Make the Rules Work For You: Manulife Financial’s Shawna Dennis Shares Tips on Compliance & Content Marketing

Shawna Dennis discusses compliance and social media in the regulated space
Shawna Dennis courtesy of LinkedIN

Last month ScribbleLive attended the 2015 ClickZ Live Conference in Toronto, a cutting-edge digital marketing expo that provides the latest tips, tricks, and tools to help companies and brands enhance their marketing campaigns. The conference brings some of the sector’s biggest names together, including Shawna Dennis of Manulife Financial.

Shawna Dennis is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Manulife Financial where she oversees all advisor and employee communications. She is also responsible for the digital marketing and social media strategies for all business units within the Advisory Services organization. With over 15 years of experience helping advisors develop holistic marketing plans to build their business, Shawna is no stranger to the topic of compliance and is an expert at navigating the territory between advisory and legal departments to ensure the job gets done.

At ClickZ Shawna delivered the presentation “Marrying the Financial Firm with the Digital Diva,” and discussed understanding compliance in social media and regulated space, discovering how to work around restrictions, and learning how to interact with your compliance and legal departments to get what you need.

Jen Taylor, a Content Specialist at ScribbleLive, caught up with Shawna before her talk to discuss compliance in the regulated space, the death of print, and underestimating Twitter. We’ve compiled her advice into actionable tips for content marketers looking to implement social media in a regulated environment.

1. Use the Right Software

What is software’s role in maintaining compliance?

For Shawna, software is essential to getting the job done. “Our regulator IIROCK [Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada] has stipulated that in order for an advisor to be in social media you have to monitor, archive, and supervise all of their activity. Doing that manually is impossible, so any financial institution out there has to have a technology or software tool to do all of those things,” explains Shawna. For Shawna, software is integral to helping her manage, archive, and supervise her advisors. Using an extensive list of keywords, software helps Shawna ensure that “anything they say that has any of those words or phrases in it will automatically direct to compliance before it goes live…it’s a huge role, we wouldn’t be able to do anything without it.”

2. Show Your Personal Side

How do you connect with customers and build trust within your audience when you have compliance rules in place?

For Shawna, compliance rules don’t typically play into the relationship between the audience and the brand. In the world of Financial Services, it is typically not the brand itself but people outside of the brand who are representing Manulife Financial, and these advisors “have their own relationships with their own customers and prospects.” For Shawna, “it’s all about training and giving them the best practices, and making them understand what they can and should be saying.” The point of social, explains Shawna, is not to make recommendations or sell products. Rather, it’s about “creating an online reputation that people can relate to. It’s about showing the personal side of you, as opposed to the advisors’ side, and it’s about, you know, thought leadership and setting yourself apart from the guy down the street.”

When it comes to connecting with customers, social is a great way to do it, but “to me it’s an amplification of what you’re already doing.” So if you’re already active in a particular community, you amplify this and create stronger relationships with the customers. Manulife Financial isn’t selling a product per se, but showing how they can help consumers at different stages of their lifecycle with all of their financial needs. It’s more about building trust and “showing Manulife as a company that someone wants to do business with because they trust them, and they are reputable, and they’re a company that they identify with.”

3. Find A Way For Compliance To Work For You

What challenges are marketers facing in the field of finance today?

“The number one challenge is compliance,” responds Shawna without hesitation. “Financial services is traditionally extremely risk averse. Almost every FI out there is more on the cautious side of risk than most other companies, and we have a lot to be concerned about, right? You know, there are way too many stories in the press about things that have gone wrong on the financial services side. So compliance is number one, explains Shawna.” The challenge is “making the compliance folks and the legal folks and the top of the chain – senior management – comfortable with the risk that we’re taking, and making sure that we’re mitigating it to an extent that we can say ‘ok, you know what, yes we’ve got all the checks and balances in place, we’re ok with putting a foot, you know, dipping a toe into social.’” Once you’re able to prove that social marketing works, explains Shawna, senior management becomes more open to exploring more participation in the content marketing sphere.

“But, ultimately, it comes right down to compliance. First and foremost we have to meet our regulatory obligations. So whatever regulatory body is out there that is governing us, whatever their rules and requirements are, we have to adhere to them. You have to find a way to make it work for you,” concludes Shawna.

4. Evolve With The Times

Is traditional advertising dead?

“I truly believe that it depends on your industry and what you’re offering. I think that advertising absolutely still does work for certain types of institutions,” explains Shawna. In fact, Manulife Financial recently launched a large branding campaign of their own. However, Shawna does insist that in today’s media landscape you must modify your advertising to be online, since this is one of the few ways that you can measure ROI on advertising.

On the other hand, “print advertising, and I hate to say it because I have a journalism background…but, print advertising, to me, is going the way of the dodo bird” admits Shawna. Though some business units in Manulife still do print advertising, “I personally don’t because I never got a single thing out of it and when you actually have a person’s name and phone number to call, you kinda know when it’s working or not,” explains Shawna. “It’s definitely not a priority for me…I think there are better ways to get news out there.”

“I am, and again, I’m only speaking for one area of Manulife, but yes, I’ve absolutely actually stopped advertising altogether,” explains Shawna. Now Shawna is directing her team’s efforts into the sphere of social and content marketing.

5. Social Media Is The Vehicle Of Content Marketing

Do you think the social media and content marketing spheres colliding or overlapping?

“Well I think social media is the vehicle for content marketing, right? I mean, it’s all about content, and the content that you put in social is so incredibly important.” For Shawna, one of the challenges she faces in financial services is that a lot of the compliance departments will say ‘ok, we only want them to post what we pre-approve.’ Unfortunately, canned content will not generate as much engagement as personalized content. Shawna is tackling this by training people how to use personal content to create higher engagement while supplementing it with “canned stuff” to keep themselves active in the interim.

At the end of the day, “to me it’s hand in hand,” explains Shawna. “I mean, there’s a ridiculous amount of content shared every single day.” In the midst of this staggering amount of noise, content marketing is important because people want to consume content from other people, not brands, observes Shawna. “Having employees as ambassadors of your brand is so incredibly important” in an age where “Content is King.”

6. A Modern Marketer Is Flexible (Not A Trend Chaser)

What defines a modern marketer for you and would you characterize yourself as a modern marketer?

“I would characterize myself as a modern marketer working in an incredibly confined space,” responds Shawna. “I have always been a proponent of evolution,” begins Shawna,

For Shawna, modern marketing isn’t jumping on the latest bandwagon or adopting the biggest trend. It’s taking a step back, looking at your goals, and figuring out what advertising strategy is works best for your industry or whatever product you’re selling. I’m a big proponent of evolution,” explains Shawna, but “you have to choose your market wisely, you can’t just do everything. To me, that’s just a big ‘spray and pray’ attempt, right? And it just doesn’t work.”

Shawna suggests doing your research, figuring out what works for your industry, and looking at some of your competitors that might not typically be considered a ‘competitor.’ For example, Shawna looks at banks and insurance companies, but also Amazon and Google. “These are companies that are, you know, kind of behind the scenes getting into the financial services space. So nobody expects it but they are getting there, and so they would be [considered] competitors as well.”

For Shawna, “a modern marketer is someone who keeps on top of what’s going on and is able to adapt and evolve and not be stuck in the ‘this is what I learned in school’” mindset. Rather, it’s about “being more flexible and looking at different opportunities to market yourself in different ways.”

7. Question the Established Norms (It’s Your Job)

Are you constantly questioning the established norms?

“Oh I do absolutely, but I think that’s my job, right?” responds Shawna. “One of my most hated sayings is ‘but we’ve always done it that way,’” explains Shawna. “I can’t stand it. I’ve told everybody on my team those words are never allowed to come out of your mouth.” This doesn’t mean everything has to change, elaborates Shawna. Some things might be perfectly fine, but if you don’t ask, “is there are better way to do this?” or “should we be looking at these opportunities?” you can fall behind very quickly. Sometimes a change makes sense, and other times it’s important to recognize that a specific media channel or trend might not be right for your campaign.

“Sometimes we miss things, we miss opportunities,” explains Shawna. For example, when Twitter came out Shawna thought there would be no way this would be applicable to financial services. However, “six years later I’m totally eating my words because I’m like ‘hey, it’s still here and it’s blowing up,’” recalls Shawna. “You look at the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is 50+, which blows my mind.” Shawna’s example demonstrates the importance of constantly questioning the established norms and further reinforces her previous point – to always be flexible.

Shawna and I finsihed our conversation with a discussion on her top business goals for 2015. For Shawna, this “would be getting Manulife securities up and running on social.” Manulife Financial recently completed a pilot in March, and launched a full program on May 1st. Shawna’s primary goal during this campaign “is to get as many advisors as we can successful in social. Not just on social, but actually successful…One of the things that’s unique about our program is that we’re not just equipping advisors with the tools to be compliant, we’re actually equipping them with the training, the best practices, the people, the support, the coaching, the content – all of the things that they need to be successful,” explains Shawna. “So that’s my goal for 2015, to see a successful social media program for our advisors.”

This year Shawna is focusing on “trying to set up our thought leaders in the social space to connect with our customers.” Is your brand also evolving to add content marketing into your marketing funnel? Contact us to learn how ScribbleLive can help!

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