Why “should” financial advisors use Twitter? In the guest post below, WiredAdvisor Founder and CEO Stephanie Sammons (@StephSammons) describes the benefits and makes some recommendations for newcomers.

It seems that financial advisors who are beginning to enter into the great social media experiment for marketing and expanding their practices are scratching their heads about something. What on earth can this “Twitter” thing do for me? Although your first encounter with Twitter may feel senseless and possibly a waste of your valuable time, read on about some of the benefits that we’ve found to be of value for financial advisors curious about this real-time social network.

Twitter is simply a real-time communications platform that asks “What’s happening?” Certainly, that is a very general query and can garner a variety of answers, from ignorant to brilliant, depending on the interpretation of the question. Let me provide you with a new definition of Twitter. Twitter is a real-time communications and networking tool enabling you to self-direct news, information, resources, and ideas, as well as connect with like-minded people with similar interests in your industry, niche markets, and areas of expertise. Do you want to expand your network?  Twitter is the new “cold to warm prospecting” tool of the 21st Century for financial advisors.

However, there is a trick to this tool. You must add value to those like-minded people with similar interests in your industry, niche markets, and areas of expertise, and you must do so within the scope of 140 characters per tweet. In other words, when you answer the question “What’s happening?”, don’t say you just had your first cup of coffee this morning. Keep your tweets brief and value-packed with keywords and relevant links that would be valuable to your niche markets.

This post is not to tell you the ins and outs of how to use Twitter, but rather, to give you an overview of the main benefits of getting to know Twitter in a way that doesn’t waste your time in the long- run. In the short run, you’ll have to get yourself educated and do some experimenting, but the learning curve is neither steep nor long. Primarily you simply need to learn to use the available tools that are out there designed to help you organize your Twitter house so that it becomes an efficient and effective resource for you.

Develop a Personalized, Real-time News Stream

One of the most important features about Twitter is that most tweets contain links that drive users to corresponding Web pages. Rather than spending your time searching the Web for what you need, you could simply build a Twitter list of people (or experts) to follow and through that personal tweet stream you will be pointed to the news, ideas and insights across the Web that matter most to you.

Could this actually save you time? Yes! Given that the majority of the news media has embraced Twitter as a platform for sharing and connecting, the news stream has turned “real time” for Twitter users. Twitter has become my number one source for finding financial news that is relevant to me and my business. If you want to search for trending topics, or topics that are important to you in “real-time”, try search.twitter.com.

Engage With Industry Peers and Share Best Practices

Once you get comfortable and find your way around the Twitterverse, it is simple to discover and connect with peers in the financial services industry. There are many financial industry experts, quite a few financial advisors, money managers and even financial journalists who are regular Twitter users. You may want to do a search on www.Twellow.com or www.Listorious.comto find individuals and lists of professionals on Twitter whom you are interested in connecting with. The truth is, we can learn a lot from one another. Connecting with your peers on Twitter is a great first step to understanding best practices while, at the same time, accessing valuable content and resources from the people and brands that you follow. (Once you find someone on Twitter you are interested in learning from, click the follow button!)

Expand Your Network

Twitter provides an opportunity to make significant connections with interesting people in a variety of industries around common interests, passions, ideas, and expertise. Those cold connections can lead to warm email exchanges, followed by even warmer phone calls. There is an openness on Twitter and most people who are engaging welcome personal conversation.However, you must be adding value with what you are tweeting about in order to move these cold connections into warm ones. It is still Relationship-building 101 and a best practice would be to research, listen and learn about the people whom you are most interested in connecting with personally. And then figure out how you can best add value to their world. Perhaps it is pointing them to a relevant article that would be of interest to them or sharing with them about a group you’ve joined. You must add value and do this the right way. Sales pitches and blatant sales tactics will get you un-followed in a hurry!

Enhance Your Search Results and Extend Your Reach

If you do nothing more with Twitter, you should at the very least set up and populate your Twitter profile and link it back to your blog site (preferably) or Web site. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of another opportunity to tell your story? If you don’t have a blog site, here’s how you can get started, because you really need one if you are going to have influence in the 21st Century as a financial advisor.

Not only will your Twitter profile be discoverable in the search engines, it will help you own one of the top 10 results in Google searches for your name or business. Because it represents real-time and thereby valued content, Twitter ranks high, as do all of the major social networks, in the search engines. Also, the link that you put in your Twitter profile for your blog site or Web site provides you with a valuable “inbound” link to your site. This helps your blog or Web site’s search engine results as well!

Finally, your Twitter account is a great way to extend your thought leadership by posting links to your latest blog articles, from time to time. A best practice is to mix in links to your own posts with others’ value-added “tweets” to avoid coming across as only self-serving.

There are a few caveats for financial advisors to remember with Twitter as we are still in the early stages of this powerful application. As of March 2010, there are almost 75 million who have signed up for Twitter, but only 20% or so of those users are consistently active. The takeaway? The whole world isn’t on Twitter. However, many smart people and thought leaders are the ones driving the Twitter bus and it is growing very rapidly toward mainstream adoption. Secondly, Twitter can be a major time suck if you don’t learn how to organize and differentiate what is valuable, and what is noise. Lastly, be careful what you “tweet” about. For example, don’t point to links and places on the Web that refer to specific stocks, investment recommendations or controversial topics. Use common sense and follow best practices. Keep your tweets general and educational in nature, and always within the parameters your Compliance department has provided. [RIAs, see Social Networking for RIAs on Arkovi.com for some insights on the SEC regulation of social media.]

Before you jump in and start tweeting, take some time to observe and listen. Tweeting is another one of those online activities where professionalism for your personal brand is of the utmost importance. Anything that you say online is permanently indexed. Be smart, and be careful. If you get this right as an early adopter, you may really gain a competitive advantage as a thought leader in your niche markets and position yourself to capitalize on significant connections when Twitter goes mainstream!

WATwitterpicWiredAdvisor is a turnkey social media and blogging solution that enables financial advisors to build their online personal brand.