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.