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Voices

When should advisors be outspoken about their politics?

Donald Trump mouthing Bloomberg News
U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a meeting with Senate and House legislators in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Feb. 2, 2017. Trump continued to court his pro-manufacturing base with yet another summit involving a chief executive officer, greeting Harley-Davidson Inc. executives and union officials to the White House on Thursday. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Pool via Bloomberg

The midterm election is fast approaching, and political discussions, commercials, mailings, calls and texts are nonstop.

We can’t escape them, and sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much reprieve between elections, either. It is hard to escape the madness.

Most people stay out of the fray, though, and financial advisors are no exception. They have extra incentive. Political discussions often can alienate clients, especially those who have political beliefs that differ from the advisor.

But should advisors really sit on the sidelines? It depends.

Use social media to be the real you: Political conversations can happen anywhere — at a party, with family, in the office, even on the street. But face it — the majority of political discourse is now occurring on social media. The opportunity, or problem, with social media is that millions of people can see it and the information is there forever. If you say the right thing, you can be a star — but say something that infuriates a crowd, and the trolls will beat down your virtual door. Sometimes, you can even trigger both reactions at the same time. It can be an exhilarating or stomach-churning experience.

Advisors use social media for their personal use and sometimes to market themselves or their business. Most public relations and advertising consultants encourage those advertising their financial advisory firm to stick with a professional message and avoid negative controversy. This is good advice. A company is usually made of many people, and using social media to discuss politics paints the entire company with a broad brush. My financial planning company is on LinkedIn, but otherwise, it doesn’t have a social media account.

What about an advisor’s personal use, though? I strongly believe most people who want to hire an advisor appreciate someone who is human with a real personality. They want to know you are a good person, care about things outside yourself and that you want to help those around you. And they want to be one of those people you help.

By sharing who you really are on social media, you present your authentic self and attract those who appreciate the real you and not some cookie-cutter blah-blah advisor. Since they like you for who you are, it is highly likely you’ll like them back and they will be delightful to work with as clients. On the other hand, if the real you is hateful, snide and continually negative, social media may not help you out much.

Social media takes political discussions to a new level: I originally used social media for fun. I use Facebook to keep up with family and friends and Twitter to follow news and fascinating people, including other financial planners. I also follow people in medicine, health policy, end-of-life planning, gun safety groups and various other nooks and crannies of the universe.

I’ve written a blog for Forbes for many years on the intersections of health and personal finance, and much of my early writing was about the inner workings of the Affordable Care Act. My articles were not political, but others took them that way. Whenever I shared my writing on Twitter, if it was positive about the ACA, I would be vilified and called a flaming liberal. If it was negative, it would verify the presumption many had that as a physician and financial planner, I must be a staunch conservative.

Now, I’m vocal with my beliefs and Twitter makes it easy — almost too easy. I don’t mean to be controversial, but I care about topics that are considered political. Writing about end-of-life choices in particular, causes the right-to-life people in the Twittersphere to erupt. And any time I say something about race and social justice, my notifications ding off the charts.

My article on the NRA’s influence on the Affordable Care Act brought out vile attacks and a death threat, but, I like to think, it also contributed to President Barack Obama’s decision to sign an executive order rescinding the section of the ACA that would take away the right of health care providers to question their patients about gun ownership. That was a big WOW for me — blogging and social media really can result in your voice making a difference.

This opened up my spigot. The recent political climate has disturbed me, and I’m sick of politicians from both parties being stuck in their ideology and not working together for solutions to our problems. Most people are good, including politicians. However, the culture of politics is horrendous, which results in normally reasonable people supporting bad policy, and I regularly call this out. My goal is to attack problems and policy — but not people. Attacking people doesn’t solve the problems. I’m not always successful.

How can personal politics impact your business? In my case, sharing my political views has influenced the type of people who hire us to be their financial planner. Although I live in a deeply conservative area in Florida, most of our clients are just like me — reasonable people who want the world to be a better place. (And yes, that includes people across the political spectrum.) They are a joy to serve.

Our clients are democrats, republicans and independents who aren’t happy with either party. Many read my articles and like that I take a stand. A few follow me on social media and send me an occasional “Brava!” or opine their political views. I don’t bring politics up in meetings, as the meeting is about the client — not the greater world — but I’m happy to discuss any topic they want to bring up.

We lost one client because of my writing on the Affordable Care Act and I know there are potential clients who don't come to us because of my vocal stance on many issues, but there are millions of potential clients in the world, and if they want to hire someone who only agrees with their views, more power to them.

Most of our clients are referred to us by other clients, but a significant number call us after seeing one of my articles or seeing me referenced in the press. I like to think they come for the ideals we espouse and stay for the great service we provide. Since we have a waiting list for new clients and lose very few current clients, we must be doing something right.

The key to attracting clients is to be authentic, care deeply about what you do, and provide excellent service. Clients want to belong to a "tribe" and defining your tribe clearly is one key to a successful practice. I'm passionate about issues, not politics, and our tribe loves that I take a stand. I have a feeling that if a new advisor is passionate about anything, they can attract the clients they want to serve who are passionate with them.

So should you be political on social media? My advice is to be your true self. By doing so, you’ll be happier, attract people who appreciate your view and create a practice that is true to who you are.

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