Can Client Engagement Be Automated?

Written by: Julie Littlechild,

It’s a good feeling when someone thinks about you. It’s better if they do something about it.

Not long ago, I received an article on a topic that was incredibly relevant for my business. It came from a partner who had worked with me on strategy in the past and it sent a powerful message that he understood my business and my challenges. That simple act created deeper connection.

We create connection in so many ways. Whether it’s a personal note, a gift or simply sending an article that a client would find valuable, it has an impact that far outweighs the effort of the sender.

That article got me thinking (again) about content marketing and the role it plays in creating engagement. Specifically, I’m referring to articles, blog posts, and videos (to name a few) as ways to educate and inform your clients. And today I’d like to tackle one of the biggest challenges with this strategy – execution.

When I talk about content marketing, it’s often met with a slight roll of the eyes. “Yes,” I can hear you saying, “that would be a great use of my free time, currently between midnight and 2:00 a.m. every day.”

I get it, it’s hard to find the time. It’s for that reason that I wanted to take some time and examine the solutions that are specifically designed to help you develop, curate and distribute quality content in a more automated fashion.

Creepy or Convenient?

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Based on a highly informal poll of people I talk to, many advisors are opposed to the use of tools that automate any client communication (on a scale of mildly disturbed to vehemently against). So let’s test the theory.

Imagine you get an email from a trusted advisor that points you to an article that you might find of interest. It might relate to investments or the markets but could equally be tied to a hobby or focus on your alma mater.

How does it make you feel? (I’m going to guess, ‘good’.)

Now imagine that the professional who sent you that article sent it because he or she was alerted that you might find it of interest. The alert was automated because a service is being used to identify articles that might be of interest specifically for a particular group of clients.

Do you feel differently?

I sense you might say ‘yes’. You might think, for example, that the communication suddenly feels less authentic. Depending on how the article was identified (e.g., via the social profiles of your clients), you might even use a word like ‘creepy’. Some tools go into the social media profiles of your clients to identify articles that might be of interest and you might consider that one step too far. I’m reserving judgment.

But here’s the more important question. Would your client feel differently?

And the clear answer is ‘no’. He or she received the article and enjoyed it. End of story.

My guess is that this thought did not run through your client’s mind. “That was a great article. If, however, my advisor didn’t read through 100 publications to find something exactly right for me to find it, then I didn’t like it at all.”

The fact is that there are solutions that can help automate the development, curation and distribution of content. And my view on these solutions is this. If a tool helps you to do something that you would otherwise do if you had the time, it’s a good thing.

Finding Virtual Help

The programs that are available differ in meaningful ways, but all work with the same stated objective – to help you find great content for your clients and prospects and to add value to their lives in the process. One of the key players in this space is  AdvisorStream

I talked to Kevin Mulhern, CEO of AdvisorStream, about how automating content curation and distribution helps advisors. AdvisorStream is an interesting company, giving you with the ability to easily distribute original, firm-written or third-party content across a range of mediums. What’s unique about their model is the intense front-end work that goes into finding, vetting and approving content through their licensing arrangements with major media outlets and their close integration with compliance departments.

Mulhern made several points that I thought were particularly important if you’re considering using an outside firm to help you with this form of digital marketing.

  • Control the brand. If you send an article from a major publication directly, you’re adding value, but the value doesn’t link directly back to you. At worst, the article might be surrounded by an advertisement for a competing firm. At best, the client might soon forget the source of the article or share it with someone without a direct tie back to you. Mulhern believes that articles should be distributed on a fully branded (or co-branded) page that makes the source of that valuable content very clear (you, that is).
  • Find your comfort zone. Automation can be a scary thing if you aren’t sure what your clients are going to receive and/or don’t feel confident it’s what they want or need. Mulhern says it’s important to find a solution that allows you to define your sphere of control. Will you create and approve everything and use an automated solution only for distribution? Or, will you use the solution to identify great content and then approve each piece before it goes out?
  • Integrate original content. Tapping into the credibility of third-party content providers is a great idea. There is some evidence, however, that the best way to showcase your value is with original content. If possible, mix it up and send both original and curated content.
  • Focus on action. I asked Mulhern about the topics that resonate and if he suggests sending articles that are more lifestyle-oriented. He made a great point by saying that he felt all content should be no more than “one step removed from personal finance” because it’s more likely to drive action. For example, you might send an article on financial literacy for kids or data protection, but his firm stops short of curating content on how to nurture orchids, for example. You may stumble across an article and send that along, but, he says, that’s probably separate from your core content strategy.

When Automation Isn’t the Answer

As with any solution, there will be some who like the automated approach and others who prefer more strategic guidance or have more unique needs that would benefit from a bespoke solution. I talked to Jay Palter about the options. Jay is a digital strategist at Jay Palter Social Advisory, who specializes in influencer outreach and engagement and I was interested in his take on automation.

He had this to share:

“I think there are some good opportunities to increase efficiency by automating the discovery of content to share and using automated tools for timing the distribution of content you want to share. But deciding which content to share is a critical part of curation and I have not seen an automated tool that decides better than me what’s relevant and valuable to my audience.

If you approach content sharing strategically, WHAT you share becomes part of your brand and WHOSE content you share can help you increase your audience and visibility. Even HOW you share content is a way of differentiating yourself.

For these reasons, I’m an advocate of building your marketing on a foundation of high-quality and helpful curated content that is selected specifically for the audience you wish to serve. Done right, over the long term, content curation can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.”

Both Kevin and Jay point to something that I believe is critical. Content will only add value if it’s relevant to your clients. We need to find a way to ensure that the content reflects the needs, challenges or interests of clients. To that end, consider:

  • Providing clients with a list of topics and asking them to select what is of most interest.
  • Segmenting clients based on a professional or personal stage that would influence what is of interest. For example, a client who is about to retire would have different interests from one who has been retired for a decade. A start-up business owner would have different interests from an entrepreneur who has built a significant business.

I don’t think we need to be afraid of automation denting the personal relationships we’ve built over the years. If the communications are authentic, linked to the specific interests or needs of your clients, and add value, then automation can help you do more of a good thing.

If it’s what you would do if you had unlimited time, you’re on the right track.