Why You Can't Just Jump Into The Conversation

“People are talking online about you and the business you’re in. You want to take part in that conversation, you want to be in the mix.”

When mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms are early in their exploration of communicating off their own domains, that kind of exhortation by me or somebody like me is usually met with a blank stare. That’s the best case. The worst case is when they pretend they’re listening but they’re really just planning their broadcast schedule for the social sites.

So yesterday T. Rowe Price took to both Twitter and Facebook (if you have a subscription, you can read more about it on Ignites.com today). Cheers all around. In my unscientific monitoring of asset manager mentions on Twitter, my impression is that T. Rowe is the firm that’s talked about most. This may be a reflection of its client base and/or the stakes that the firm has taken in social media investments. As someone who hasn't had to do any of the work involved, it's about time for @TRowePrice.

What Took So Long?

I had a chance to talk to T. Rowe’s social media ringleader Dan Phelps yesterday and he outlined the thoughtful, painstaking two-year process that led to the February 1 launch.

But who could have known that would be the same date that Facebook filed its IPO? T. Rowe Price’s high profile as the mutual fund company with the largest investment in Facebook guaranteed that there would be lots of social mentions of “T Rowe” yesterday and no doubt continuing this week.

OK, I don’t know, this wasn’t discussed but my suspicion is that’s not the conversation that the T. Rowe corporate marketing communications people necessarily seek to have. But they’re listening and they’re ready to respond where appropriate. That’s the benefit of all that planning.

I call your attention to one tweet in particular from @bradledwith, a certified financial planner and wealth manager.

Here’s a financial advisor showing interest in a T. Rowe Price mutual fund on Day 1. Excellent. Except…the question being asked is tricky, isn’t it? Fund companies don’t promote their holdings and there’s no way a Twitter editorial calendar anticipated tweeting about the funds that have Facebook exposure.

In The Conversation But Not To Drive It

This is an unplanned conversation opportunity and it marks the beginning of a new way of communicating in public for @TRowePrice. Again, the conversations initiated by others are like offline conversations—unpredictable and rarely about what the brand wants to talk about.

Twitter is about content publishing, sure, but it’s also about customer service and public relations. The same question was no doubt asked on the phones yesterday and customer service handled it.

Most people on Twitter know to direct questions to companies, but this advisor probably assumed that T. Rowe had no Twitter account. Most asset managers don't (here's a list I keep of investment managers on Twitter).

What I like about a new account on Twitter is that T. Rowe has the opportunity to surprise this planner by showing that they were listening. They may do it directly in a way that we can all see or they may find a way to engage offline. That they’re engaging is the point. Oh and all those strategy meetings and technology testing and workflow analysis, that's the point, too.

There's no underestimating the importance of being fully prepared to be conversational.