There’s an old Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin asks of John Cleese: “Is this the right room for an argument?”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that about social media at the moment.
The level of debate and the tone of language used seems to have fallen to an all-time low. It’s become toxic, so it’s no wonder that so many big brands are pulling their advertising from Facebook.
Little wonder too that some high profile members of the financial planning community have decided to leave Twitter, including the likes of NextGen Planners' Rohan Sivajoti and Carl Richards of The Behavior Gap.
Yet there is another side to social media that tends to become obscured by all the sloganeering and fighting.
For many people, social media channels have become an important source of information during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, albeit sprinkled with a dose of healthy scepticism.
Research by Reuters Institute found that while Facebook is still the most popular channel for people looking for news – as opposed to general use, such as watching cat videos – Twitter and Instagram are fast gaining ground as places where users get their news fix.
This is particularly prevalent among younger people, who are engaging with visually told stories around issues like the environment and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Talking about money
What does this all mean for someone working in financial services?
For me there are two main points:
1) just because you’re talking about a serious or complex topic like money, don’t assume that people won’t be interested in reading about it on social media; and
2) avoid the toxic stuff!
Let’s look at the 'serious topic' point first.
The news is currently awash with money stories, whether it's the rollercoaster performance of markets or the constantly evolving picture of Covid-19's economic impact on people and businesses.
At the very least advisers can share this news, so long as it's from a trusted source liked a recognised broadcaster or media outlet.
This way your followers can be updated and can read up on the latest developments.
Because so much of what’s happening can be complicated or technical, there is also an opportunity for advisers to provide some insight or explanation for these stories, so long as it doesn’t stray into advice.
For example, the reduction of penalties on Lifetime ISAs might have been a godsend for anyone struggling financially.
But for people who didn’t need to touch their savings, a bit of expert guidance could have been welcome and would reinforce the valuable role of an adviser.
Likewise, the issue of payment holidays on mortgages and loans might seem straightforward for anyone seeing a cut to their income due to being furloughed.
But the reality is that delaying payments is actually going to cost more in the long run.
A bit of sage guidance might well provide vital clarity to consumers on the fence about whether to seek a payment holiday or not.
The toxic side
Slightly more contentious is whether to add a bit of opinion to the news and information you choose to share.
As subject matter experts, it’s good to have a view or an opinion, but again these should be as factual and as helpful as possible.
Any views or opinions absolutely shouldn’t be partisan to a particular view or political leaning.
I recently saw some tweets from an adviser who thought it was fine to abuse – not just criticise, you understand – a senior politician who had commented on a recent government announcement.
The adviser then seemed to delight in being equally unpleasant to anybody who challenged his tweets.
Seeing as this was an appointed representative, not only was he likely to be offending potential clients, he was also doing damage to the wider brand under which he was operating.
This brings us to the second point around toxic stuff on social media.
It could be easy to slip into bad habits, especially during lockdown where days seem to be sliding into one another and as we're all probably spending more time online.
But beyond the basic premise of good behaviour – don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone in person – remember that your social media channels are part of the digital face of your business.
As with any communication or promotion, think about the purpose of your social media activity:
- Who is your audience
- What do you have to say that's of interest to them
- How does what you're saying benefit your business – and how does it benefits clients
- How can you use social media to drum up interest in your services? (A well-researched and well-written blog is going to have much greater impact and value than 100 hastily written and ill-thought-out Twitter posts.)
Social media offers potentially powerful channels to educate and inform people about financial issues at a difficult time.
In so doing, it can also reinforce and promote your own expertise and credibility.
Don’t ruin it by getting into a debate about whether Covid-19 is caused by 5G.
To paraphrase Monty Python, if you’re looking for an argument on social media, find a different room – one that doesn’t have your name and branding all over it.