High-net-worth investors are integrating media devices, social media and social networking into their lives more than ever before, according to a new survey from the Institute for Private Investors (IPI).Other recent studies indicate that wealth management clients are increasingly using social media to compare notes on advisors, funds, fees, strategies and deals.

IPI is an exclusive club of about 1,100 private investors and 140 professional firms from 18 countries, with four out of five member families overseeing assets of $50 million or more. The member survey, conducted in May, found that 38% of respondents said they actively participate in social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other forums such as  IPI’s Memberlink and blogs. The organization has hosted its members-only Memberlink forum since 1998, but for the past six years over 50% of the online discussions have been about wealth advisors, says Kristi Kuechler, president of IPI.

“Members will post questions such as, ‘My broker offered me an opportunity for this particular fund or that particular IPO’ and ask other investors if they have any knowledge of the investment,” says Kuechler. “They are not allowed to make recommendations, but a member might ask if others have had experiences with a particular adviser. Sometimes another member might offer to talk by phone, and they have a truly candid conversation.”

Whether such forums actually expose bad practices and force greater transparency in the wealth management industry might be debatable, but as a community of highly influential investors, IPI has brought its members together both online and at face-to-face meetings and seminars to talk about wealth managers, naming names and discussing the fees and commissions they pay. Kuechler recalls a recent seminar at which one member told another he thought his adviser’s fee was too high. “The member went to his adviser and got him to reduce the fee,” she says.

Even in the secretive world of private equity and venture capital, private investors are using social networks, according to findings reported by David Teten and Chris Farmer in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review. Traditionally proprietary knowledge has been considered essential, but,  say Teten and Farmer, their  first-ever study of deal-origination best practices at more than 150 VC and PE firms, along with other research, shows that some of the top-performing investors increasingly use social media to discuss such information. “The key is deal flow,” they write. “…In order to make several deals, investors need to examine hundreds of prospects. Sharing details about their investment strategy gives them access to opportunities that they otherwise would have missed.”

Retail investors are using social media more to obtain financial information and investment strategy advice than to seek information about advisors, according to another survey, released by Spectrem Group in May. The findings indicate that this group might be headed toward more discussions about those who mind their money, however.  Roughly one-third of Facebook users in the survey said  would consider using a financial adviser or provider that was recommended by a Facebook friend, a likelihood that increases to 50% for those under 35.

The Spectrem study, “Social Media and the Investor” is based on a survey of 500 financial decision-makers in households with $50,000 or more in annual income who spend at least two hours per week on the internet including at least one hour devoted to financial pursuits. Among Spectrem’s conclusions: LinkedIn seems to be the most viable target for wealth managers seeking to build their own social networks. Seventy three percent of those who use LinkedIn would consider joining groups to discuss economic and investment topics.

“A wonderful way to for a use this would be to create a client group on LinkedIn,” says George H. Walper, Jr., president of Spectrem Group. “In the future, there will be more online financial communities, and this is a good way for an adviser to be forward-thinking.” 

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