Archive for the ‘IR 2.0 – Web & social media’ Category

Twitter IR could be interesting

November 8, 2013

TWTR NYSEA few years ago an investor relations colleague told me Twitter was “the end of the world as we know it.” Bothered by the cacophony of 140-character mini-messages, this Old Schooler was offended by the damage that tweeting could inflict on our language. To me, it looked interesting rather than scary.

And now Twitter, Inc., after a hugely successful IPO on Thursday that raised roughly $2 billion (which The New York Times DealBook blog sniffed was “more modest” than what the company might have gotten if pricing had been higher), is going to be even more interesting for IR people to watch.

The social media platform has begun life as a public company pledging to talk to investors through – well, social media. To be sure, there is a Twitter investor relations webpage, though I found the corporate site only after some searching. The IR page itself is worth checking out, a bit unconventional with its news from the company blog of mostly non-investor related happenings, a page of financial releases (“Coming soon” … like the earnings, a cynic would say) and, of course, a feed from @twitter.

But this will be worth following. In rolling out Twitter’s stock offering, management pledged to practice its own preaching – using online postings and social media (its own) to get the word out. From the TWTR prospectus:

Channels for Disclosure of Information

Investors, the media and others should note that, following the completion of this offering, we intend to announce material information to the public through filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, our corporate blog at blog.twitter.com, the investor relations page on our website, press releases, public conference calls and webcasts. We also intend to announce information regarding us and our business, operating results, financial condition and other matters through Tweets on the following Twitter accounts: @dickc, @twitter and @twitterIR.

The information that is tweeted by the foregoing Twitter accounts could be deemed to be material information. As such, we encourage investors, the media and others to follow the Twitter accounts listed above and to review the information tweeted by such accounts.

Any updates to the list of Twitter accounts through which we will announce information will be posted on the investor relations page on our website.

That all seems to be in line with the SEC’s guidance on IR use of social media and company websites for disclosure (speaking as a non-lawyer). Twitter has the advantage of starting afresh – investors aren’t accustomed to seeing its news in one particular place or format.

Twitter fin releases

The end of the world? Hardly – but IROs will be watching with interest.

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

And now, Twitter as a public company

November 7, 2013

TWTR tweet

Buy side half-interested in social media

June 11, 2013

Just over half of institutional investors are using social media to gather intelligence on companies and industries as part of their research, according to a survey released Monday by NIRI and research firm Corbin Perception.

While 52% of 87 buy-side investors surveyed say they monitor social media – not much change from 56% in a 2010 survey – they are tuning into social channels more frequently. Some 39% monitor social media on a daily basis, up from 12% in 2010. Others check periodically or in response to someone calling a specific post to their attention.

The investors say overwhelmingly (92%) that information from social media isn’t entirely reliable – it’s intelligence that helps fill in the “bigger picture.” But most of those who monitor social media say their investment decisions have been influenced at some point by what they see.

The top three categories of social media watched by the buy side:

On down the line in buy-side usage are company blogs, chat boards, Motley Fool, Twitter and so on. Facebook isn’t in the top 10.

One-fourth of the buy-side people surveyed don’t use social media at all for work, and 38% can’t access social media sites on work computers because of company policies against it.

The bottom line for IR, according to NIRI and Corbin:

As social media continues to evolve, IR professionals must closely monitor company-specific social media content. That said, when it comes to getting their company story our, one-on-one meetings, the investor presentation, analyst days and conference calls remain the leading sources of reliable information, according to the buy side.

Corbin provides a copy of the survey report on its website.

So where are you in monitoring and/or engaging with social media?

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

IR nightmare: leaking earnings

August 2, 2011

As the Q2 reporting season winds down, a nightmare scenario for investor relations professionals comes to mind: accidentally leaking your company’s earnings release or M&A announcement by inadvertently posting it online. Such a leak spreads easily into a widespread spill into social or traditional media.

Can’t happen? Well, it does. A panel discussion at the NIRI 2011 Annual Conference in June was all about warning IR people of this potential mishap. Two folks from Microsoft, IR manager Dennie Kimbrough and IT manager Josh Bailey, courageously provided the red meat of the NIRI panel discussion called “Keep a Lid on It: How to Guard Against Leaks, and What to Do if One Happens.”

Most importantly for all of us in investor relations, the Microsoft staffers shared lessons learned on how to guard against similar leaks at our companies.

The software giant is one of a handful of companies – Walt Disney, NetApp and Transocean are others – recently tripped up by the interplay of humans and technology, causing the inadvertent, early and selective release of earnings.

For MSFT, it happened on January 27, 2011. According to Kimbrough, the first word of a problem came about 12:35 p.m. Pacific time, an hour before the market would close. A Reuters reporter called to confirm an online report of the software giant’s Q2 earnings – not due out until after the close. Not the media call you want to get.

It seems MSFT’s 77-cent earnings per share figure was already out on StockTwits, through the work of Selerity, a “low-latency news aggregator.” For us non-techies, that means Selerity uses web crawler programs to snoop around continually for information on web pages that might move stocks – and move the data quickly to its clients, who are hedge funds, banks and prop traders.

What Selerity’s crawlers found was a page where someone at Microsoft posted Q2 earnings data on what they assumed was a secure “staging” page, but actually was a live web page. “It was just a simple human error,” Kimbrough said.

There was no link to it, as an official news release gets when posted to a website, but crawlers don’t need a link. Kimbrough said MSFT put its earning data up on the blind (but public) web page at 11:23 a.m., and Selerity’s crawler found it six minutes later. Selerity sent the numbers right out to its clients – and broadcast MSFT’s 77-cent EPS on StockTwits at 12:50, a full 70 minutes before the close.

Bailey, the Microsoft IT guy, explained three kinds of web crawlers: Those used by search engines “play nice” with web administrators in handling nonpublic files. Others scrape email addresses and phone numbers from thousands of websites to enable marketers to spam us. A third, scarier group of crawlers search for not-yet-public pages, systematically guessing URLs that might provide interesting data (something like “…/earnings/Q2/press release.html”).

The problem isn’t brand new. Another panelist, Andy Backman (a former IRO and now CEO of InVisionIR) recalled an encounter 10 years ago when a reporter guessed the URL for his company’s second-quarter earnings release – and reported the numbers an hour and a half before the release was due out.

Of course, the damage-control step to take if a leak of this sort happens is to issue the darn news release – get it out fast! Microsoft posted a brief statement to its corporate blog immediately after the reporter’s call and had the full earnings announcement up by 12:55 Pacific time, about 20 minutes after the reporter’s call.

But prevention is the real need.

And prevention is where IROs can play an important role by taking precautionary steps as part of the team that develops earnings and M&A announcements:

  • Keep online staging areas secure to prevent public posting of earnings and similar announcements. “The only way to protect yourself against web crawlers is to keep your files on your side of the firewall,” Bailey says. Both in-house staffers and third-party service providers like lawyers, CPAs and newswires need to have strict procedures in place. The IRO needs to check.
  • Don’t allow anyone to leave drafts lying around on a printer or desk. This is the old-fashioned leak, allowing non-confidential employees or even members of the public who pass by to see nonpublic information sitting out in the open. “Shred everything. Lock it away,” Backman advises.
  • Demand better code names for M&A projects or offerings. Lawyers and I-bankers love to create code names. And they’re fun – we all get a sense of adventure working on a hush-hush project called “Operation Pegasus.” Trouble is, Backman notes, code names are almost always picked because they point to the real name. We’re making a bid for Procter & Gamble, so we call it Operation Pegasus. Sometimes namers use a double entendre (the acquisition of Energizer might be “Project Bunny”). Backman suggests: Pick a code name that has nothing to do with the target company – a code name.

In many respects, IR professionals need to be a little paranoid. For most of us, Q2 reporting is finished (my excuse for not posting in July), but security of financial information is a process issue we can start working on now for next quarter.

As gatekeepers of material information, IR people need to work with colleagues in finance and IT to ensure that “Top Secret” remains so right up until our broad dissemination to the market.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Websites – not the only channel

May 27, 2010

Nearly two years after the SEC issued guidance on use of company websites for disclosure, a survey of investor relations professionals by the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) reports few have changed their web disclosure practices.

In August 2008 the SEC – before the near-meltdown of our entire financial system captured its full attention – issued an interpretive release on use of web-based media to fulfill Regulation FD disclosure responsibilities. (Read SEC guidance here.)

The essence of the SEC guidance, carrying out then-Chairman Chris Cox’s agenda to bring disclosure methods into the 21st Century, was to let companies know they can establish their websites as the place for investors to find material news. That set off speculation (and some advocacy) that companies would stop issuing press releases and possibly abandon other channels of disclosure. It hasn’t happened.

According to NIRI’s survey of about 200 senior IR people, 93% have not changed the role of their websites – and only 7% have – since the SEC guidance. NIRI adds, “the 7% who did make changes … are using more channels, not fewer.”

To be sure, more companies are encouraging investors to visit their websites – building the email alert lists through the sites, putting the web address on all materials, issuing advisory releases to direct people to the sites, and the like.

About 90% of the respondents file 8-Ks and issue news releases through paid wire services to get material news out to the market. (The IROs reported median annual cost of $25,000 for issuing press releases.) After those two channels come conference calls, email alerts, RSS feeds and social media.

A few companies are pushing the envelope. Google created ripples in the IR community by reporting Q1 earnings on its IR website in April – and not providing a detailed release through a newswire. A 3-sentence alert through a newswire did point market participants to the website posting:

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has released its first quarter 2010 financial results. Please visit Google’s investor relations website at http://investor.google.com to view the earnings release. Google intends to make future announcements regarding its financial performance exclusively through its investor relations website.

Google’s move stirred some controversy. Reuters clucked that this “unorthodox” approach “raises questions.” Dominic Jones of IR Web Report sprang to GOOG’s defense and went after Reuters. I’ve heard other IR people give varying opinions.

My feeling? Google can do whatever it wants, of course. I view company news more from a communication standpoint than a legal one. For most companies, the goal should be to reach as many investors and other stakeholders as possible with earnings or another announcement. I would add channels, not cut them off.

At this stage, having your press release feed automatically into Bloomberg screens, Yahoo! Finance and all those other channels (even Google search) seems desirable. Transparency includes making it easy to find your information. Requiring an investor to visit your website, adding clicks to the process, or pushing more people to read news filtered through reporters for Reuters or Bloomberg, seems limiting.

I’m all for robust websites. As I’ve said before (see “The website: your front door”), IROs should view a company site as the potential investor’s entry point to engage the business. We should evaluate the experience a person has approaching that front door – and benchmark how we do providing information, creating impressions and inviting interaction. Ease of use and transparency should characterize a website. But the site isn’t the only channel.

What’s your opinion on the place of websites in good disclosure? Comment below.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Should your CEO do social media?

May 10, 2010

George Colony, tech guru and chief executive of Forrester Research, packs an interview on Mashable with common-sense advice on how a corporate CEO should relate to social media. (Mashable is a news and opinion site devoted to Web 2.0.) The Forrester interview is a good read for investor relations staff and counselors.

Three factors are working against CEOs embracing social media, Colony says:

  • Age – the typical CEO grew up back when people talked
  • Regulatory constraints – the risks remain fuzzy around Reg FD and new media networks like Twitter (ignore Mashable’s mistake in transcribing SEC as FCC in the text)
  • Time – or the lack of it.

The Forrester chief paints this picture of what keeps most CEOs from engaging:

If you go to a CEO and say — and this is sort of conventional wisdom around being social — “We want you to make between five and six 140-character statements a day” — that’s 30 a week. “Then we want you to make one large statement per week — about four or five paragraphs.” And most CEOs would say, “There’s absolutely no way I could do that.”

There are two problems here: one is time. Calculate the time behind this and it’s about five or six hours — that’s a lot of time for a CEO. The second is that model — which has become almost an accepted model if you want to build followership — that model is unsustainable if you want to sustain quality. In other words: There’s not enough to say. There’s not enough wisdom in the world for one person to be wise over all those statements to fall over a year. That’s 1,500 short statements a year and 50 large statements a year.

Colony favors what he calls “social lite” – a focus on quality rather than quantity. A CEO might aim to post significant messages 6 to 8 times a year on a blog, and perhaps comment every 2 weeks or once a month on a short-message platform like Twitter. So when the CEO does speak, it’s a more notable event.

The Forrester chief also says CEO posts should not be written by PR people – but by the CEO. That’s the point of social media, after all – to engage personally in the conversation. To fake it isn’t authentic, to use another social media buzzword. And a CEO doesn’t get the benefit of listening if he or she isn’t even in the room.

My feeling is that public company CEOs wading into social media should get a quick review of posts from other members of the team – say, the CFO, IRO or Legal. The idea is not to scrub the humanity out of the CEO’s words – no “writing by committee” allowed. But we should bring in a second set of eyes to check facts and grammar – just to protect to CEO and the company’s brand in the marketplace.

For most businesses, I favor something more like a company presence in a blog or on Twitter and Facebook – blending voices from marketing and corporate, either funneled through a single person whose job is “telling the story” or coming from several contributors writing on different aspects of the company and its products.

Colony estimates only about 10% of CEOs are ready to do social media now. In the next 10 years, that may grow to 50%. But he urges companies not to rush it:

I would say if you’re interested, explore — but do not force it. If you do not have the proclivity to communicate, to be a little bit honest, a little bit controversial, then I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t force it.

That view jibes with where most companies are now on social media – especially firms that are not in the tech business or that have small cap resources. It’s time to listen, explore, develop skills and resources – and “go social” as you are ready.

What’s your feeling on CEOs and social media? (Click comment line below.)

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Investors, golf, cancer & social media

May 7, 2010

Two communication folks from American Century Investments, a mutual fund firm with about $60 billion under management, gave a great talk today at the Social Media Club of Kansas City on an online campaign building the company’s brand.

As investor relations and corporate communication people at many companies are exploring social media – dipping our toes in the water – I thought I’d share some lessons from the American Century experience. They’re privately held, but dealing creatively with interactive new media in our highly regulated financial world.

Brent Bowen and Jamie Needham of American Century gave a case study on the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe – and what the company does to promote its brand through social media from the event.

Of course, the event starts with some advantages. This is golf, with a network TV audience that also can be online. The tourney draws celebrities ranging from Charles Barkley to Ray Romano. They’re playing because the event is a benefit for Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG campaign against cancer. And golf is somehow woven into the DNA of many investors – American Century’s audience.

So it’s a natural. But the American Century team did a nice job with social media approaches that I think would fit for small or large companies – even firms that can’t bring Michael Jordan to their event. A video is available here (uncut, so fast-forward to ~12 minutes to skip Social Media Club housekeeping stuff).

My own interpretations from the American Century experience:

  • An event helps ignite the online conversation. To get people you’re not paying to start posting on Twitter or their Facebook pages, you’re best to tap into their interests with something that’s happening. Could be an earnings announcement, but don’t expect that one to go viral. Social media focus most easily on events that build corporate brand awareness or help launch products. IR is a smaller part of the picture – but should be present.
  • A feel-good cause gives momentum to a social media campaign because people get excited about doing good more than about a company making money. American Century wisely put all the emphasis on LIVESTRONG and helping cancer patients – all except, of course, that the event is called the American Century Championship. People who are online get excited about supporting cancer patients in the battle of their lives. Or about their favorite sport. Or an art show or concert. Or defeating hunger or disease.
  • Listening comes first. American Century started with “no social media presence – no Twitter account, no Facebook account” – Brent says. They began by searching out 20 to 25 key words in the online interactive space. What are people out there saying about us, our cause and our partners? They asked people in the industry what they want to hear – and the answer was, in addition to just investment products, to learn what makes the company tick. Investment people asked for that softer side, in other words.
  • Plan the content. As Brent says, “Content plan, content plan, content plan.” Sure, tweeting looks all spontaneous. When people post to Facebook it’s personal and folksy. YouTube videos capture those wacky moments. But the corporate message comes through because it is planned. Spontaneous stuff comes from being flexible in addition to following the plan.
  • Legal can get comfortable with social media. American Century puts on webinars in which its investment officers help the investing community understand what’s going on in the markets. The communications team decided to “live tweet” a webinar – which means giving a series of 140-character messages summarizing what the speakers say, as they say it. Anyone who follows @AmericanCentury gets the tweets in real time. The “story behind the story” is that a compliance officer sits next to the person doing the live tweeting – it’s real-time compliance review. Hey, IR could do that.

If you’d like more, watch this morning’s video or explore American Century’s golf tournament site. Congrats to this Kansas City company on a cool national event.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Social media old & new

December 22, 2009

Christmas cards are the old social media – of the printing press era. But they say something to us about the new social media – our current interactive networks.

Personally, I love sending and receiving greetings this time of year. It’s a chance to touch old friends and colleagues with a personal wish of peace and well-being. I even like reading Christmas letters of faraway friends for news of their families and work lives.

A Wall Street Journal column on the history of Christmas cards this weekend made me reflect on how far we’ve come since Henry Cole printed up and mailed the first Christmas cards back in 1843. (No, Hallmark didn’t invent seasonal greetings.)

What’s this have to do with investor relations? Consider …

  • Relationships are built by communicating with people, repeatedly, often in different ways, over time. A Christmas card may be one touch. An email note or “retweet” on Twitter another. A phone call or one-on-one even better.
  • Social media are like Christmas cards. To play, you have to commit time and resources. You can’t say we’re going to do interactive media and then not put in the time – it’s like intending to send Christmas cards, but never getting to it.
  • Personal messages, even short ones, speak volumes. Just as the seasonal card is about letting someone know you’re thinking of them, any note or call tells an investor (or in-house colleague, for that matter) that you care.

So now’s the time to start on “social media” for 2010, whether your plan is to tweet your earnings, blog your strategy, engage in online conversations on your industry, upgrade your website, or just touch more people personally in the new year.

Oh, by the way, if you celebrate Christmas – Merry Christmas! If it’s a different holiday, best wishes in this beautiful season and all the best for the new year!

Word of the year: “unfriend”

November 17, 2009

The word of the year for 2009, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

unfriend.

This says something about our society and the social media we’re all embracing. Relationships of a certain sort are, well, un-doable. Someone can friend or follow you on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, and either person can exit just as easily. Friending and unfriending can be entirely impersonal.

Now, I won’t say crack any cynical jokes about relationships with investors. My observation for the day is simply that we are all looking for real relationships – in our personal lives, business dealings … and our investor relations jobs.

Social media play a role in supporting all of these relational areas of life. But the simple act of friending or following or connecting isn’t much of a relationship. Talking with each other over time using whatever medium, listening, supporting – dare we say, investing time and effort in each other – makes a relationship.

Let’s be social in our investor relations outreach, but let’s build real relationships.

This space not for sale

October 9, 2009

NoSaleSignThe Federal Trade Commission this week jumped into a controversy that has been swirling in social media circles: “Pay for play” – the practice of companies or PR agencies paying bloggers, Twitterers and other online “influentials” to endorse or mention their products or services.

This FTC action focuses on people selling products – not pitching stocks. But the intervention in the online marketing world has important implications for online promoters of investments, as well. More on the investor relations side in a moment.

What the FTC did was announce new guidelines requiring disclosure if companies pay online chatterers, or give them free products, for endorsements. (FTC announcement here, old media take on it here.) So faking a word-of-mouth or “viral” phenomenon gets a bit harder. FTC explains:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. … And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.

For the record, this space is not for sale, regardless of FTC guidance. I have, in fact, received a couple of offers from IR service providers – but getting a paycheck isn’t the reason I’ve chosen to take part in the conversation through IR Café.

My ethic comes from years of working in the Old Journalism of daily newspapers. When I was a young reporter, one of the newsroom characters was a City Hall reporter known for, among other things, refusing to take a donut at the weekly City Council meeting because he never wanted to place his objectivity in doubt. A journalist who accepted freebies from someone he covered would be drawn and quartered, usually in a public flogging through a news story about his termination.

So I got the message: Journalism is about delivering information for the readers’ benefit; advertising is about being paid to deliver messages for advertisers’ benefit. Publishing ads is all well and good. But if you want credibility, the lines should not be blurred – as they increasingly are, both online and in traditional media.

I value credibility more than a buck, which is why I headline a post “This space not for sale.” If our firm tries to sell you something, you’ll know it.

Now, I have mixed feelings about the FTC sticking its nose into what has been a wide-open space on the Internet. Does freedom of speech extend to someone tweeting “Wow U have to try this new digicam from CoolVideo.com, best ever and an awesome Christmas gift, too!!!!!”  I don’t know, that’s marketing … or maybe constitutional law … a question above my pay grade, as the President says.

When it comes to investor relations, I have a clear opinion: Pay for play is not a good idea. Investors are smart enough to see through a paid profile in a publication or website aimed at investors, and it can hurt rather than help the company’s credibility. And people shouldn’t be touting stocks online (or touting the short side) for pay, period. Companies and IR or PR firms should steer completely clear of that practice – regardless of regulation. It’s a matter of integrity and credibility.

Securities laws outlaw market manipulation and misleading information, of course. I’m no expert on the Securities and Exchange Commission, but as interactive media play a growing role in capital markets, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the SEC take direct action to require disclosure of payments to bloggers or other online chatterers – just as analyst reports must disclose the i-banks’ interests in companies covered. It might even help clean up the markets.

What’s your opinion on the integrity – and freedom – of online discussions?


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