By Dennis Walsh, Senior Consultant & Director of Social Media
It’s that time of year again: Back to School! For my first job out of college I worked as an educator. This year, for “Back to School” season, I thought I’d step back into my teaching shoes. The following is a quick lesson on social media for investor relations for the marketing and public relations professional.
Technology is constantly changing the way we engage with our audience, so professional communicators must never stop learning new techniques. As a seasoned marketing or public relations professional, you’ve likely got social media covered. But how fluent are you in investor relations best practices? If you work for a public company, you might want to rethink your social media engagement strategy.
It is widely believed that marketing and PR departments “own” social media within the confines of the typical organizational structure. A recent study by Q4 Websystems found that more than 800 public companies have a presence on some social media platform. With that in mind, one must wonder: are the marketing/PR people in charge ensuring that all social media activity is compliant with public company regulations? Here are a few things to think about:
Reg FD Training
First and foremost, you need to have a basic understanding of Regulation Fair Disclosure, or Reg FD. In short, if you have news that could have a material impact on your company’s performance, then you need to satisfy certain disclosure requirements. So before you tweet, blog or Instagram a photo of that revolutionary new market-changing product or discuss a major acquisition or the arrival of a new C-level executive, make sure the announcement has been made through the proper disclosure channels first. All employees should be aware of the corporate disclosure policy and should be trained on proper use of social media platforms. They too, not just the executives, must understand the responsibility of working for a public company and the repercussions for violation of the established policies.
StockTwits vs. Twitter
As a companion tool to Twitter, StockTwits is a great way to get your corporate strategy messages in front of the right audience. StockTwits has built a community of investment professionals that are sharing ideas on stock picks by applying the “cashtag” ($TICKER) to tweets about a company. Twitter recently added the clickable “cashtag” as a means for grouping tweets about a particular stock, much like StockTwits. Does that mean StockTwits is obsolete? No. There are still benefits to using this platform, such as the downstream news sites that publish tweets that are distributed through StockTwits. These popular investment sites include Yahoo! Finance, CNN Money, Reuters, Bloomberg, etc.
When is the last time you checked out the IR website? You know, that page buried in the “About” section of your corporate website? Chances are it’s hosted by a third-party vendor. Too often, the IR website is like a portal back in time because it was never updated to mirror the latest redesign of the corporate website. In many cases, the IR website is truly an underutilized resource that is overlooked or viewed as a necessary evil. Investors use IR websites to find information about the company, so you should work with your IR team to ensure it is flush with compelling content. Most IR website providers are very template driven, which is helpful for investors since they know where to find certain documents. However, if your company has an active social media presence, there are alternative providers that are pushing the envelope to incorporate engagement into the IR page.
What do you do when you come across a story in your daily monitoring that provides an analysis of your company’s financials and growth prospects? Don’t just ignore it since it falls out of your jurisdiction. Your IR team, or finance group, may not have access to monitoring tools. It is important to keep management and whoever is responsible for IR informed about those mentions in case there is something that needs correcting. If there isn’t an IR group at your company, you will want to get familiar with sites like SeekingAlpha and The Motley Fool. There are analysts at these sites writing about your company, its peers and the industry. It is just as important to become familiar with these bloggers as it is the ones commenting on your products and services.
Everybody knows mobile is the wave of the future. Smart-phone and tablet usage already is beginning to outpace PCs. Are apps the next big thing for IR? It is certainly possible, but we are still in the early stages of development. Having an app gives you access to a precisely targeted audience since the user voluntary opts to download the app to their personal device. By having this valuable real estate, companies have the ability to push news and event updates to a captive audience on a device that is frequently in the hands of its owner.
These are just a few items the person in charge of social media at a public company needs to consider. If you have an IR team at your company, reach out to them. Be sure to coordinate your marketing efforts with them to ensure consistent messaging across all communications platforms. They should educate you on any IR best practices you need to know. If you don’t have an IR team, look into bringing in a firm with experience in investor relations and social media for a training seminar to cover what you need to know. But remember, technology is constantly driving change in our profession, so do your best to stay up to date. Until next time, class dismissed.
Dennis Walsh is Senior Consultant & Director of Social Media at Sharon Merrill. He counsels clients on a broad array of investor relations and corporate communications issues such as market research, competitive intelligence, earnings announcements, investor targeting, roadshow planning and social media. Dennis oversees Sharon Merrill’s Socialize IR consulting service, which is designed for public companies that recognize the benefits of incorporating social media into their shareholder engagement program.
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