Digital Communications & Social Media as Investor Relations tools

1280px-Social-media-for-public-relations1There’s still one place where social media and digital communications have yet to take a central spot – investor relations. A Mediapost article shows that just over 50% of institutional investors surveyed said that social media was “not yet significant but growing in importance” as a professional tool, with 37% welcoming the new media types as ways to disseminate news and information, while 33% see them as useful for fast-moving events, like takeover bids or proxy fights. Forums still rank the highest, with Linkedin trailing just behind, while Facebook is down at the bottom.

Social media’s biggest problem is reliability, only 17% trusting it as a credible information source for investment.

However, there’s room for improvement. A NIRI survey shows that almost half (49%) of respondents who do not currently use social media for IR plan to reassess the issue within the next 12 months. The recent SEC guidance on the topic is a driving factor in determining reassessment. And that, my friends, is an opportunity for digital marketers such as myself.

My approach to IR strategy via social media & digital marketing channels:

I tend to go with a 3-step approach:

  1. Listen – track the conversations about your company. Believe it or not, people are talking about your business and you should at least listen to them
  2. Analyze – use that data that you tracked in the first place and look at it in a structured way. Use tools, draw conclusions, see trends, see potential or current problems and identify reactions to previous communications
  3. Do – Start with a direction, some communication pillars, an influencer list and some key messages, maybe a Q&A for your social media responsible and a list of DOs and DONT’s

And use some industry specific tools like:

  • Compliant Content: SEC/FDA-compliant pieces that align with yhr strategic communication objectives and that target the financial community.
  • Business announcements, financial disclosures and crisis communications, ensuring you are reflected in the best light and that all key stakeholders are quickly and properly informed through relevant channels.
  • Disclosure Postings – financial and company-related business news through social channels, aligned with SEC’s ruling in April 2013.
  • Influencer Identification & Engagement – Identify influencers in the investment community and directly engage them.
But how should you do it?

This is where I disagree with PR Newswire’s IR Blog that says basically that IR should not “engage” in social media, IR should not have interaction and dialog. Instead they suggest a broadcast approach – place the news into the stream broadly and non-selectively, which is fine. But you should also participate in conversations without selective material information disclosure. Answer questions, dispel rumors and talk to your investors.

What else can you do to communicate proactively through social media?
  • Tweet your quarterly results and other important news that has been disclosed via SEC/SEDAR/other regulated market tools
  • Post industry-related news from trusted financial sources without falling into the “promotional trap”
  • Announce partnerships, acquisitions, social responsibility activities and such
  • ReTweet and chat with your peers
  • Engage with Buy Side and Sell Side companies to create or complete your profile and become even more eligible for investment

A Linkedin blog post follows Howard Lindzon (CEO of Stocktwits, a specialized social space for investors) and his point on the fact that the majority of institutional investors are forming opinions based on social media pages. He says that investor relations needs to be closely integrated with brand activity on social media platforms. He advocates dialogue and pro-activity within social media platforms, but warns to be careful and link to regulated spaces for disclosure of material information.

Examples of IR use of social media

And since we’re talking about Linkedin, Company Pages and Groups provide a natural fit for discussing corporate information with an informed, engaged and relevant audience. Statoil’s Energy Innovation Group, which is helping to set the agenda on energy futures, is a great example. Dunkin’ Brands, parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, who use social media for announcements of new products or entering a new market are coordinated with investor events like roadshows, investor conferences, earnings calls, etc. Zillow, a real estate company, takes questions from Twitter and Facebook during its live earnings call. They also live tweet during the call, use infographics to help tell the story and have a corporate blog. This quarter, Zillow added live streaming video interview with its CEO immediately after the call via the Motley Fool. In addition, Zillow’s CEO is very active on social media and the company knows that many analysts and investors follow him. Jones noted that he frequently gets questions from institutional investors related to tweets from the CEO.

Other companies may choose to reach out to investors and increase the sell and buy-side coverage to attract desirable institutional holders. You can do that through social media by carefully targeting analysts and host virtual investor day meetings where you showcase your narrative, accomplishments and dispel myths.

Conclusion & Summary

Once in place, your social media program can be used to:

  • Increase company/brand awareness, loyalty and reach
  • Drive traffic to your investor relations website
  • Improve investor’s understanding of your business
  • Identify key industry influencers
  • Engage with investors
  • Generate media coverage
  • Clarify key messages
  • Minimize repetitive investor inquiries

P.S. Executive officers and other company representatives should be mindful of the issues that derive from online communications, as their private postings on public social networks might cause embarrassment to their companies and even make them liable in front of their shareholders.

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