The financial adviser known on Twitter as Downtown Josh Brown with the handle @ReformedBroker is poised to hit 100,000 followers.
While that mark doesn't land him in the social media caste of @RichardBranson, with 5 million followers, or @LadyGaga, with 44 million, he is most likely the first adviser within arm's reach of this noteworthy level.
In fact, the chief executive of Ritholtz Wealth Management doesn't even have competitors nipping at his heels. Advisers Doug Flynn @FlynnZito and @MichaelKitces are probably the closest, with 25,700 and 20,200 followers, respectively.
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Mr. Brown, 37, discussed how writing helps him clarify his thoughts, how social media increased his business and why he doesn't participate in online scuffles.
InvestmentNews: What's the best thing, business-wise, to come out of your prolific tweeting over the past six years?
Mr. Brown: The very best thing is that everyone who works here came as a result of my social media use or my partner Barry's [Ritholtz]. We have blogs and Twitter, and that's really all we're doing. Both of my certified financial planners on staff who run the practice were followers on Twitter and were blog readers. I met Barry through the blog five years ago this summer, and my director of research came to me the same way. The culture is literally self-selecting, and as a result I love the guys and gals I work with.
IN: Does your tweeting help with business development?
Mr. Brown: I get a lot of questions about ROI (return on investment), and my personal belief is that if you're measuring social media on ROI, you already don't get it. It's not one plus one equals two; the benefits are predominately indirect. It's impossible to measure, at least mathematically. Twitter has given me a platform and an audience, and it's opened up a lot of doors for me and allowed me to meet a lot of people I never would have. All the assets that have come to the firm are because people are reading us.
Mr. Brown: The general idea with those accounts is to be a little bit more corporate and a little bit less id. When there are developments at the firm or events, that's what will happen there. Those will not be conversational; they'll be a little bit more anti-social. They'll be a little bit more broadcast channels.
IN: You tweet about five times an hour during most of the workday. Do you set a daily goal?
Mr. Brown: I don't have a goal, and let's be clear, most of what I do doesn't take a lot of effort. It's not me sitting with a legal pad trying to draft the perfect tweet. The biggest challenge is to limit the amount of responses on my screen, because you don't want someone to follow you and just see you engaging in 100 different conversations that they're not a part of. But you also don't want people to ask you questions and then you ignore them. Presumably everyone on social media has a real job, and you don't want your engagement to take over large chunks of your time. So if I'm on an elevator and a thought occurs to me, I can send a tweet. If I have two hours solid of meetings, I'm probably not tweeting anything. I don't wake up in the morning and map that out.
IN: How you can manage money when you're tweeting all day?
Mr. Brown: I'm not sitting here trading stocks; we're in ETFs, funds and separately managed accounts with outside managers. Most of my job is talking to clients and to vendors. My job is a little bit more on the research side, on the asset management side, and a lot of what I do in the course of my work is share. Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, said, “I write to find out what I think,” and that's really applicable. I don't have any investment heroes who aren't also prolific writers. It's not that their writing made them better investors, it's that it helped them figure out what they believe and what they don't. [Oaktree Capital Management CEO] Howard Marks' memos are legendary, Warren Buffett's letters to shareholders are legendary, Larry Swedroe has an article a day up at ETF.com. All the people I admire in the industry are writers. So my form of writing might be 140 characters versus an annual letter to shareholders, but what we have in common is we're writing in the process of our research, and we're communicating because it helps us sort out our thoughts.
IN: Does anyone tweet for you, or do you use any service like HootSuite to send out tweets when you can't be online?
Mr. Brown: No, and actually I find those services offensive. I think if you have something to say, great. If you don't, and you're paying somebody to be your voice, it's very regressive. I don't know of any successful social media people who are not putting out their own stuff.
I have Mortgage Fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending
IN: Sometimes you give people a hard time in your tweets. Do they ever call you out on it?
Mr. Brown: I have never had a fight on Twitter. I have had people insult me or yell things at me, but I've never responded. I wrote a 10-point explanation for why I don't get into fights on the Internet, and it's one of the most-read posts. There are a lot of reasons. The first is that you're always taken down to that level. You never look good even if you win. The other thing is that I'm busy and there are way-more important things, like managing money. And the third is I don't go out there looking for trouble. I'm pretty open about the fact that I'm wrong as often as I'm right on stuff. Most of what I'm tweeting is links to other people's opinions. I'm out here to learn. I'm 37; I haven't figured everything out.
(Related read: How to make 2015 more prosperous on social media)
IN: Did you ever regret any tweets?
Mr. Brown: Yes. I once referred to a group of passive investors as “the index Taliban” and I erased it. I immediately felt terrible about it. One of them emailed me and said, "I have grandchildren and if any of them ever searched my name and they saw Taliban next to it, that would be really upsetting." It's one of those things where your foot is so deep into your mouth you feel sick to your stomach.
IN: Have any tweets lost you a noticeable number of Twitter followers?
Mr. Brown: Probably around the time of the Republican primaries where they were having debates every two days. I am apolitical; I despise all parties equally. I consider myself a pragmatist. I believe in the best of both parties. I definitely made some jokes and said some things that probably turned people off. I'm certain not for everyone. But I think trying to be everything to everyone probably doesn't result in any kind of success. Spontaneity, creativity, these are the things that I think work in social media. But part of that means not everything you say will be appealing to every potential follower.
7 Deadly Social Media Sins:
Wrath = Yelp
Greed = LinkedIn
Sloth = Uber
Pride = Twitter
Lust = Tinder
Envy = Facebook
Gluttony = Instagram— Downtown Josh Brown (@ReformedBroker) February 5, 2015
IN: Why Downtown Josh Brown and @Reformed Broker? Is an adviser's name too boring to use as a handle?
Mr. Brown: No, it's just that I've been Downtown Josh Brown since I was in summer camp at 8 or 9 years old, and it just stuck. It followed me my whole life; I own it. And Reformed Broker is the name of the blog.
IN: Why not use LinkedIn or Facebook?
Mr. Brown: LinkedIn is a really great way to generate new business leads, and I know people who have had a lot of success using Facebook. But we pay Smarsh to store and archive all these tweets, and we have a compliance firm that has to go over the stuff. There's a limit to how much you can do. I have chosen to do what I think I've gotten results with.
IN: Some advisers don't think social media is useful for business. What do you think they are missing?
Mr. Brown: It's a ridiculous statement to say generally that it's not useful, but it might not be useful for them. We raised $170 million using only Twitter and our blog, so we've done something with it. It lends itself to a certain personality type and a certain willingness to be authentic and drop the veneer of "Look at me in my suit." It's something I've never had a problem with, maybe because I'm younger. The average adviser is 59, so it's not necessarily something that comes as second nature to people of that generation. There are 240 million people on Twitter; probably more than one or two of them are interested in hearing insights from a finance guy. People should find the thing that they are good at and they enjoy doing, and that's what they should focus on.