When StockTwits was founded in 2008,
the one-to-many nature of the Twitter-inspired social media platform was considered “taboo” to those in finance, says co-founder and CEO Howard Lindzon. For the past four years, as the company has grown, communication with the banking community has been “99 percent push on our part.”
But it looks as if the landscape is shifting in his favor. Morgan Stanley (s MS) said Monday that it will let its 17,000 financial advisors use Twitter (for pre-approved messages only) and LinkedIn (s LNKD). Goldman Sachs (s GS) is searching for a “social media community manager.” And earlier this year Bloomberg featured the one investment banker authorized by Deutsche Bank to tweet.
“The walls are coming down,” says Lindzon. “The banks are reaching out to discuss best practices….The acceptance phase is upon us.”
If a new era for social media and finance really is afoot, StockTwits plans to be as prepared as possible. Today the company is rolling out a redesigned website that makes it easier for investors to follow the information and people connected to the companies they care about.
“The new design focuses on our core strength: real-time sharing around markets and tickers,” Lindzon says. “It also has much more curation around highly discussed tickers [and] a greater amount of detail and thinking around people and discovery.”
Adding a social layer to stock price and volume
Beyond the commodities of stock price and volume, Lindzon says, StockTwits gives investors a social layer through which to see what the “smart people, traders and long-term investors” are thinking. The site’s latest redesign aims to simplify the process of following and communicating with individual investors and traders, as well as following specific stocks (such as Apple (s AAPL) or Google (s GOOG)) and markets (equities, futures or options).
That’s a lot of information to organize, especially in real-time. But, as opposed to a single, Twitter-like stream of messages, the redesigned platform allows users to create multiple streams and “watch lists” of “ideas” (the StockTwits version of a “tweet”) organized by people, stocks and markets. It also lets users select streams of “ideas” that are trending, suggested or that include charts. Instead of separating a users’ mentions and Direct Mentions, the new site also combines all of a member’s messages into a unified inbox that alerts them when new messages appear.
As the volume of messages on the sites increases (140 percent year-to-date), the company has added “Top Filters” and “Top Contributors” to the Ticker pages to help keep them useful and relevant. StockTwits’ heatmap, which shows the chatter around the different stocks, also features prominently in the redesign.
Traders use StockTwits on the side
In May, the company says it had more than 400,000 unique users to both StockTwits and the Chart.ly websites, a 100 percent increase from the previous May. It also says engagement is up 125 percent from last May, with the average registered user spending more than 32 minutes per visit. StockTwits has also cut deals with Yahoo Finance (s YHOO), CNN Money and other sites to power a box showing tweets about trending stocks, and has signed on about 170 public companies (many of which pay for a investor relations marketing service).
Still, though engagement and usage are climbing, Lindzon acknowledges that there are plenty of people who work in the finance industry who can’t use the platform because their institutions won’t let them. Some of the resistance is real (because of regulatory compliance issues), he says, but some of it has to do with entrenched ways of doing business.
“[Traders] email us and tell us they love what we’re doing but can’t use the product,” he says. Some already use the site “subversive[ly] on the side” with non-work devices, but with many, “it’s a waiting game.”
Still, anticipating the needs of financial institutions that could eventually want to use social media to distribute research, StockTwits is starting to build in features that ensure compliance and legality. For example, a StockTwits Pro feature currently in beta with a few dozen analysts makes sure that a link providing all of an analyst’s financial disclosures travels along with any tweet he or she sends from StockTwits. (Analysts can link Twitter accounts to StockTwits to send messages to both StockTwits users and the larger Twittersphere.) The Pro package also gives analysts the compliance-friendly ability to archive messages.
Social platforms provide new trust system
StockTwits isn’t just getting ready for the day when banks are really willing to embrace social media. Lindzon is looking to a time when social platforms have helped remake banking and finance. As the rise of crowdfunding, social financial platforms and alternative payment services like Kickstarter, AngelList, Dwolla and PayPal show, financing is increasingly taking place outside realm of traditional institutions. And that isn’t a trend that’s expected to let up any time soon.
“The banks are broken. We don’t trust the banks [and] they’re never going to get our trust back,” he says. But platforms like AngelList, LinkedIn and StockTwits, provide a “new way to network [and] meet people you’re going to invest with.”
“It’s a whole new trust system being built,” he says.
Disclosure: StockTwits is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, GigaOM. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.