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Morgan Stanley Expands Access to LinkedIn, Twitter

06/25/2012 | 04:25pm US/Eastern

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney will now allow its full rank of financial advisers the option to join the worlds of Twitter and LinkedIn.

The company, a Morgan Stanley (>> Morgan Stanley) joint venture with Citigroup Inc. (>> Citigroup Inc.), last year set the brokerage world abuzz when it unveiled plans to expand social media use among its advisers. The first step of the plan was to allow 600 advisers to use Twitter and LinkedIn in some capacity--now the firm's roughly 17,000 financial advisers will be able to use the social-media sites.

Retail brokerage firms have struggled with balancing the benefits of advisers building a brand and connecting with more clients via social-media sites with the potential compliance concerns. While maintaining a relatively tight rein on use of social media, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney has been seen by some in the industry as more progressive in its vocal embrace of such sites.

To use LinkedIn Corp.'s (LNKD) LinkedIn, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney advisers will need to set up a profile and receive compliance training. Once those steps are complete, they can use all of LinkedIn's functions--from requesting an introduction to search features to joining groups.

Those functions are "pretty powerful" for networking, said Lauren Boyman, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's director of social media. She said that during the pilot program, the site helped advisers win more business.

Ms. Boyman said the firm will train advisers to learn how to target new potential clients. For instance, if an adviser works in a town where there are a lot of retirees from a specific company, there may be a group on LinkedIn that can help the adviser to access those individuals and communicate to them his knowledge of the company's retirement plan.

Though advisers will be able to use LinkedIn fairly freely, their Twitter accounts come with a caveat--they can only tweet canned messages.

When advisers want to broadcast a message to the world, they can choose from a library of preapproved messages, a limitation for which the firm has caught some flak in the past. The preapproved tweets often include links to research or videos.

A couple of months ago, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney started a pilot program that allows a small group of 20 advisers to compose and publish their own tweets.

Ms. Boyman called its latest decision to expand access to LinkedIn and Twitter a "giant step" for the firm, but said the next step in the process is having financial advisers tweet their own original messages.

Such an undertaking, however, isn't as easy as it may sound. Under the pilot, advisers still must have their tweets and any accompanying links approved, and approval is quite time-consuming.

"It's a lot harder to approve 140 characters than it seems," she said.

As a result, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney is playing around with different options for how to roll out a less-restricted Twitter account to more advisers, Ms. Boyman said. These options include requiring that advisers be recommended by a branch manager or have a certain number of Twitter followers before they are able to tweet on their own.

There is no time frame on the pilot program, and Ms. Boyman said any full rollout isn't planned anytime soon.

By Write to Corrie Driebusch at corrie.driebusch@dowjones.com

Stocks mentioned in the article : Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc.
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