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What Social Media Can Teach Us About Investing

Perhaps the biggest lesson: Sorting through the noise is crucial


Let’s get this out of the way: This article is not about the AP Twitter hack and split-second market crash.

youngInvestorsB.pngTo the few of you still remaining, let’s talk about noise.

While investors were busy reacting to earnings numbers from companies like search giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and my own personal dividend pick McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) at the end of last week, I was hundreds of miles away from InvestorPlace‘s stately Maryland headquarters. Instead, I was attending a conference hosted by Social Fresh — a social media training company started by Jason Keath.

I met lots of interesting and intelligent folks there (as evident by the pile of business cards now in my folder), heard from impressive names representing brands like JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) ESPNW and Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), and got plenty of insights and ideas.

I also learned that the worlds of social media and stocks have far more in common than you think. The main similarity: They both are noisy as hell.

So for everyone — from social media marketers to investors to consumers — sorting through that noise is paramount.

Cluttered and Catchy

Christopher Tuff — Director of Social Media at 22squared and a speaker at the conference — called his presentation “Breaking Through the Clutter.”

I can’t think of a better way to put it.

As he noted, everyone on the Internet — where we don’t just go on to chat with friends, but to ingest media, conduct business and research investments — is competing for attention. As he put it in regards to Facebook (NASDAQ:FB): “You are competing with people’s friends’ real content — with their spouses and their cute kids and kitties.”

This holds true for financial media, too — and increasingly so. Lots of people get their stock news from Twitter — as we’ve seen from that recent event I promised not to mention — so content might come up in a feed right next to something much more personal and compelling than quarterly earnings numbers.

That reality — coupled with the sheer number of financial news outlets floating in the ether — means that financial media often follows the same mantra as those dealing exclusively in social: Catchy content is key.

In the stock realm, that means things like four-figure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) price targets, outlandish calls that turn heads but don’t add value, recycled and repeated headlines covering the same clicky topic in a slightly different way, and so on.

Thus, the information landscape we investors depend upon to make our daily decisions is becoming increasingly muddied.

Endless Experts

Worse, not only do we have to worry about the clutter, but also the clutter surrounding that clutter.

Bear with me.

At Social Fresh, speakers didn’t just talk about the fact that there’s an increasing amount of content to compete with on the Internet; they actually became part of the clutter, too. I heard from 14 experts in two days, while also getting advice and suggestions from other attendees. All of them had varying — and often directly conflicting — points of view.

Adam Kmiec from Campbell started his presentation with a number: 1,862,421. “What is this?” he asked the audience. A few guesses were tossed out before he revealed the answer:

“This is the number who call themselves social media experts or gurus.”

If that concept doesn’t sound familiar, it should. Many members of the financial media think they know it all — or at least pretend to. But for just about every expert call, there’s at least one other expert call on the polar opposite side.

Where You Fit In

The takeaway of all this is that success comes from knowing how to sort break the noise, whether as a producer or consumer.

But that’s no simple task. As Kmiec said in his presentation: “We are data-rich but insight-poor. We have lots of data, but lack the right filters for it.”

So, you have to learn who to tune out. In the case of the conference: While all the experts had insights to offer, the reality is I don’t work for a giant corporation like Chrysler or Campbell; my social media presence isn’t about convincing people to buy a watch or a pair of shoes. Instead, my job is more so about engaging readers. And thus, much (though not all) of the advice from Social Fresh simply didn’t apply to me.

Investing is the same way. When it comes to my personal goals, I’m not particularly concerned with beating the market or finding a stock that will double in a month. Instead, I mostly have my eye on buy-and-hold stocks and am currently focused on diversifying my (small) portfolio. Quite frankly, one of my main goals at this stage is to simply get a better grasp on the ins-and-outs of investing.

And because every expert tends to have a different paradigm, goal, strategy, flavor and so on, the key to success is filtering through all the advice to figure out which pieces apply to you — whether in terms of goals, funds, time horizon and so on.

By knowing what information is fit for you — while tuning out the clicky headlines making too-big promises like the “next Apple” or a “foolproof strategy” — you’ll be taking a huge step toward success.

If you want to follow InvestorPlace’s social media presence, go ahead and like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterAs of this writing, Alyssa Oursler was long MCD. You can follow her on Twitter here: @alyssaoursler.

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