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Once a sideshow, Twitter finds a following in corporate Canada

Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo gestures during a conference at the Cannes Lions in Cannes June 20, 2012.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Twitter is building a surprisingly fervent following on Bay Street.

For years, Canada's corporate and financial elite shunned the social media tool. Twitter was a silly sideshow at best; at worst, it could embarrass their firms, upset their clients or lead to leaks of confidential information.

But the skeptics are starting to come around. If even NHL jocks like Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0) of the Phoenix Coyotes can embrace tweeting, the suits can too. What was once assumed to be a platform for sharing what you had for lunch has been proven to offer real value.

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The evolution first took hold in the U.S. About three years ago, a new wave of users signed up, predominately people like vocal hedge fund managers and market strategists. But many big names have since been been swept up, including Bill Gross, co-founder of bond giant Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC, and Sallie Krawcheck, the former head of wealth management at Merrill Lynch and Citigroup Inc.

Canadian usage still isn't as widespread, so don't expect to find the CEO of a big bank who tweets. But there is a smattering of portfolio managers, traders and corporate lawyers who are heavily engaged – and few investment bankers have secretly confided they've also signed up to simply follow along.

Som Seif is one of the converted skeptics. Back when he ran Claymore Investments, which was sold earlier this year, his colleagues suggested he start tweeting. He signed up to appease them, but admits that he adopted the typical attitude: "I don't have the time to take it very seriously."

His opinion changed during a family vacation to Italy in the summer of 2011. From his hotel, he spent 15 to 20 minutes scrolling through his feed, catching up on news. "All of a sudden it clicked with me what Twitter was," he said. It's not just useless conversations or thoughts; it's a information aggregator, tailored to publish whatever you find the most interesting. Most of what he reads relates to the market, but he admits it also helps him stay abreast on pop culture.

Over time, he also realized that Twitter served a legitimate purpose for his business, too. While investment firms have always sent out things like newsletters to clients, Twitter is becoming a platform for sending out shorter notes, more frequently. And more people are signing up every day, including the retail investors that Claymore targeted.

Fixed-income portfolio manager Andrew Torres at Lawrence Park Capital Partners in Toronto was persuaded in much the same way, and now he too sees the value. But instead of getting bogged down in the incessant tweeting that he says a "vocal minority" of obsessive users engage in – think U.S. hedge fund managers – he simply sits back and skims his feed, while sending out the occasional tweet about the market. Examples include the news that investors were happy to gobble up the three new bond deals launched in Canada on Wednesday morning.

For those still on the fence, Jennifer Dolman, a litigator at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and Twitter obsessive, stresses there's no reason to be timid or to feel like you have to bombard people with details of your personal life. "You wouldn't know how many kids I have. Or what we had for dinner," she said, adding that she does throw in the odd tweet about her love for tennis. But that's her choice.

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Whatever usage level you commit to, Twitter will meet you there. There are passive users, and there are the active ones like portfolio manager Martin Pelletier at TriVest Wealth Counsel Ltd. in Calgary. He follows Twitter on one of his many computer monitors throughout the day. "It's almost like a live quote screen," he said.

Mr. Pelletier's even starting to convince his colleagues of the value. Typically they'd see the S&P 500 suddenly nose dive and wonder why. Now they immediately ask, "What's Twitter saying?"

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More


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