Discover more from Narrative Combat
The Five Motivators of FinTwit
Towards a unified theory of engagement.
A thought occurred to me over the holiday break as I was contemplating the motivations of a certain character on financial Twitter (FinTwit):
What are we all doing here?
The question struck me as an interesting one to consider for each of us, not just the person I found myself silently judging in the moment.
Each of us brings our own intentions and heuristics to everything we do. This is often done subconsciously but sometimes on purpose. So what is it exactly that motivates us to engage with this little corner of Twitter?
My brainstorm led to the following tweet:
The list doubles as a ranking in ascending order of virtue, with Charity naturally sitting atop my little totem pole of righteousness.
I’ve since rejiggered the list after taking in some feedback on my post.
I also thought it might be fun to turn this into a scoring metric. We can arrive at an engagement score of sorts using a simple weighting methodology. For example, someone who is here 100% for marketing purposes would be assigned a score of 2.0. Someone who assigns equal motivations to each category would be scored a 3.0. The higher one scores on this scale of 5.0, the “better” their motivation for engaging with FinTwit.
I call this the Mackey Scale™.1
This is obviously a subjective exercise and entirely unscientific in approach. It’s based purely on my own interpretation of motivation and what qualifies as the good or bad variety.
With that as caveat, let’s explore each of the categories to learn more about my rationale.
Studies show that a prominent driver of our fascination with reality television is the superiority one may experience when watching others behave foolishly. Just as we derive feelings of self-importance when we watch reality TV train wrecks, the same dynamic applies when we shake our heads at how dumb someone might appear to us on Twitter.
This is one way that egoism informs a FinTwit user’s desire to engage, often in a passive, voyeuristic manner. The other is more direct and straightforward, which is the tendency for some folks to flex their intellectual muscles in the public square. They do this by lecturing us on Spaces or with sophisticated-sounding tweets. They also do it by engaging in a reply battle that will never see them give ground or admit fault. The more extreme version of the FinTwit ego sees users belittling and/or browbeating their counterparts and suggesting we’re all just lucky they’re here to engage with us.
This form of peacocking may have a marketing angle to it as a way to establish bonafides of a sort. Or it may simply be a reflection of someone’s personality, which is characterized by a desire to let everyone know how smart they are. I reckon it’s often a combination of the two.
Either way, ego is the enemy.
I consider marketing to be the primary motivator for many of the largest accounts on FinTwit (oftentimes infused with plenty of ego to boot). I’ve got it listed as the second-least virtuous of motivators not because marketing is bad per se but because of the packaging that often comes with it.
One form of marketing is the furu who continuously posts their winning trades (never a losing one, of course) to demonstrate what amazing investors they are to their followers. This is sometimes purely a function of ego but more often it’s because the furu has a newsletter or private discord or some other service to sell.
Another type of marketing comes in the form of Spaces discussions. These typically feature experts sharing their hard-won wisdom with us plebs and are often framed as being held to help investors navigate the complex world of financial markets. But what they really seek to accomplish is to demonstrate competence, often in service of a covert sales pitch. The audience usually doesn’t realize it’s being sold to but it most certainly is in the vast majority of these Spaces.
My harsh assessment of this form of marketing stems from my belief that it is value destructive for the average investor. That’s because of the complexity theater that is often involved. So much shit is getting thrown against the wall that the average investor stands little chance of distilling it all down to some actionable and monetizable form. Professional investors are in a better position to separate the wheat from the chaff in these rooms whereas retail investors only think they know what’s going on.
Also, if you listen closely, you’ll notice that many of these furus aren’t really saying much at all. In many cases, they are simply regurgitating banal platitudes or inundating us with buzzwords to lull is into an awestruck state.
This is what Taleb has described as a noise bottleneck.
The winner-take-all effects of information space corresponds to more noise, less signal. In other words, the spurious dominates.
It’s not so much that we emerge smarter after consuming all the information being thrown at us. We just feel that way. Which is exactly what many of these purveyors want us to believe.
Rather than attempt to decipher the Fed or dissect Tesla inventory numbers, I’m of the mind that the average investor should pay most of this stuff very little mind. They should be less active, not more. But instead of following Kahneman’s advice of making fewer decisions, a lot of these accounts make investors think they should be constantly looking for an edge or retooling their portfolios. Oh and by the way that’s all really hard so subscribe to my newsletter so I can show you how to do it! 🤮
FinTwit is good fun for many of us. We sometimes come for a good laugh, whether at the expense of others or better yet ourselves. We may find certain individuals or situations humorous and delight in the chicanery. Continuing with the reality TV analogy, FinTwit provides many of us with an escape from the daily grind.
Fun ranks squarely in the middle of our motivational hierarchy. It’s of course highly encouraged to have some fun on the app, but the nature of that fun can sometimes be malevolent. There’s also the question of how much fun one contributes to the platform versus simply consuming what’s made available by others.
I called this Curiosity in my original tweet. But some feedback made me realize there are levels to this that deserve elucidation. The main thing I wanted to capture was education. This obviously represents a form of intellectual growth, which can be achieved by learning from the expertise of others or simply being made aware of various developments given the breadth of topics covered by FinTwit.
There’s also the notion of strategic growth, which comes from hearing what others have to say about certain topics that are near and dear to your heart. This can help challenge preconceived notions for the openminded among us or serve as insight into what other practitioners are thinking and doing in a related field.
Lastly is the idea of communal growth. Many of us have made friends on this app and look forward to our regular engagement with them. Whether crypto enthusiasts or members of the Canadian Oil Mafia, we all have a chance to find our people. The sense of community that can develop on FinTwit is impressive and I’ve no doubt that many of us have been made the better for it.
Related to this is the power of networking, which has assuredly brought value to many.
The cynic in me believes that almost nothing of what occurs on FinTwit is done with altruistic intent. That’s not to say everything is conducted with nefariousness in mind. Instead, what I’m suggesting is that very little is driven by a purely charitable impulse.
Some accounts are run by perfectly nice people who are genuine in their desire to educate others and help them make better financial choices. But more often than not you’ll find them marketing something at least tangentially related to those goals. Sometimes being good is simply a byproduct of the service being sold. That doesn’t make these users bad people, but we should consider marriage of the commercial and compassionate here.
Watching some users take victory laps when they receive a DM from a follower thanking them for their service often makes me want to scream. Again, let’s not pretend that any of us are primarily motivated by helping others. That’s just not the way the world works, especially the financial one. (Pro tip: Avoid at all cost any accounts referring to helping the “normies” in service of a some “family” of followers.)
And sure, some of these Spaces were proven correct over the course of 2022, leading followers to believe they’ve been helped. But sentiments born of recency bias will prove fleeting. Getting market calls right with any consistency is incredibly difficult, so to act as if a single data point is proof of anything is misguided.
I reckon an honest, look-through analysis of every FinTwit user would easily find that Charity ranks well below 10% as a blended motivator for what we see on this app.
I am sure of nothing so little as my own intentions. - Lord Byron
A natural question to ask myself is where I might rank on the Mackey Scale. My attempt at intellectual honesty breaks down as follows:
Ego - 15%
Marketing - 15%
Fun - 30%
Growth - 35%
Charity - 5%
This scores me as a 3.0 on the Mackey Scale.
Ego - As with all of us, I am driven by ego to a certain extent. I think I’m smarter than some on certain topics and enjoy laughing at what I perceive to be the stupid comments of others. But I’m also pretty upfront about my own limitations and have little desire to be right about everything.
Marketing - As you can see, I write a Substack. Though I do not charge for the pleasure, I am happy to see more people read it. You probably even found your way to this post through a tweet.
Fun - I derive great enjoyment from FinTwit. Some accounts make me laugh out loud and I often find myself giggling like a schoolboy when I partake in Spaces (especially the Degen ones).
Growth - I’ve learned a great deal from other users on this platform and enjoy the little community of friends I’ve assembled over the past year.
Charity - Part of me likes to think that my desire to call bullshit is a public service designed to help others. I believe there is some truth in that. However, if I’m being honest, my real motivation is selfish in that I’m afflicted with notions of inequity aversion, bullshit sensitivity and self-righteousness. Which means I must admit that I do this mostly for me, not you.
My little scoring system here is by no means perfect and I’m sure there are plenty of ways to improve upon it. I should also note that I appreciate there is nuance to how some folks engage with FinTwit. For example, here I suggest scoring users with a broad stroke on the basis of their observed behavior. But motivations can change and behaviors along with them, so scores can improve or decline over time. I also recognize that individual tweets themselves can be meant to serve purposes beyond what the account owner typically pursues.
In any event, I encourage readers to think about motivations when engaging with others on this app. You can even use the Mackey Scale when making your way through the FinTwit jungle. It’s free after all…for now. 😜
Not really trademarked.