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The Cato Conclusion
October 31, 2011                                                  Volume 706

“These depressed economic days mean you must now market more effectively using far more innovative efforts.”

DO YOU NEED A BLOG?

According to no-less-an-authority than Lew Nason of the Insurance Pro Shop®, “More than any other communications format, - since the advent of the Internet - weblogs, or blogs, have been heralded as a revolution in mass communication!  You may be in a position to use blogs to better listen to, talk with, influence, and frequently reach your prospects with new ideas.  All this at a very low cost to you!  Today blogs offer both opportunities and risks for agents and planners.  You can use blogs not only as a promotion platform (but don’t over-do this), but also as a means to a new dialogue with some of those whom you target.  You can also continually inform and educate (condition for selling) with your blog.  But don’t start your own blog unless you can write well and devote the necessary time to this endeavor.” 

Money for Life BookJeffery Reeves is one of America’s leading money management and retirement planning authorities.  He is also a leading industry speaker and author of the book Money For Life... How to thrive in good times or bad! Jeffrey Reeves coined the term EUREKONOMICS™.  Reeves' blog has enjoyed a massive million hits and helped build his e-mail newsletter circulation to over 6,000 subscribers!  How would you like to achieve results like this?  You could tell a lot of prospects about the benefits of annuities, or cash value life, or whatever!  Jeff’s blog can be accessed at (http://www.themoneyforlifeblog.com/) with just one click. 

Blogs are still considered “cutting edge” for financial planners, estate planners, insurance agents, investment advisors, or for most any professional in America.  In China over 16-million people write and read blogs.  This blog activity alone has shattering the Communist Party’s monopoly control of their media. 

WARNING # 1

Do not attempt a blog unless you can write well.  If you can’t compose a proper three line e-mail then forget about starting and maintaining your own blog.  So many advisors at all levels are not very good writers.  I’m not sure if I ever met an agent or planner who did not consider himself-or-herself to be a great writer.  Same with speaking!  But you know, as well as I know that lots-and-lots of financial professionals are fooling only themselves. Master the art of proper and effective writing before even thinking about your blog.  Already we are flooded with blogs that are embarrassments and make the blog host look very much like an amateur.

Technorail, the search engine that tracks the world’s blogosphere, counted 30.7 million blogs presently (as of November 21, 2011) on the Web.  A recent Gallup poll reported that USA residents read blogs as follows: 9% said they “almost never” read blogs, 31% said they “regularly” read blogs, 30% said they “occasionally” read blogs, and 30% said they never read them.  But, the number of “regular” readers is the fastest growing.   

As we get more accustomed to interfacing with technology, each new gizmo -- (be it TiVo, an iPod, or a blog), -- has a faster “uptake,” or acceptance, into our society, than what appeared before.  For example, DVD players hit the 20-million sales mark in less than one-third the time it took the VCR to reach the same penetration.  This writer can only trace blogs back to 2000. 

Cato Explains “Helpful Blogs” and “Harmful Blogs” 

You can advance your image (as an expert in your specialty) with a “helpful blog,” or damage your image with a “harmful blog.”  A “harmful blog” is one that contains self-damaging elements, i.e., excessive boasting, exaggerations, attacking others, over-promising, lies, misrepresentations, etc.  All blogging is still in its infancy but insurance agents and financial planner blogs are presently increasing rapidly.  Careful attention and even great caution should be given to all blog content because embarrassments, challenges, retractions, or even lawsuits can result at any time.   

A “harmful blog” may attract greater regulatory scrutiny or bad press for you.  This can result in negative word-of-mouth.  Corporate blogs are not as well received as are “independent” blogs.  A blog by a person who can not write well, or who has little “image-sense,” could result in a marketing disaster!  Never create a blog that pretends to be originating from some other source and devoted mostly to praising you and your services.  A “good blog” takes time and attention.  Do not attempt to quickly “wing it. 

Technically speaking, blogs are just like any other Web Site on the Internet.  Blogs exist solely online, are capable of accepting advertising, and can be designed to appeal to a specific audience, or to the general public.  I recommend that you target your niche market group if you establish a blog for use in communicating as a financial products and services provider. 

The rapid growth and popularity of blogs among financial advisors is primarily due to four factors. 

1.  Many services will host your blogs at no charge.  There are several popular blog-hosting services available on the Web such as Blogger (a Google-owned company), Blogline (now owned by AskJeeves) and LiveJournal (owned by SixApart), offer free basic hosting with extra features available for a monthly fee.  There are other companies such as TypePad that charge for all levels of service.  All of these sources claim to provide quick and simple instructions on how to set-up and operate your blog. 

2.  Blogs give an outlet to any financial advisor who feels his or her voice has not been represented in the financial or mainstream media.  Blogs enable you to become a micro-publisher virtually overnight. 

3.  Blogs can be timely, allowing for content updates at any time without an editorial review and without sophisticated knowledge of Web publishing.  The immediacy of blogs gives them the leverage to pick-up on changing timely subjects and instantly create their own content with new angles, plus original or exclusive material.  The most popular blogs by agents or financial planners tend to be those that are kept current and often updated, and cover non Wall Street financial topics.  

WARNING # 2

      Remember that blogs devoted to up-to-the-minute coverage of Wall Street activity, like similar newsletters, contain data that is relevant for only a week or less.  Also there are an estimated 500 blogs covering daily or weekly Wall Street activity plus over seven thousand free Internet newsletters covering the same “news.”  So do not start another blog or newsletter reporting on Wall Street. 

4.  There is a strong sense of community and “connectivity” between blog writers and visitors.  Because most blogs are not regulated by an editorial board, or influenced by an ego-centered editor, or controlled by corporate objectives, visitors end to seek them for the unbiased truth.  Visitors also value the transparency that blogs may have.  Unlike mainstream media, whose philosophy is geared toward pushing an agenda or keeping the audience attracted to their site, blogs thrive partly by posting links to other sites of interest, even other blogs that offer differing views.  All of this tends to serve the best interest or of readers who prefer objectivity and seek honesty. 

The Four Types of Blogs 

1.  Personal blogs focus on a passion, special interest, or specialty.  Many financial professionals start and maintain a blog to express their       opinions about aspects of insurance or financial planning, to demonstrate how “aware” they are, to showcase their specialty intelligence, or to share their interest and knowledge with “desired others.”  This will impress your prospects and reassures your clients – if you can write.  These types of blogs can have an enormous impact on stimulating “word-of-mouth” in your market area. 

2.  Topic or industry-specific blogs are the most pervasive type among agents and planners.  These cover everything from retirement planning, or current tax law, or the Roth IRA, or senior planning, etc.  Bloggers are often acknowledged experts in their specialty discipline and often have a built-in audience that may be industry specific. 

3.  Publication-sponsored blogs are growing as both general media outlets and financial media outlets, seek to ride the blog wave.  Increasingly, newspapers, magazines, and even television and radio stations, are all adding blogs to their Web Sites.  These blogs tend to be written by an established journalist with the publication and have been added to lend a sense of immediacy to the content.  

4.  Broker dealers, independent financial planning agencies, or insurance agent or agency blogs, are all relatively new additions to the blog world.   

Agents And Planners Blogs 

Will Nason, Research Director of the Insurance Pro Shop® reports, “The investing public has become increasingly distrustful of mainstream news, especially Wall Street origin news, and corporate news outlets, perceiving them to be overtly self-serving.  The public is well aware that special interest routinely ‘buy off’ America’s ‘so called’ government representatives.  Thus they especially distrust news from a Washington source.   Blogs have the unique power to bypass organizations that have traditionally acted as gatekeepers.  Some agents and planners, with blogs, rely on the mainstream media for source material, but then conduct their own research and write subsequent articles independently.  For this reason, blog visitors often feel they are getting a more unbiased “take on a topic.” 

Will Nason adds, “In a recent survey, investors were asked to indicate their reasons for reading blogs.  Their top three reasons were ‘news I can’t find elsewhere,’ ‘a more detailed perspective,’ and ‘greater accuracy.’  Financial professionals using blogs quickly went from being commentators on financial news and related information, to being opinion leaders (within their specialty disciplines) in their market areas and beyond.  Thus blogs are the new op-ed pages.” 

Of course, your blog should include all of your appropriate contact information.  As a Media Advocate I now even pitch editorial placements to selected blog operators because of the influence some blogs already have.   

Again according to Will Nason, “We recently assisted an advisor in establishing a blog that is mostly composed of information about the four main threats to his clients’ wealth.  These threats are... 

 (1)  Taxes

 (2)  Poor investment returns

 (3)  Long-term care expenses

 (4)  Client’s not sticking with their plans 

This advisor implements sensible, asset-based approaches using life insurance and annuities to preserve and transfer assets.  His blog positions him as an advisor who addresses a negative subject (long-term care) in a positive way, while providing skilled guidance in asset protection and wealth transfer strategies.” 

Will Nason predicts, “Eventually many more leading advisors who can write effectively will have his-or-her own blog.  And each blog will become a serious production that consumes lots of time and careful thought to maintain.  This will be because the responsible financial professionals will want only influential blogs.  The same rules for accuracy, truthfulness, full disclosure, transparency, and accountability also apply to blogs.  The bragging and embellishment often associated with some old time agents and planners is becoming a thing of the past, especially in blogs.   Blogs are easy to set-up but quickly become very demanding of ever-changing top-quality content.”

__________________________

Cato is an award-winning media advocate (image builder) for financial professionals.  He is former Editor-In-Chief of Financial Planning and Trusts & Estates:  The Journal of Wealth Management.  Sign-up for The Cato Conclusion, his FREE (51,000-plus circulation) newsletter containing tips and strategies to promote your sales through image building.  forrestcato@gmail.com  770-516-9395

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