@Investors: Mutual Fund Providers Add Twitter to Arsenal

Tweeting is part of a broader effort to connect with clients.


American Century recently provided its mutual fund investors with the following advice: "Keep your focus on the spot of impact. Try not to pick your head up until you have reached the midthigh level on the follow-through. Keep going with your hands until they are at shoulder level."

Investors who follow this tip may not see any extra returns on their portfolios, but they'll almost certainly improve their golf game. "The golf swing is your signature on the golf course," according to an article American Century featured last week on its Twitter account. "Most golfers spend years trying to hone their swing and develop a consistent and dependable stroke that will allow them to hit the ball in the fairway and stay out of the rough."

Since the beginning of 2009, a number of mutual fund providers, including American Century, Putnam, and Fidelity, have used Twitter as part of a broader effort to reach out to investors and potential clients.

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For the most part, fund companies have used this relatively new medium to promote their products and to point viewers to educational materials about investing. Putnam, for instance, recently posted a video featuring commentary about its Global Technology Fund.

"In general, anytime a firm has an opportunity to talk to clients or potential clients, it's a good thing," says Tim Ullrich, the vice president of Monitor Services at Corporate Insight, a research firm that focuses on consumer issues in the financial industry. "It's another outlet to get the word out and also to put a good spin on things."

Even though most of their tweets are rather run of the mill, firms have still managed to develop unique online personalities. Fidelity, for instance, uses its Twitter account largely to answer questions from investors.

On the other hand, American Century has shown a willingness to deviate from purely financial topics. Apart from posting an article about golf swings, it took the time recently to remind the Twitter community of the potential benefits of board games for young children.

Meanwhile, Vanguard also uses Twitter, but only as a human resources tool geared toward people who are interested in working for the Pennsylvania-based fund provider.

While it's perhaps the most representative example, Twitter is hardly the only front on which fund providers are fighting the battle to gain and retain clients. Vanguard, Franklin Templeton, and Putnam, for example, are among the fund companies that use blogs to communicate with investors.

To be sure, much of this campaign can easily be considered extraneous. In the case of Twitter, for example, long-term investors hardly need a constant stream of live updates from their fund providers. "I think that really it's one of those things where the mutual fund companies are feeling an obligation to be in that space just because," says Adam Bold, founder of the Mutual Fund Store, an investment management firm with more than 65 U.S. locations.

Still, there's something to be said for good customer service ... and the occasional golf tip.