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First, let's take a look at how today's investors are behaving. They are using the online, social world to engage in five key ways:

1. Convening – Connecting with others like them. You're familiar with online gatherings around a profession. Even the old-fashioned investment club is more active online, with greater access to tools and content for more efficient exchanges. Consumers are increasingly gathering with those like them, whether it's to engage in impact investing, to encourage more women to move into our industry, or to call for a greener world. Yes, the online world now makes niche convening with people truly “like me” more possible than ever before.

2. Sharing – Thanks to the new federal Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, firms and investors are increasingly sharing information and investment opportunities. They're doing it through online investment sites that allow them to discover Warren Buffett's latest investment. Soon, they'll be accessing prospectuses of investment opportunities that previously were available only to sophisticated investors.

3. Reacting – You've wanted to react many times. To a bad product or service or a rude professional, or, on the flip side, a great experience. Now, imagine that reaction shared online, magnified by thousands if not millions. It's happening, especially through Facebook and Twitter, as we'll discuss in the coming pages.

4. Opining – Perhaps the biggest surprise to some is the new ease with which overnight investment gurus can emerge. Many are springing up either with their own blogs, on sites like SeekingAlpha where professionals can share their investment insights, or on financial news sites and networks, from Dow Jones' MarketWatch to Motif, a consumer-oriented social investing platform.

5. Protecting – One of the greatest empowerment moves is the ability to help consumers make better decisions – from choosing restaurants to hiring a handyman – and protect them from bad actors. I was once asked if online networks will pose a greater threat to investors who might be prey to the next Bernie Madoff. Interestingly, in Europe, a social network for investors called Unience (sister to Finect in the U.S.) discovered that members actually acted quickly to protect fellow members from bad investment products or people. Just as one can instantly flag a spammer on Yelp, so too can they instantly call out a disreputable professional.

These behaviors aren't occurring in a vacuum. It should come as no surprise that they've helped shape the way investors approach financial advice and related services.

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