American Century’s Use Of Social Media: A Work In Progress

American Century Investments will tell you that they’re “just experimenting” with social media. Currently, they’re adding two posts a week to their Facebook page and one to three tweets a day on Twitter.

These are not volumes that will turn the heads of anyone outside the asset management industry. But within this space, theirs is a story of pushing ahead, slowly and in lockstep with their approachable Legal and Compliance partners, even as they’re figuring things out.

Twitter and Facebook is just a start, explains Jennifer Sussman, director of eBusiness.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to learn what’s being said out there about us and how we can influence that. If you don’t know what’s being said, you can’t act on it. We want to make sure we really understand what the needs of our clients and prospects are, to ultimately get the chance to engage clients and prospects so we can have a stronger relationship with them,” she says.

“You can’t look at what’s happening in the industry and not recognize the power of being in the environment and having these conversations. We need a new kind of dialogue,” says Sussman.

As far as we’ve been able to observe (American Century is not a Rock The Boat Marketing client), the company’s efforts to date are thoughtful and consistent with evolving best practices. Over the last few months, we’ve watched the company become the most engaged Twitter-using asset manager (out of a total of 14 companies with accounts to date). They’re hoping for followers but they’re following others, too. They tweet, they reply and on occasion they’ll re-tweet, all of which are communications that are routed first through Compliance.

Sussman explains that the pace is determined partly by the fact that internal policies are still being developed and that the social media account managers Jamie Needham and Brent Bowen have other work to do. Social media is jointly owned by eBusiness and Corporate Communications.

While the firm is currently relying on Google Alerts and TweetDeck to monitor mentions of American Century online, Chris Doyle, vice president of Corporate Communications, says he’s evaluating other, more powerful tools.

As you can see from a screenshot of the tweet stream above, recents posts cover a wide range, from callouts to staff, local announcements, investment commentary and mentions of the American Century Championship and its tie-in to Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Lately, the team’s Twitter account has been promoting a Webinar for financial advisors.

The Webinar promotion caught our attention and when the account published a #aciwebinar hashtag and started liveblogging Wednesday's event, we had to learn more.

One of the effects of social network participation is the blending of audiences. Verified celebrities are mixing on Twitter with fans and critics, the media and their family members. Unless a Twitter account is protected—meaning that the owner approves each follower and that the tweets are not included in the public stream—the tweet-writer should assume a melting pot audience. In American Century’s case, the result of its tweets is a motley group of organically grown (no auto-follow schemes) followers including golf enthusiasts, shareholders, advisors and prospects.

Our first question to American Century: So, you promoted an advisor event using a public channel? Yes, Sussman said, advisors were the target audience, which the tweets and registration form made clear, leading registrants to “self-select.” If a stray retail investor were to wander into the Webinar, there was no exposure because the content was retail- and advisor-approved.

The live blogging was accomplished with a combination of pre-written tweets and tweets drafted on the fly and approved by Compliance sitting in the same room to accommodate timely review and posting.

“We work within clearly drawn limits,” according to Doyle. “Opinions are acceptable but there can be no product discussions or mentions.”

The purpose of using a hashtag, in this case #aciwebinar, is to cluster comments. Most live events, presented offline and online, offer hashtags nowadays so attendees can track comments made related to the event and re-tweet (forward to others). To see this for yourself, go to and search for #aciwebinar. It’s a best practice that in this case was lightly used—the team’s individual Twitter accounts re-tweeted the tweets. Most important is that it was done, to learn from, for next time.

Another common practice is to invite listeners to post questions via Twitter and then follow the answers via Twitter. That plan fell through the cracks as the team was preoccupied by an onslaught of questions coming in via the WebEx interface. Next time for that, too.

To date, American Century says it’s encouraged by the return on its investment of creativity and effort. The company’s first experience with Twitter was to promote the golf tournament, and Sussman says Twitter drove the majority of traffic to the American Century Championship landing page.

Needham says that there were more clicks on the tweets promoting the Webinar URL than from the banner ad promoting it on the company’s advisor site. And, the Twitter account added 12 followers in the following day.

There’s another encouraging measure that we reported on's blog yesterday. In our analysis of the 6,000-plus financial advisor tweets containing content links in the last two months, a handful went to content on five asset manager domains— being one.

How significant is what’s happening on social networks to the research, distribution and investment in investment products? The numbers are tiny and it’s very early. But what we heard from American Century is that it’s not too soon to experiment and to add to what your firm knows about interacting online.