By Dennis Walsh, Vice President
I recently moderated a webinar hosted by NIRI on social media strategies for investor relations. On the panel with me were David Jackson, CEO, Seeking Alpha; RJ Jones, Investor Relations Officer, Zillow; and Andrew Shapiro, Founder, President and Portfolio Manager, Lawndale Capital Management.
The discussion made clear that professional investors are using social media – activists included. In addition, all public companies should have a social media strategy, even if the objective is just to monitor the online conversation.
If you are in charge of managing your company’s investor relations program, you might be wondering how to get started developing your social media strategy. Try following this three step approach:
As Jones mentioned during the webinar, it all starts with listening. A solid monitoring program will help you to identify who is talking about your company and its peers and what they are saying. Establish company accounts on the various social media platforms like Twitter, SeekingAlpha, StockTwits, etc. Schedule alerts for social media and other online mentions of your company’s ticker, brand names, key products, competition, members of management and the board. For Twitter, download a desktop application like TweetDeck or Hootsuite, which make it easier to manage your search results.
Through your monitoring efforts, you may discover articles posted on investment community oriented websites like SeekingAlpha, where more than 250 new articles are added each day by investors and industry experts. With all of those discussions taking place, Jackson believes SeekingAlpha provides IROs with a chance to take the pulse of the investment community by seeing the questions or concerns they have about the company or industry. Contributors generally welcome direct contact from company representatives that provide them with previously disclosed information to use in a future post. The added exposure generated by a contributor article could be beneficial to companies with limited visibility and little or no sell-side coverage.
Identify Key Influencers
In a short time, you’ll begin to discover that there is a wealth of information relevant to your company being shared via social media. You will likely see key influencers emerge that you will want to follow closely. These individuals often have large followings and their posts regularly generate high levels of engagement. You may find investors, like Shapiro, that are writing about your company or sharing insightful information on your competitors. Shapiro follows a variety of hashtags on Twitter that are closely related to the stocks in his portfolio. Hashtags make it possible for you to connect to a stream of messages on the same topic. Shapiro uses hashtags to find articles with useful information about his current and potential investments. You’ll want to follow the same hashtags that the key influencers from your space are following. Activist investors have long used the Internet to raise awareness for their causes. It is likely that we will see a surge in activist investors follow Carl Icahn’s lead in the near term by more aggressively using social media.
After listening in the background for a period of time, you will be able to decide whether it is appropriate for your company to proactively engage on certain social media platforms. As Jones pointed out, there isn’t a universal strategy – you must determine what is right for your company. One thing is certain: the information you share on social media must have a purpose. For example, Zillow’s goal was to provide more access to investors, partner with the media, and expand their reach. If you decide to engage, implement a social media policy with clear usage guidelines and provide those in charge of your social channels with Reg FD training. Information shared on social media should be treated and reviewed as you would with any other public communications channel.
People today choose how they consume information – and many are using social media. When reviewing your shareholder communications strategy, you need to ask yourself: are overlooking a large segment of our target audience by not participating on social media? If the answer is yes, you should start listening today.
Dennis Walsh is Vice President 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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