If you’re on social media just trying to get famous, stop.
Many investment professionals are naturally competitive people, myself included. Accustomed to being benchmarked and trained to quantify impact, we run an unusual risk of thinking that social media is a contest.
But applying that perspective is counterproductive. It’s a bit like going to a dinner party and trying to keep score. People might be into it if you have strange friends, but there’s a better chance that you will alienate everyone there.
So what do you do?
During a panel conversation, “How Social Media Is Changing Financial Services (and How to Adapt),” at the 69th CFA Institute Annual Conference, Marissa Pick, director of social media at CFA Institute; Michael Batnick, CFA, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management; and Tadas Viskanta, founder and editor of Abnormal Returns, gave their perspectives on social media’s value proposition and how to best leverage the technology. It turns out it’s not rocket science.
Show Up Looking to Learn
Only 29% of respondents to an audience poll said that they use social media as part of their research process. That came as a surprise. Social media can be a critical information-gathering tool. Research from MIT Sloan indicates that users who follow a diverse network of experts on Twitter come up with measurably better ideas.
That doesn’t mean that starting a Twitter account is a magic bullet. Following a given Kardashian won’t do much for you, and the behaviors discussed in the paper are good ideas in general: Pay attention to a wide range of informed views.
And I don’t mean views on which direction stocks are going to move. Both Viskanta and Batnick agreed that reading forecasts and stock picks is the least interesting part of using Twitter. There are plenty of other things to share! For instance, here’s an article Batnick highlighted detailing the struggles of the hedge fund industry . . . in 1969.
Isn’t that more interesting than 140 characters about somebody’s favorite trade? One of the things that is hard to understand for people who are new to social media is that it’s important to always keep your audience in mind. A given trade recommendation will only be compelling to a small number of people who share your time frame and investment beliefs. Information is much more interesting than recommendations.
But Don’t Forget Conversations!
Viskanta also made an important point: Social media is certainly a broadcast medium, but it is more than just that. Remember the analogy about the dinner party? It’s considered bad manners to remain completely silent during dinner, and for good reason: It’s kind of a weird thing to do.
Part of the magic of social media, Viskanta noted, is that it really is a conversation. This is a truism that cynics often ignore. There are lots of silly things being said about social media. Look no further than AOL’s “Digital Prophet” Shingy. And though it’s fun to read about an over-the-top evangelist of a trend you don’t understand and dismiss it, it is far from productive.
Instead, think about what it means that these tools exist. At minimum, it means that you can ask that question that popped into your head. It also means that you probably should. When you respond on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever, it may feel like you are responding to words. But really you are responding to a person. People react well when you respond thoughtfully to something that they wrote or said. I know it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.
But a lot can come from a conversation, so it’s worth remembering that you can do more with your interaction than just make someone feel good. For instance, Viskanta played a big role in my own professional development just by doing his thing. In the early days of my investment career, I relied immensely on his curation to get a handle on who and what was interesting. And years later, I was able to tell him that to his face over dinner.
Of course, he didn’t know that until I told him, and there was a 9- or 10-year lag between when I started reading Abnormal Returns and when I was finally able to thank Tadas in person for the early career solid he did for me. Over that time, he’s evolved his offering considerably, but he’s stayed consistent and true to himself.
If You Do One Thing, Make It That
Regardless of the platform or platform combination that you choose to adopt or the content that you choose to engage with, it bears repeating that you won’t create much value for yourself if you’re not doing something you actually find valuable. There is no sense trying to score internet points by getting LinkedIn likes or Twitter hearts. Concentrate instead on trying to learn things from others that will elevate your ability to serve your clients.
Batnick recommended a few Twitter accounts to follow, and I agree with all of his recommendations. Simply going in and reading a few tweets from each of these handles is a good start. Keeping up with Viskanta’s work is also a great way to see longer-form commentary from all kinds of different sources to get a better sense of what most interests you.
There are plenty of tools and plenty of social networks, but if you’re just getting started and primarily looking to learn, there really is nowhere better than Twitter. It may be ironic that a network that emphasizes brevity and immediacy has evolved into tremendously useful tool for long-term investors. But that doesn’t make it untrue.
This article originally appeared on the 69th CFA Institute Annual Conference blog.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Photo courtesy of W. Scott Mitchell