PIMCO, Janus Left Twitter Out Of The Mix When They Broke Their News

Well, that was disappointing.

PIMCO, the first U.S. asset management firm to take to Twitter (originally using @PIMCO_tweets as an account name) and still the asset manager Twitter account with the most followers, left Twitter out of the communications mix when it broke news on Friday.

On Friday, the firm issued a press release to drop the bomb that co-founder and chief investment officer Bill Gross would be leaving the firm and heading to Janus. Given Gross’ dominance at PIMCO and management responsibility for the $220 billion PIMCO Total Return Fund, this was material information for parent and public company Allianz. Of course, a press release was called for.

Similarly, Janus’ hiring of Gross warranted a press release from that firm and prominent janus.com home page treatment.

But neither PIMCO nor Janus sent a tweet about the Gross news. Yesterday and today, PIMCO posted tweets about the availability of a new article on the fund that Gross managed. The @JanusCapital account posted an unrelated tweet on Friday and nothing since.

One can only imagine the crisis planning that drove the communications and coordination surrounding the announcement. There’s the framing of the key messages for multiple audiences/stakeholders, the prepping of the spokespeople, the overall battening down of the hatches for the coming storm.

The “How do we reach them?” question immediately follows “What do they need to know?” in communication planning.

With the salient points already articulated for the press release and other talking points that were no doubt prepared, why weren’t there tweets—“Bill Gross leaving PIMCO” with the link to press release on its site and “Bill Gross joining Janus” with a link—from PIMCO and Janus, respectively?

I don’t get it. Does this reflect executive management lack of appreciation for Twitter and communicators’ failure to sufficiently advocate? Is there so much of a gulf between public relations and marketing? Has it been a while since the plan was updated and Twitter was somehow overlooked? 

This InvestmentNews coverage of advisors’ reaction by Friday morning illustrates what we should all know by now—the decision by PIMCO and Janus not to communicate on Twitter didn't stop the Twitter commentary. Also, see the full search results of tweets mentioning @PIMCO and mentioning @JanusCapital from Friday to Saturday. 

I use this blog to focus on successful strategies and tactics of mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms. But I decided not to hold back today because if PIMCO—of all firms—doesn’t acknowledge the value of Twitter and its Twitter followers, I worry for other asset management marketers working to establish Twitter as a viable communications channel.

This episode provides an occasion to consider what’s in your plan regarding Twitter and communications with breaking news value.

Gross + Twitter 

There was nothing ever remotely social about PIMCO’s Twitter account. It followed exactly one, PIMCO-related account, never re-tweeted and never replied. @PIMCO gained an average of 76 followers a day based almost entirely on the fact that Bill Gross was known to write his own tweets. Back in the day, the account avatar featured not the PIMCO logo but a combined photo of Gross and Mohamed El-Erian, CEO and co-CIO. El-Erian, while gone from PIMCO, continues to be an active Twitter user.

Of course, the so-called Bond King could have scored an appearance in the investment media anytime he wanted. But Gross was early to capitalize on using Twitter to directly share micro-insights, some of which made news themselves. And, displaying more investment executive personality than any other asset management exec on Twitter, Gross often used Twitter to mix things up (see the Carl Icahn kerfuffle).

PIMCO gave Gross what appeared to be full rein of the Twitter account and he turned it into a must-follow. The notion that such an influential, successful money manager would consistently post pithy takes on the markets was irresistible for those looking for an information advantage. Gross’ use of Twitter raised the possibilities and expectations of other investment company Twitter accounts, I believe. And yet those 179,000 followers learned of Gross’ departure from somewhere other than Twitter. Sigh.

By the same token, by choosing not to share its enthusiasm with its 4,000 followers, Janus missed an opportunity to bask in what was mostly goodwill from Twitter this past weekend.

The Risk Of Marginalizing The Channel

Over the last few years, consumers, including investors and financial advisors, have learned to turn to Twitter when news of any kind breaks. Eighteen months ago, the SEC confirmed that public companies can use Twitter and other social media outlets to announce key information in compliance with Regulation FD. 

But is breaking financial news different for some reason? I asked this question in an AdvisorTweets blog post in May 2010, when the flash crash caught everyone by surprise, StockTwits was blowing up and yet the Twitter streams of most Establishment financial services providers including the NYSE continued on their merry, canned announcement ways without commenting on the one event that was drawing the country, even the world’s, attention. Granted, that was early in financial brands’ use of Twitter and the event itself took some sorting out.

There have been several minor events since, repeatedly prompting me to wonder why financial Twitter accounts avoid addressing the real news. To use Twitter to broadcast company news, corporate gift-giving, the availability of product communications but to avoid mention of the real news affecting your firm is to marginalize your followers and the channel. A Twitter account that serves as a go-to source of important information, even the historical record of your firm, has more value than a virtual bulletin board.

While many will have their eyes peeled on the assets in PIMCO funds and where they go, let’s some of us watch the @PIMCO Twitter follower count. Even more interesting: Whether the arrival of Gross will lead to Janus using Twitter in a more expansive way and the growth in followers that will result. 

Update: ZeroHedge this afternoon reported that all Bill Gross tweets have been deleted from the PIMCO account.