(Dow Jones) Independent financial advisors who use online social-networking forum Twitter to drum up business may be coming up short, but some of these small-firm practitioners are finding a default use for it that's just as powerful: gleaning intelligence from other advisers.

Chad Smith is a financial planner with the Raleigh, N.C.-based investment advisory Financial Symmetry. He said he started posting short messages on Twitter--it's called tweeting--a few months ago in a bid "to spread awareness of" Financial Symmetry's New & Views blog and to draw in potential clients "who are genuinely interested in our message and point of view." In the event, it has proved more useful "for gathering insights from other planners," said Smith.

Teri Tornroos, who runs a fee-only investment-advice and tax-planning firm in Marietta, Ga., agrees. Like Smith and his Financial Symmetry colleagues, Tornroos said she started tweeting to attract clients, but soon found that it was more effective as "a quick way to get in touch with other planners."

Added Tornroos: "I don't find it has worked very well as a marketing tool, but it's been good for sharing ideas" with peers.

Pat Allen of Rock the Boat Marketing has found another advisor-related use for Twitter. She aggregates tweets from independent advisors at a site called AdvisorTweets.com to help the investment-management firms she advises on digital marketing strategies to understand the preoccupations and priorities of a notoriously hard-to-reach distribution channel.

"Those of us who aren't financial advisors can see how they react to news--the rise of the price of gold, the latest unemployment numbers," said Allen. "We don't have to pull people together in one place for one focus group a year and then have to extrapolate from that for the rest of the year; it's immediate reaction to issues, and over time it results in an ambient awareness" of the advisory business.

That's heady stuff for vendors to the independent-advisor market. Up till now, approaches to the independents were through de facto gatekeepers: custody providers such as the Charles Schwab Corp. and Fidelity Investments and a few dominant technology makers like Advent Software Inc.

"When you wanted to talk to [a registered investment advisor], Schwab was the way in," said Allen. "Now it's moving toward Twitter and other social-networking tools."

And market-intelligence gathering through online services like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn is getting sharper with new sales-management technologies that make it possible for firms to track, and respond to, social-networking references to their products and services, and even monitor the posts of individual social networkers.

"What's the fund wholesaler doing when he comes into an adviser's office? He's looking around at pictures on the wall, trophies. In five seconds he's trying to find out what's important to someone," said Allen. "Well, we're doing the same thing, only more systematically. Want to know what's important to someone? Read his tweets."

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