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Social climbing

As the Royal Mail continues to ponder how to compete with email, a new communication phenomenon will further add to their woes. According to a study by Nielsen, email communications have now been overtaken in popularity by social networking websites.

The reach of social networking sites is also growing at twice the rate of growth as email, with two-thirds of the world’s internet users having visited a social networking site in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, the industry has been slow to embrace the technology although it is catching up fast. One of the main reasons for this is that we have a perception that social networking sites are just for kids.

But all that is changing. The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is 35-49-year-olds, with the site now adding twice as many 50-64-year-olds as those under 18. Adults with children at university are most likely to have visited a social networking site, as more often than not it is the only way to know what they are up to.

There are many IFAs who are members of social networking sites without them realising it. Many joined LinkedIn and Plaxo in the past but it has only been in the last year that these sites have become much more relevant to the UK market, changing from being glorified telephone directories to sites with more social networking functionality.

The basic premise behind all these sites is that you first create a profile page. This instantly gives you an extra presence on the internet which complements your main website. You add photos, your logo and personal and company information to your page – and then the fun starts as you connect with other members and post articles, blogs and advertisements.

What is important to remember is that your profile page represents you and your business to people who view your page. Just as you have worked hard to build a strong reputation in the “real world”, now you need to build a reputation in the online world – and you do that by being seen as someone who is helpful, adds value and who answers people’s questions. The more you try to sell your services, the less interest people will have in you. The trick is to add value – the more you give, the more you get.

There are a range of sites that IFAs can use to network, raise their profile and to attract new clients. These include LinkedIn, Plaxo, Ecademy, Xing, BT Tradespace, Facebook and Saga’s network SagaZone. MySpace is still very popular, though has now become very spammy. IFA Life is also popular as a social networking site that is dedicated to IFAs and financial planners.

Probably the most exciting of social networking sites is Twitter, where users post very short status updates or messages known as tweets. Again, the secret is not to bore people with the minutiae of your daily life, but to add value through your tweets by posting short tips, ideas, links, resources and helpful hints. Then, be amazed at how many people will want to follow you and your words of wisdom.

Philip Calvert is chief executive of IFA Life

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