The Social Way Forces A Rethinking Of Old, Controlling Ways

When something is new, a little scary and yet ubiquitous, it may be human nature to want to limit what you absolutely need to know about it. Jersey Shore, for example, is something I’ve decided that I don’t need to follow.

In the case of investment company Web sites, mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers early on realized that their sites wouldn’t be e-commerce sites. That freed them (us as I was on the inside at that point) from thinking about transaction funnels, search engine optimization and other best practices that e-commerce sites need to master in order to survive.

And yet, a spot-check of industry sites in 2010 shows many e-commerce influences—e.g., the navigation and filtering, the conversion architecture supporting online advertising response, the “literature” shopping carts.

E-commerce shaped online users’ Web site experiences and expectations, and it may have been inevitable that asset managers would ultimately catch up and strive to provide sites on par with other retail sites.

Today, as commerce becomes increasingly social, this seems likes a déjà vu moment. The temptation may be to think that social commerce—online collaborative shopping influenced by recommendations, ratings and user-generated content—is just for retailers. But we’re keeping an eye on it because we think social commerce will inevitably influence how investment products are evaluated online.


Back in the day, I was crazy about a magazine called Yahoo! Internet Life. YIL carried a feature called Old Way/Net Way, a theme I borrowed to give my own presentations on the Old Way/Net Way for this business.

Here’s a new comparison, as inspired by social commerce.

Old Way

Some investment company sites today offer fund comparison tools, expense calculators and hypotheticals displaying their funds and their funds alone. We know of at least one company that reprints magazine article “top fund” listings—and evidently pays to have the page re-typeset to exclude all but that company’s funds on the list!

OK, really? This practice betrays both a desire for control and a cluelessness. It’s just not possible—let alone desirable—to control what the information consumer sees. A hobbled presentation doesn’t do anything for anybody. There’s always another Web site that a user can and will leave yours for.

As social commerce becomes more common, single sponsor fund presentations and other tools will be glaringly out of step, dated, useless.

Social Way

At the highest level, what underlies social commerce is an organization’s desire to deliver a good experience thereby building loyalty. It’s Macy’s telling shoppers what Gimbels sells, updated and applied to the digital relationship.

Retailers and retail Web sites, for example, are starting to nod to other companies, including competitors. For mainstream coverage on this emerging trend, read the New York Times article “Buy My Stuff And Theirs Too.”

Back to this business, the days of expecting advisors to sell a family of funds are over—and the client-focused asset manager acknowledges this by offering tools that consider the universe of funds.

Yes, there are Compliance concerns about showing other fund companies’ products. But T. Rowe Price and a few other fund companies are figuring those issues out (by sourcing third-parties for data, for example) in order to be able to present the whole picture for the convenience of their Web site users. This is in the spirit of the “social way.”


I believe that we in the investment industry lost time by not paying attention to e-commerce as it was evolving. Social commerce is a new concept. Learning as the rest of industry learns will provide insights as you and your firm make your plans for future Web-based communicating.

We recommend these two sites for you to become acquainted with the thinking behind social commerce:

  •, a conference site in support of an Altimeter Group event held in October. Altimeter is sharing presentation slides and there’s a Ustream available of most of the presentations. Altimeter is all about being open—see our review of Founder Charlene Li’s book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead.

We’ll be taking a looking at a few more Old Way/Social Way examples in the coming months. Can you think of any?