Elsewhere the big news this past week was the death and burial of Michael Jackson, the king of pop. In our corner of the world, the big news was what some consider relatively small developments.
In the space of 24 hours, I'd sent three tweets:
#1 linking to a kasina blog post about Robert Reynolds, CEO of Putnam Investments, joining Twitter (@robertlreynolds).
#2 pointing to the launch of Putnam's PutnamToday Twitter account.
#3 linking to an Investment News article explaining that Putnam's Twitter accounts were related to an upcoming ad campaign.
Between #2 and #3, one of my financial advisor Twitter correspondents sent me a direct message. He was polite, of course, but the gist was: "Really, why is this such a big deal to you?"
It was a cold splash of reality. Only those of us who have toiled within the confines of asset management companies understand the negotiations and deliberations that must have preceded an asset manager's taking the Twitter plunge. If I was giddy, it was that Putnam was the latest of only a few companies that have broken onto Twitter (see Rock The Boat Marketing's Social Media Directory).
Taken from another perspective, two more accounts were created on Twitter—for a site that's adding millions of users a month, that's not three-tweet newsworthy.
Here are two other highlights in what should have been a slow news week:
- Vanguard Investments announced that it would open its blog for comments.
- Having had a Twitter account for months, American Century Investments started using it.
So…um…maybe these are baby steps that are giant leaps only for those who pushed for them on the inside.
We can't blame financial advisors for not being impressed. What remains to be seen is whether using Twitter or blogs or other forms of social media lifts the quality of mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) communicating, as it's done for other companies in other industries.
"What are you doing now?" That's the question that Twitter tweets are intended to answer. In addition to providing a real-time forum, Twitter is a way for companies to step from behind the corporate veil and reveal themselves to be human, transparent, consistent, accountable. At a time when financial advisors are increasingly focused on what it means to be a fiduciary, they are looking for business partners they can trust. I believe that business can be earned on Twitter by the investment manager that shows itself to be authentic and true to its word.
But, notwithstanding the extra effort it takes for companies in this industry to get there, there's no credit to be given for just showing up.
Brands can be tempted to think of Twitter and other sites as just another broadcasting platform. But we look forward to seeing how Pimco (the industry's most prolific Twitter-user), Putnam, American Century and the others that follow use Twitter to engage, to "join the conversation."
At the minimum, that means following as well as being followed. It means replying when messages are directed to the account. It means forwarding tweets that others have initiated. And before all that can happen, it no doubt means long talks with Legal and Compliance. (Note the care with which Vanguard developed its blog commenting guidelines.)
Securing the approvals is a required first hurdle but the next, higher hurdle is the change in thinking that may be required when a company takes part in a two-way conversation without the home field advantage. Putnam's Reynolds acknowledges as much in his July 7 reply to a well-wisher, "This will be the start of a trend! Interacting with this vital medium helps Putnam stay current with investors’ needs."
The example that Vanguard sets online is consistent with its brand, whose attributes already include stand-up communicating. To others, Twitter and social media in general offers a way to redefine how they'll communicate, even to redefine the company they want to be.
When asset managers plunge in and mix it up in ways not previously possible offline and when the return on their interactions is more than tepid reception from wired advisors—that's what we need to reserve our giddiness for.