Up Close And Personal On This Social Networking Stuff

This was one of those rare weeks when I had a blog post all queued up and ready to publish today. But I'm letting two tweets this morning trump my previously scheduled rant (it's about content development—check back next week for it?).

The resistance I see when I'm talking to people about Twitter is not what I used to see when talking about the Internet or Web-based applications. It's not a fear of technology or an ability to work it. It's more of a suspicion or a bias about a communications channel that has developed a reputation for being self-indulgent and/or narcissistic.

Maintain that position, if you will, but I fear that it could stand in the way of your understanding how people are connecting today. And of your planning for your company to take part.

To demonstrate, I've decided to review 30 minutes of my morning with you. OK, I know that sounds narcissistic. I wish you knew me well enough to know that I'm a private person and, truthfully, my tweets are pretty cut-and-dried. Not a whole lot of personal Pat. But I'm offering this walk down near-term memory lane with me to describe how Twitter connects people.

Here we go.


When the schedule allows, I extend my daily updating routine from reading the newspapers to reading my feed reader and my @RockTheBoatMKTG and @AdvisorTweets accounts via a Twitter application that sits on top of my browser. Yes, I have to limit myself time-wise or I'd be following tweets and links to content within the links all day. (This job requires me to keep current. I couldn't afford to invest this time during the workday when I was a corporate employee, either. Hmm, what's wrong with those last two sentences?)

The first tweet I'll call your attention to included a link to an article whose headline was "Social Media Growth Suggests a Wholesale Change in the Way the Internet is Used." How could I not follow up and check that out? In fact, the article was from September 28, and I try to pass on links to only fresh content. But I saw it and thought well, maybe somebody who follows me could use this data.

A quote from the article—“While video and text content remain central to the Web experience, the desire of online consumers to connect, communicate and share is increasingly driving the medium’s growth.”—hung with me as I went back to check on the rest of the tweets coming in.

I was thinking about a client with a successful online campaign that they'd love to syndicate but all are hung up on the commenting. Commenting to me is a very stop/start exercise—you comment, time passes, another comment or response is posted, time passes, etc. It's toward connecting but it can include a lot of posturing that can get in the way. (For an example of what I mean, see the tortuous back and forth on this page. Ouch, did communication really take place in that exchange?)


OK, back to my Twhirl application and here below (the shaded green representing that it's a reply to my account) is a nice surprise. This is going to take some explanation and even then it may not prevent some serious eye-rolling. I understand.

There is a practice on Twitter that involves exchanging recommendations on Fridays. If you've ever created a Twitter account and wondered what next, then you might understand the value of these #FFs, as they're called. The investment management community uses them consistently. Go to AdvisorTweets.com, for example, and click on the #FF or #FollowFriday hashtags and you'll see financial advisor endorsements of other accounts belonging to other advisors, media people, CPAs or just people whose tweets they like. This is what helps foster the community.

In the @BillWinterberg example above, he's listing accounts he's recommending as #FFs (you learn to overlook the @ signs but they're needed to make sure the account sees the mention). Our accounts receive their share of #FFs, which in their serendipity—they're not always from the same people and not always from people one knows—provide a weekly atta-boy for the quality of the tweets being shared.

But today's note from @BillWinterberg struck me and I flashed back to the start of the year when I created the Rock The Boat business account.

What a year it's been in financial services, for the industry, for marketers, for financial advisors, for service providers to financial services. Easily the highlight for me was Twitter and the people I've exchanged information with, 140 characters at a time.

Bill is a certified financial planner (CFP) now working as a technology specialist for planners at advisors4advisors.com. I've never met Bill or the others on his list in this tweet or on a list I'd develop. He was one of the first I followed, he was a presenter in June in a great AdvisorProducts presentation on advisors and social networking, and he writes his own FP Pad blog. Bill was one of the first commenters on the AdvisorTweets.com blog when we launched last month, and he lists our Rock The Boat account on his Twitter page as one of his favorites.

I could tell you factoids about just about every one of my valued Twitter friends. When I'm online and logged into Twitter, they're my touchstone. As long as these people are out there, I'm not leaving Twitter either. My Twitter peeps help strengthen the Rock The Boat Marketing value proposition. I rely on them. And in the process I've learned a little about them, which makes them real and builds my trust in them.

It's similar in ways to other online forums I've been members of, dating back to CompuServ bulletin boards and America Online chatrooms, but for me those got creepy fast. My Twitter networks are invaluable business-to-business interactions that would be impossible to replicate in the physical world. I've worked in the investment management industry since 1993 and while I may have met guys with his experience, offline I never would have had ongoing contact with Bill Winterberg and the information that Bill consistently exposes me to via the links he passes on via Twitter.

Some people are leaving Twitter. This week we've seen two advisors announce that they were closing their accounts, although they'd still be available on Facebook and LinkedIn. That's going to happen but when it does, I suppose it naturally prompts others to evaluate the time they're spending. I think Bill's #FF today was an allusion to their departure and a reaffirmation of Twitter's value to him.

In a week or so, we'll be publishing some data about financial advisors whose tweets we've been aggregating on AdvisorTweets.com. Most are independents. Do they need these networking resources available via social media more than other advisors? Or are they just more free, for Compliance reasons, to take advantage of them?

Enough about me, here's what hit me for you about the juxtaposition of these two tweets today. Consumers have found a way to connect online and they like it. They're your investors. Connecting via Twitter (and Twitter's timeliness and constancy makes it social media on steroids) is working for business people, and specifically for people within the target markets you seek to communicate with.

The quality of the connection is beyond email or Webinars or God forbid, Adobe Acrobat files. At this point, I'm not sure it's essential that your firm maintains a chatty Twitter account. But that you at least follow, yes. Please be a follower who listens and maybe even adjusts. My other favorite tweet of the week pointed to an article about how the Huffington Post sees how readers tweet their stories and adjusts headlines when the users' takes are better.

And consistency and frequency are important, too. At a time when advisors are stepping up their communicating, I don't see how asset managers can withhold. Increasingly, that's what publishing only quarterly updates seems like.

Could social networking with your investment analysts, your product development people, your sales people strengthen your connections? Yes. And within parameters your Compliance people could be encouraged to define.

Will it be Twitter two years from now? Or even next week? With all due respect, the better questions for you are: Could we be a better connected organization? What's the nature of the connections that our contacts seek with us now? Are we organized to interact these ways? How could we improve what we're delivering if we were better connected? What stands in the way of us taking part—and for how long will we let it?