17,000 Morgan Stanley Brand Amplifiers Can’t Be Wrong

The rollout of Morgan Stanley’s social media program to all 17,000 of its financial advisers made big social media news over the last two weeks. In case you hadn’t heard:

Bird in a cage

MSSB’s social media policy restricts and protects – but it also amplifies.

Morgan Stanley’s risk management committee has given the go-ahead for all of the retail brokerage’s financial advisers to use [Twitter and LinkedIn]. The approval follows a year-long trial in which 600 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB) advisers were allowed to use the sites. (FT.com)

It’s hard to fathom that until a couple of weeks ago, LinkedIn and Twitter were completely off limits to all but 600 MSSB advisers – but that’s the restrictive regulatory environment they’re in.

So the conception and implementation of this program is a massive event in the financial services industry, even if it seems a few years behind everybody else.

How has this news of MSSB’s social media program been received? The blogosphere has been largely negative, calling MSSB’s program totally boring and saying it totally misses the point of social media – at the same time virtually ignoring the rigorous regulatory environment in which Morgan Stanley operates and the sheer magnitude of the program.

But maybe it’s a perfect model for Biglaw?

First, a few observations about the program.

The program is headed up by Lauren Wagner Boyman, a Harvard Business School grad and Director of Digital Strategy – Content and Social Media (GREAT TITLE) for MSSB. According to Financial-Planning.com, she is also responsible for broader online content strategy and management, as well as the client website. In her twitter stream, she discusses the program and responds to detractors and well-wishers alike. Boyman is also out there speaking to media about the program – nice to see a woman in such a strategic, public role.

The program has two key components worth noting – other than the sheer scale and obvious commitment of resources:

  • A library of approved tweets (more on that later)
  • Implementation of Socialware – social software and services for financial services organizations.

As far as I can tell, Socialware is a Hootsuite-like platform, identifiable by “via Socialware Inc.” on tweets and it’s scl.bz shortened URL. If you search Twitter for MSSB, you can see the accounts of many financial advisors and company leaders – all are branded and all feature links to interesting content, presumably taken from the library of preapproved tweets. Additional Socialware features include social media policy templates, and social compliance software that retains and monitors all social media activity – a regulatory must-have for financial services companies.

And now for the biglaw angle

From my perspective, it’s exciting to see a large, risk-averse, highly regulated business like Morgan Stanley embrace social media on such a large scale, and so publicly. The commitment of dollars and hours is mind-boggling. It’s equally exciting to see social media front and center in MSSB’s strategy – with such a visible, accomplished and empowered digital spokesperson.  Morgan Stanley’s embrace of social media can only give it more credibility in large, corporate law firms who are concerned with risk, and who feel an affinity with financial services firms.

I also see the MSSB program as a potential model for how large law firms might use their lawyers to amplify the brand and the firm’s content marketing efforts. Overnight, MSSB has gone from a difficult-to-quantify number of amplifiers to 17,000 – a huge leap by anyone’s standards. As the Greentarget In-House Counsel New Media Survey  demonstrated, Biglaw clients tend to listen more than they engage – so it could be argued that amplification is THE most important function of social media for law firms – as long as the content marketing effort is up to snuff, of course.

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And about that library of tweets – I think it’s brilliant. When you’re talking about financial advisors – and lawyers – many are too busy to compose a tweet, much less engage. Given a choice, I would prefer to have our 4200 lawyers tweeting pre-written messages that link to substantive, relevant content, than lawyers tweeting nothing at all. Good tweets are like poetry and take tremendous skill to compose. Why not make it easier for them?

A library of approved tweets is not too different from how I tell our lawyers and marketing people to use dot com – if you don’t know what to tweet or share on LinkedIn, just go to our site and click the share button on any of our content. The content is all good, all worthwhile and all worth sharing – plus it’s all conflict-checked, something our risk department cares very much about.

I’m watching the MSSB social media program with great interest and hope Lauren Wagner Boyman and the media continue to talk about it – after all, 17,000 brand amplifiers can’t be wrong.

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