-starved advisors who need to spend most of their time with clients.

OK, just re-read that last sentence and I understand that, in a certain light, some editors might consider it verging on “hype.” I’ll try to control myself in what I submit to you.

Loved the exchange today, thanks!


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:31 PM UTC

Thanks so much for sharing Lisa. It does take time, and more importantly, it takes planning, strategy, and a systematic approach to implement your strategy. Remember too that Pat and I both run businesses full-time. We don’t have the time to spend all day everyday on blogging and social media. Having a system and leveraging tools is a BIG part of building traction. Once you get that marketing system down, it just becomes part of your day and replaces those activities that don’t necessarily drive business or strengthen client relationships. It does take time to build a following, but most give up before they really see the true benefits or learn the tools.


Lisa Shidler said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:17 PM UTC

I love this conversation. Stephanie, I think you’ve struck an interesting point. I think you’re right – you can build your brand with blogs and Twitter. But it just takes a LOT of effort and that may be a challenge for a smaller RIA who has to meet regularly with clients. Stephanie, you have built a huge social media following and so does Pat, but you are both VERY consistent and work really hard at it – just like the guys that Buckingham brought over. I just wonder if it’s difficult for some in the industry who meet with clients frequently to have the social-media consistency.

I’m not an RIA and I’m the first to admit that I have problems being consistent with things like my Twitter page and I’ve been trying to be more consistent but it has been a huge challenge. So, Pat – I guess that’s where my skepticism comes into play sometimes – it just seems like a very slow process (at least for me). I feel like I could Tweet 50 times a day and still not build much of a following. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I think the issue is having more reasonable expectations and being consistent.


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:13 PM UTC

Hi Brooke…as my advisor friend David Armstrong says, “social media minus a content strategy is like sending out empty envelopes.” It’s the content strategy that drives social media success, ultimately. Hope you’re well!


Brooke Southall said:

January 11, 2013 — 7:05 PM UTC

Good challenge. I’ll work on better articulating my bias. It certainly begins with disliking things that are hyped. But I believe there are things that are over-hyped that are still underrated — like California, the Beatles. Tom Brady and Google.



Pat Allen said:

January 11, 2013 — 6:58 PM UTC

Oh my, now you’ve really elevated things, haven’t you?

RIABiz is not wrong on social media, though—you continue to publish some of the best stories of how it’s being applied. I think it’s more like you’re biased against it (that’s a step beyond skepticism) while my bias is in favor.

If you start me out with a few statements that capture your deep-seated bias (who hurt you, Brooke?) and give me some time, I will take your bait and submit something for your consideration. Thanks for the invitation.


Brooke Southall said:

January 11, 2013 — 6:47 PM UTC

Pat (de Tocqueville),

Thank you.

I’m a skeptic but admittedly not a very well-informed one.

Any chance I could get a Pat Allen special? It could be entitled: How RIABiz is wrong on social media and how is living up to its hype — if you look past the obvious

(or something like that)



Pat Allen said:

January 11, 2013 — 6:16 PM UTC

Great story!

Brooke, you’re still a skeptic?


Stephanie Sammons said:

January 11, 2013 — 6:12 PM UTC

I applaud BAM for their innovative thinking in leveraging credible thought leaders to create content on behalf of the firm. However, I completely disagree with the statement “Being seen as credible authority by a respected source … cannot be replicated or conferred by
your own blog or Facebook page.”

How do you think these folks (or any of us) became credible authorities in the 1st place? Through creating, publishing, syndicating and sharing unique thought leadership views on our own blogs, social media profiles, etc.

If you are truly a thought leader, it doesn’t matter if you start from zero. You can build a loyal and trusted following through blogging and content marketing that can produce business results. I’m living proof of this and so are the guys mentioned in this article. Building online influence breeds business success no matter who you are are what you do.

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