The fastest growing group of Twitter users isn't 20-somethings—it's 50-somethings. Some 11 percent of Internet users between ages 50 and 64 used Twitter in 2010, more than double the 5 percent who did in 2009, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And one of the major topics of conversation among 50- and early 60-somethings on Twitter is retirement.
Depending on who you follow, Twitter can help you keep up with the latest retirement research and ask the company that administers your 401(k) questions. The social networking website can also be a place to interact with financial advisers and advocate for better retirement benefits. Here's how to tweet your way to better retirement preparedness.
Retirement research. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College will often give its Twitter followers advance notice about when new studies will be released. "We usually try to make the titles questions that we hope are compelling for readers and that they want to know the answers to," says Andrew Eschtruth, associate director for external relations for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. To find the answers, you must click a link to the center's website. You can also keep up with the latest retirement research released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute or The Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on Twitter.
Government agencies. The Social Security Administration has announced cost-of-living adjustments, office closings due to bad weather, and webinars about applying for disability benefits on Twitter. "We use Twitter to keep in touch with people and organizations who prefer to hear from us in short, quick messages," says Jim Courtney, Social Security's deputy commissioner for communications. "It's been a great tool for us, and when one of our followers retweets, our messages reach an even broader audience." Other government Twitter accounts that could be useful to retirement savers include the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. You can also keep up with the latest news about retirement savings tax breaks by following the Internal Revenue Service.
Financial companies. The company that administers your 401(k) or IRA may also tweet news and advice about retirement. Two of the biggest 401(k) providers on Twitter are Fidelity Investments and Vanguard. "We're certainly not at the Ashton Kutcher level, but we have over 2,000 followers, and about 80 to 90 percent are clients and 10 to 20 percent are bloggers or journalists," says Amy Dobra, head of the retail client experience group at Vanguard. "We like to be able to share things immediately on Twitter while we're working on a more robust account to put on vanguard.com."
Fidelity Investments uses its official Twitter account to interact with clients and offer concise investing reminders. "Contribution deadlines and required minimum distribution deadlines are great for tweets," says Richard Blunck, executive vice president of web distribution at Fidelity. Other financial services firms that share information through Twitter include Charles Schwab, TIAA-CREF, Putnam Investments, ING Direct, and Principal Financial Group. A spokesperson for T. Rowe Price, which is not yet on Twitter, says, "We are thoughtfully looking into how we can best join the conversation in a meaningful way."
Financial advisers. While the advice won't be specific to your financial situation, you could pick up a few pointers by following financial advisers. You can also learn a little about an adviser's personality and financial philosophy before meeting him or her in person. "Twitter is a very inexpensive way to keep my name out in front of the public and potential clients," says Cathy Curtis, a certified financial planner for Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, Calif., who currently has more than 3,700 followers. "It's turned into this wonderful way of connecting with great people who will become friends and/or clients."
The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors estimates that a "couple hundred" of its members are on Twitter, including Roger Wohlner, a certified financial planner for Asset Strategy Consultants in Arlington Heights, Ill. "I think Twitter is a great place to give and to exchange opinions about retirement planning and investing," he says. "To me it's a great news stream, and it's a great networking tool."
Advocacy. Twitter can be a valuable tool for nonprofits advocating for better retirement benefits and educating workers about existing retirement programs. The Pension Rights Center and the National Academy of Social Insurance both provide a steady stream of retirement-related news reports with the aim of increasing the retirement security of all Americans. AARP has more than 150 Twitter accounts managed by various employees, including accounts dedicated to AARP's advocacy objectives, run by employees at state offices, and even an account managed by David Certner, AARP's legislative policy director. In addition to communicating with its members, AARP is developing a relationship with people who are right on the cusp of AARP membership, says Tammy Gordon, a senior advisor for social communications and networks at AARP. "These people are just a few years away from being AARP members."