Using Twitter To Understand Information and Improve Investment Returns
In my book, The Intuitive Investor, I state that the most important investment skill is understanding information. After working for years as a successful mutual fund portfolio manager, I discovered that he who understands information the best, performs the best. Both of the words in that simple equation — understanding information — help to provide useful context for how to improve investment returns.
Internet technology has massively lowered the price of information as the cost of publishing and distributing it is nearly zero. All of that information helps to build a more complete information mosaic so that we, as investors, can make more informed decisions. Yet, super cheap information comes at a cost: How do we discern signal from noise? That is, what information is important? How can I focus on what I want to focus on? How can I begin to understand that ocean of information?
One simple solution is to carefully curate information to identify quality sources and then return to those sources for critical information. In the past, this was done by subscription. Investors identified content providers — newspapers, magazines, newsletters, sell-side analyst reports — that were trusted; then those sources were delivered to us, usually by mail. In rare instances, television delivered information to us that was curated, and thus also trusted. In an era of ubiquitous information, these media are outmoded — but, even in the digital world, subscriptions are still key.
For a while it looked as if RSS (really simple syndication) feeds were the new subscription solution, but then information consumers realized that they did not always want to eat everything providers had to serve. Important questions remained: How do you follow just the curators/content providers that you want to follow? How do you get all of that information in digestible bits? In short, how do you create a custom newswire just for yourself? Enter: Twitter.
Twitter: A Personalized Headline Service
As a former Twitter naysayer, and now avid user, I can testify that Twitter is exactly what is needed for the investment professional trying to understand that hurricane of information. By following only people or organizations of interest, I get digestible, high quality, curated information in real time! Combined with officially Twitter-sanctioned freeware, TweetDeck, I now have a customized newswire delivered to my desk that allows me to see only what I want to see and when I need to see it. Excelsior! How is this seemingly innocuous service so danged powerful?
- Message limit of 140 characters. This limitation forces people to be succinct and focused when crafting their messages, or tweets in Twitter-speak. Better yet, user profiles are also limited to 140 characters, so you do not have to wade through a bunch of hyperbole and hot air to figure out a tweeter’s angle or the essential part of a story. Such limited space leads to careful, on-point messages.
- Hotlinks. Twitter allows for hotlinks to be embedded right in the middle of a Tweet. This means that Twitter is a headline wire service that is referent of other, more in-depth stories. If you don’t care about the Tweeted story it will soon scroll right on out of your view. But if you do care about the story then you can go straight to the source of the story and decide for yourself if the information is signal or noise. But don’t forget that individual Tweets can be news, too.
- Retweeting. Essentially, retweeting allows you to grab a headline of interest and then distribute it to your followers. This means that news can spread like wildfire on Twitter in a way that surely makes CNN, Google, and Facebook envious. So, Twitter is timely. Not surprisingly, the preceding media institutions all have Twitter accounts, as does the Wall Street Journal (@WSJ), Bloomberg (@BloombergNews), the Financial Times (@FinancialTimes), the Economist (@TheEconomist), and many millions of smart folks including individual reporters, bloggers, and others whose opinions are interesting and worth incorporating into your attempts at understanding information.
- Painless unfollow. Twitter makes the addition and subtraction of those people and services you are following absolutely painless. Want to follow an information curator? Just click the “follow” button. If after several days or weeks you realize that the tweets are more like twits, then you can painlessly unfollow the tweeter. Easy.
Before launching your reputation into the Twitterverse, it is sensible to consider the ramifications of fully public and immediate bursts of communication that are globally distributed. Unlike other social media platforms, you can not prohibit anyone from viewing your profile or following your updates. My colleague Michael McMillan, CFA, (@M_G_McMillan) has an upcoming and excellent primer about the subject; look for it on the Enterprising Investor.
How to Move from Twitter Lurker to Twitter Berserker
- Set up your Twitter account. It is free, easy, and takes almost no time.
- Resist the temptation to feel pressured into tweeting. You need never tweet to benefit from Twitter. Remember: This is your customizable breaking headline service, and you can follow whomever and whatever you want to follow.
- Use Twitter’s search function to find folks that mention keywords you care about (e.g., ethics, equities, economics, private wealth management, fixed income, Justin Bieber, etc.) in either their profiles or their Tweets. Follow these people.
- Keep Twitter open on your desktop and refresh your browser every so often to see the latest tweets from those you are following. If you begin to see utility in Twitter and get tired of refreshing your browser, then consider downloading TweetDeck (or any other Twitter app) that allows you to more seamlessly use Twitter as a private, customized newswire.
- Cull the list of those you are following to only those you want to follow or have the bandwidth to follow.
Curated Resources at CFA Institute
- For each of the CFA Institute Communities of Practice, there is a unique Twitter list that has been curated by it’s respective content director (a content specialist, such as myself, who is responsible for curating content related to the topics listed below). You can follow the topical feeds, the content director, or both!
- Alternative Investments, curated by Ron Rimkus, CFA (@RonRimkusCFA)
- Behavioral Finance, curated by Lauren Foster (@laurenfosternyc) and Jason A. Voss, CFA (@TheIntuitInvest)
- Corporate Finance, curated by Jason A. Voss, CFA (@TheIntuitInvest)
- Derivatives, curated by Bud Haslett, CFA (@BudHaslett)
- Economics, curated by Ron Rimkus, CFA (@RonRimkusCFA)
- Equity Investments, curated by David Larrabee, CFA (@LarrabeeCFA)
- Financial Statement Analysis, curated by Michael McMillan, CFA (@M_G_McMillan)
- Fixed Income, curated by Jason A. Voss, CFA (@TheIntuitInvest)
- Leadership, Management and Communication Skills, curated by Heather Packard (@hapackard)
- Performance Measurement, curated by Todd Jankowski, CFA
- Portfolio Management, curated by David Larrabee, CFA (@LarrabeeCFA); Usman Hayat, CFA (@Usman_Hayat); and Samuel Lum, CFA (@Samuel_Lum)
- Private Wealth, curated by Lauren Foster (@laurenfosternyc)
- Quantitative Methods, curated by Jason A. Voss, CFA (@TheIntuitInvest)
- Risk Management, curated by Bud Haslett, CFA (@BudHaslett)
- Standards, Ethics and Regulations, curated by Michael McMillan, CFA (@M_G_McMillan)
- Jason A. Voss, CFA (@TheIntuitInvest): I am a CFA Institute content director covering the worlds of fixed income, behavioral finance, corporate finance, and quantitative methods. Each morning I scour thousands of news headlines and almost a hundred publications for what I feel are the day’s most important news stories. Often I add context for understanding the linked articles.
- Jason Voss’s Curated News: You might want to begin your Twitter experience by subscribing to a news list that I have curated and created. By subscribing you will receive Tweets from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, the Financial Times, FinanceAsia, and two dozen others.