When Morgan Stanley Talks, People Listen -- EF Hutton Goes Viral in 2011

The financial services industry in America has certainly evolved from the days of EF Hutton, however, the notion of "thought-leadership" has remained. Having something to say worth listening to was central to this successful campaign in the 1980's and maintains its importance today. Modern marketers have embraced thought-leadership messaging and utilized a variety of social media platforms and distribution channels to communicate their carefully thought-out and lined-up messaging. For a sector slow to adopt, it was a call to arms when Morgan Stanley's Andy Saperstein, head of U.S. sales announced the brokerage giant's entry to the social media space. He predicted that: "This (strategy) will be a significant competitive advantage. " This is a decision sure to be heard around the world and will spur lots of activity as these firms struggle to morph from Flintstone firms to Jetson-esque.

According to my good friend and colleague, Glen Gilmore, a social media strategist who teaches social media law and digital marketing at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, "Morgan Stanley's express endorsement of the competitive advantage of social media, though uttered in an internal memo to a group of its leading brokers, is a proclamation that will reverberate in brokerage houses, large and small, around the world. It is the unabashed endorsement of social networking that many within the financial services industry have been waiting to hear from a source they trust."

Those enlightened know that social media is global, viral and moves in real-time. Morgan Stanley's decision to enter the social media space is a decision that will serve as the imprimatur for the entire financial services industry to enter that space as well. In fact, the conversation about the financial services social media race, was the topic over which Glen and I first engaged. He responded to a blog post of mine calling me a "futurist" and "ahead of my time" in my plea for some early adopters to step out into social media from the financial services arena. Finding others with a shared point of view creates the connection and the good feeling associated with it. It has been suggested that connecting via social media is such a feel-good activity that your brain produces more Oxytocin while social networking. I have even blogged about that fascinating phenomenon. Immediately, Glen and I connected on our point-of-view and agreed on how the "rules of engagement" would be the differentiator for financial service firms building out social media programs. Rushing to any market without a clear vision is universally viewed as wrong but the case of this new announcement right still must be firmly established.

What is the right way for financial firms to enter the social media space? Gilmore, who is an attorney, explains "Since January 2010, FINRA social media guidelines have mandated that firms engaging in social media have a formal social media policy and provide training to their employees who will be using social media for business. Today, many firms are operating outside of existing FINRA social media guidelines by promoting their business on LinkedIn, for example, without either component in place. The corporate responsibility to provide social media training is another topic on which I have blogged.

It's believed that Morgan Stanley's entrance into social media will trigger massive adoption of social networking by brokerages and naturally, heightened scrutiny of activities. The challenge will be to achieve a thorough understanding of the FINRA and SEC rules that govern social media while grasping the unwritten rules which govern successful social media. Glen speaks for both of us when he says, "Its one thing to understand what you can and can't say in a social network, its quite another to understand how to communicate within social media in a way that promotes your brand while building a community."

"Rapture" for Glen, myself and other voices in the wilderness happened when Morgan Stanley made their announcement on May 25, 2011. The whole world ended. The world that ended was the old world of financial services and created the way for a new world and the quest for social interactions which create business relationships. Glen Gilmore was more accurate than Harold Camping when he wrote this to me on March 3, 2011: It is only a matter of time before many of those who may have dismissed your advocacy of social media as delusional will flock to you for advice. It has happened in most other industries: it will happen in the financial sector as well.