3 Ways Asset Manager Tweeting Is Evolving

Asset manager tweets have gotten more interesting in the last several months. Here are three ways I see the mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) tweeting evolving.

  • In the content that’s being shared
  • In prompting people to talk back
  • In engaging in dialogue

1. In The Content That's Being Shared

There’s nothing wrong with using Twitter’s 140 characters to promote the availability of content on a Website or an upcoming television appearance. It happens all day and all night on Twitter. But, when you consider the mobile user who’s checking on his or her stream while on the go, you realize the added value of using the tweet to deliver information.

$1.8 Bil State of Illinois offered this week: A2/A+(at spreads 100 to 185 over a generic AAA - wide ...but its refinancing 5%+)

Fixedology (@Fixedology) April 30, 2012

Municipal bonds issued in April totaled $33.64 billion. YTD total of $112.2 billion is greater than 2011, but less than ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10.

Rochester Funds (@RochesterFunds) May 3, 2012

The above tweets are examples of how two accounts build followership by providing pithy, sometimes real-time updates on a niche subject. Northern Trust Investments started tweeting municipal bond supply/demand stats within its @Fixedology account, @RochesterFunds did the same and now those who care about the fixed-income market have an embarrassment of riches on Twitter. These are the types of tweets that are regularly re-tweeted by media accounts @Cate_Long(Reuters) and @BobBrinker (Brinker Fixed Income Advisor).

For more examples of self-contained tweets, see @Advisor Shares, @PIMCO when the account starts the tweet with Gross' or El-Erian's name, and accounts headed by an asset management firm personality (including @Wesbury, @MarkMobius, @MarioGabelli). 

2. In Prompting People To Talk Back

For some firms, the risk of participating on Twitter is that any tweet can prompt a response from real, live people in real-time. (And, it’s for this reason that Customer Service needs representation on any implementation team.) Yet others regularly pose questions and try to encourage interaction. See @iSharesETFs and @MarioGabelli, for example.

On National Teachers Day, we’re wondering who taught you how to manage your finances?bit.ly/JX8vo0

iShares (@iSharesETFs) May 9, 2012

Kentucky Derby... Owner is CHDN...( Churchill Downs) ... Earnings call revealed interesting dynamics.... Review it and tell me if u agree

Mario Gabelli (@MarioGabelli) May 8, 2012 

Based on my unscientific but consistent observation, it seems that people are becoming more comfortable engaging tweeting asset managers.

The tweets are not always going to be on-topic, as I’ve noted before. But when the response is on-topic, expect to be held accountable for the tweet to an extent that rarely happens in real life. The Twittersphere is different than the protected environment that our executives, investment strategists, economists, portfolio managers are accustomed to. When a muckety-muck makes an appearance in real life, it has been Marketing’s (and Sales’) job to be sure all goes as planned. Speaking engagements, question-and-answer sessions and, to some extent, interviews can be controlled.

Well, not so much on Twitter.

With almost 69,000 followers, the PIMCO account enjoys a lot of re-tweeting. Overall, my sense is that people who respond largely agree with the views expressed. But, get a load of the negative response to last week’s @PIMCO tweet (which itself was atypical in that it was a random comment not really about investing or the markets). The $119.9 million reference was to the purchase price of Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. 

Gross: $119.9 million could be used to help people as opposed to boost an ego. Scream…

PIMCO (@PIMCO) May 3, 2012

This tweet was re-tweeted 37 times, according to Topsy, but quite a few others teed-off on what was said. I show a few of the choice comments below. See how the tweeters took the tweet, considered it against what they know about Gross (including the one account that dug up a link to a report about Gross buying Jennifer Anniston’s house). Can you imagine a real-life setting where such unvarnished (but informed) comments would have been directed at Bill Gross? It wouldn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t have been thinking the same thing.

@pimco Re: Scream. Did you stop taking a paycheck beyond $40K and move into a modest condo. Otherwise, you might sound a little hypocrtical.

Jim S (@Chevredor) May 3, 2012

@pimco the proceeds are going towards building an art museum.Last I heard, the arts have helped humanity since the petroglyph.

Brad Singer (@azstockguy) May 3, 2012

@pimco bill you had your dalliance with super rare stamps!

david (@stepehn) May 3, 2012

@pimco Mr Gross how do you use your fees? Someone ask you. Scream

antonio banda (@abandar) May 3, 2012

GMAFB Bill read.bi/oUyQLH RT @pimco: Gross: $119.9 million could be used to help people as opposed to boost an ego. Scream

fed_speak (@fed_speak) May 3, 2012

@pimco lets not get carried away Gross, you tore down a 20mm plus house to sell the empty lot.

Mike (@msms792012) May 3, 2012

As asset manager/public interactions evolve, two questions for you: Would you prefer to send milquetoast tweets that nobody cares about or tweets that stimulate conversation? What do you gain and what do you lose from being on a platform where it's not possible to shield your business leaders from dissenting commentary?

3. In Engaging In Dialogue

Dialogue along the lines of “Thanks for the re-tweet” and “You’re welcome” is fairly common among asset managers and other Twitter accounts. But, we’re starting to see some actual exchanges.

One of the most riveting dialogues happened between First Trust’s chief economist Brian Wesbury over a period of three days. “Oh no, he didn’t,” I said to myself at one point while watching the back and forth.

We pick up the action last Thursday evening when @Wesbury, one of the most natural and prolific tweeters, sent a tweet commenting that “Cutting government spending, and therefore boosting resources in private sector, is a stimulant to the economy.” It caught the attention of entrepreneur Zach Weinberg. From Thursday to Saturday, @ZachWeinberg disagreed with Wesbury, sending 28 tweets to and about Wesbury and drawing other accounts in.

According to one tweet, he was persistent because “It’s just frustrating to see someone with that position using an argument that has 0 basis in reality. It’s harmful.”

The majority of Wesbury’s tweets are his thoughts (versus links to Web content), and he regularly responds to those who direct comments to him. But what was amazing last week and into the weekend were the 18 tweets he sent back to Weinberg, interspersed with other tweets he was sending.

Most of the tweets tried to convince Weinberg (“Demand doesn’t create growth, supply does. Real entrepreneurs invent new products where no demand exists. Facebook? Twitter?”). However, after Weinberg started sending increasingly provocative tweets that questioned his background, etc., Wesbury began to push back.

Finally, he signed off with this tweet. 

@zachweinberg Zach. Going to bed. You need to study economics. I wrote two books, or read Smith, Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, Friedman, Hazlitt

Brian Wesbury (@wesbury) May 5, 2012

While it lasted, the conversation was, as this account noted, entertaining to watch unfold.

Stop what you are doing and follow @zachweinberg and @wesbury conversation on Twitter. ECON 101 at its best. #fridaynightentertainment

Payam Dastmalchi (@payamd) May 5, 2012

But what was all that, exactly? Obviously, none of it was scripted. First Trust has a Twitter account but took no part in these tweets. I see it as a revelation of Wesbury as a populist who's willing to be accessible via Twitter. This is not typical behavior of a representative of an asset manager firm, let alone an asset manager chief economist. He was willing to mix it up in the interest of being understood. I wonder how Wesbury's availability on Twitter benefits the firm and the economist's understanding of life outside the dismal science.

Not all the dialogue has to be contentious and I’ll end here with a sweet encounter I had with @Vanguard_Group last week. Vanguard tweeted about its birthday. The thought of the low-cost provider celebrating its birthday tickled my fancy so I sent a tweet and moved on with my day. In a response, Vanguard tweeted back this photo of their version of partying. 

@rocktheboatmktg You've got us pegged! Thanks for the bday wishes! twitter.com/Vanguard_Group…

Vanguard (@Vanguard_Group) May 1, 2012

Made me smile. It's a low-risk demonstration that 1)there’s somebody behind this Twitter account 2)we can hear what you’re saying and 3)we’re not above improvising a little fun.

What also occurred to me after this exchange: Vanguard is an easy firm to interact with on Twitter because we all know what they stand for.

The net effect of these tweeting evolutions? If you work for a Just-Another-Global-Asset-Management-Firm-Offering-Breadth-And-Depth, you may need to dig deeper to differentiate yourself—via your positioning, your content and your people—if you hope to have an impact in an increasingly social setting.

Reminder: An easy way to follow asset manager tweets is to follow this Rock The Boat Marketing Twitter list. If your firm has a Twitter account and belongs on the list, just send me a note.