Posts Tagged ‘Blogs’

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.

Advertisements

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!

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?

Don’t be ACORNed

September 28, 2009

Regardless of your politics, it’s clear that what happened to the activist group ACORN this month is an extraordinary case study in Web 2.0 and the rapid loss of reputation. It’s a new media nightmare.

Before answering “What’s this got to do with IR?” here’s a recap of the action:

acornACORN is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. An advocate for the poor, labor and liberal causes, ACORN organizes voter registration drives, demonstrations and efforts to influence government or pressure businesses. While controversial and oft-accused of improprieties, ACORN has won victories against big companies and been an ally of some top Democratic leaders.

Along came two politically motivated social media types, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. Like other 20-somethings, O’Keefe has been producing videos for the Web – in his case, needling liberals. Giles, a 20-year-old college sophomore, got in touch with O’Keefe with an idea to go after ACORN with a made-up event.

The two concocted a scenario to test the community organizers’ integrity. O’Keefe would play the role of a pimp and Giles a prostitute. The pair gathered a few props, went on the road with a hidden camera, and set out to entrap ACORN.

Visiting ACORN offices in DC, New York, Baltimore, San Diego and San Bernadino, O’Keefe and Giles told ACORN counselors they needed advice on getting a house for the prostitution biz, hiding income from the IRS, avoiding police detection, and smuggling underage girls into the country to use as prostitutes.

The poseurs got their shocker. Some of the ACORN officials went along, seemingly ignoring the illegality and morally outrageous nature of acts they were discussing. The videos show ACORN people casually giving advice for how best to carry out and conceal the purported illegal enterprise. “Pimp” and “prostitute” seemed to be treated like any other client.

BigGovernment.com, a new conservative website, linked up with O’Keefe and Giles and used their sensationalized attack videos to create momentum for its September launch on the Internet. It’s been a success: The ACORN videos went viral, with links from a host of blogs and tweets; they were huge on YouTube; the slam on ACORN struck a chord with conservative talk hosts; and the controversy crossed over into mainstream media. Within days, Congress members were denouncing ACORN and voting to defund it. Everyone’s investigating.

ACORN has been tripping over itself with denials and counter-attacks. It denounced “indefensible” actions of its people and fired some. Accused the video makers of distortions and filed a lawsuit. Invoked the respected names of its silk-stocking Advisory Council. Posted its own video. Launched an “investigation” of itself. ACORN has tried all the usual reputation-defense tactics. But the damage is done.

This isn’t a small-time hit. BigGovernment is the brainchild of Andrew Breitbart, a conservative Internet entrepreneur who has worked with Drudge Report, a top right-leaning site, and a similar aggregator, Breitbart.com. The sophisticated distribution and marketing of the “news” is worthy of film propagandist Michael Moore or liberal political activists MoveOn.org. These people play hardball.

Well, enough politics. What does the ACORN story have to do with corporations and IR? Investor relations professionals need to envision, for a moment, the potential for a new media nightmare for their corporate reputations.

Build your own scenario. Imagine a couple of 20-somethings bent on doing damage to your company, products or industry. You can’t predict what store, office or plant they may visit. Starting with sophisticated new media skills, they add well-funded distribution – and show no civility or restraint in their attack.

Will the “gotcha” go viral? How much will it damage the company’s reputation?

The anti-business analogy to ACORN’s current organizational torment argues powerfully that companies need to prepare for potential crises created through interactive media channels. Skirmishes already have taken place – but may intensify.

Companies ought to minimize risk by being sure our people are all trained in ethical conduct. If we consistently do what’s right, it’s much less embarrassing. Culture can prevent problems – or not.

IR and other functions must develop robust social media skills, so we’re prepared before a crisis strikes. And we should invest in early warning systems – assuring timely internal communication, as well as monitoring the social and regular Web.

Our crisis communication plans – including IR components – must be up to the challenges of the 21st Century.

Don’t be ACORNed.

© Copyright 2009 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Social media: Be a leader

September 18, 2009

Thinking a little more about investor relations engagement in social media (or hesitancy to engage), I believe IR people should step forward and offer some leadership in strategy and policies for corporate and employee involvement in the interactive Web. This is not to say take over, which IROs don’t have time to do and other departments would resist. But offer input, show thought leadership.

This issue came up today among IROs in a webinar on social media and IR organized by Bulldog Reporter’s IR Alert. I spoke on the panel but thought I would pull some thoughts – and resources – together to offer readers of IR Cafe.

Two compelling reasons for IR to lead internally and help shape the strategy:

The message. I think of IR as one of the keepers of the corporate brand. Who are we, what’s our story, what do we mean as a company, how do we create value in the world? The CEO, of course, is communicator-in-chief. But the IRO should be nearby, helping to clarify and deliver the message.

Yes, I know – the products are where the money comes from, so brand managers and marketing communications people often drive the agenda for media of all sorts, which now include Facebook, Twitter and the like. Most social media efforts spring from marketing, customers service or PR.But consider the audiences.

But communication strategy has to flow from understanding our audiences. We have customers, who may be learning about our products – or talking about them to friends – on networking platforms. We have employees, who may be talking about work and the company on social media sites. And we have investors – the IR audience – who own the company, after all, and increasingly are using social media to learn about it, in addition to the company website and traditional sources.

Go to search.twitter.com, a small but easy window into social media, and look for your company or big products. When I do this, I find a significant amount of chatter is on financial matters – investors trading links and opinions. We need to be sure the corporate story, the value-creation story, is reaching these audiences.

The risks. One role of IR within a company is to play gatekeeper – to be sure no one blabs the material information before the company properly discloses it to broad audiences. The IRO is, among other things, a Regulation FD gatekeeper.

Do we need to say what the risks are in social media? It’s a wild and woolly space. Consider the confidential information an employee might let slip, unthinking: We’re all excited about this new product that starts shipping November 1 … Everyone’s afraid of losing their job, because sales have just been tanking this summer … My division is being combined with this other one … The CEO had a heart attack.

I’m no lawyer, but what I’ve heard from several attorneys – including Ben Orlanski of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips on the webinar today – is that the same securities laws and SEC rules (reg FD!) apply to social media as everywhere else. So IROs should be involved, both in developing policies and in day-to-day activity, to guard against selective disclosure by the company – in Web 2.0 as well as other forums.

The other social media risk IROs talk about is the crisis. What happens when rogue employees post a YouTube video doing gross things with your pizza? Or angry soccer moms start tweeting and Facebooking about your TV commercial? Social media platforms spread information – true or false – rapidly and uncontrollably. That pizza video reached 1 million-plus viewers in three days, and investors were in the audience – the stock price dropped 13% (it has recovered). Crisis management is a topic unto itself, but the risk is reason to be prepared.

How to lead. As with so many areas of corporate policy and strategy, the influence of an IRO or outside agency is mostly informal – getting up to speed, reaching out internally to build support, be an active participant in a team. In the case of social media, that means working with Legal, Finance, Marketing, PR, Customer Service.

To me, decisions of where and how to engage in social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, there are hundreds of channels and tactics – are questions of strategy that each company must answer for itself. And no two approaches will be identical. But the necessity of thinking through the policy issues applies to every company.

Most public companies have disclosure policies, a giant “business conduct policy” and/or an array of policies covering various areas of employee conduct. Social media are relatively new, but already huge. So companies really need to update their policies to cover involvement of the company and employees in Web 2.0.

I’ve scanned some social media policies of big companies. The ones you can readily find on the Web are from tech companies, who have embraced the culture of sharing their information (even internal policies) online. Take a look at these:

I like Sun’s best among these, because of its plain English and subheads that guide the employee through it. Some business conduct policies are too lawyerly for most employees to get the message (or may even spawn little rebellions).

Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell, has been preaching the “We need a policy” message for a long time. In a post from way back in 2004, she offers a simple example of a blogging policy, with links to more resources. So if you don’t have a policy that includes up-to-date thinking on social media, you need to catch up.

Communicating with the capital market has always been about using different channels to reach various segments of the investor audience, and IR 2.0 is here.

(Some previous posts and resources on this blog: IR 2.0 – A Menu linking to resources by topic, IR Website Checklist of what should be there, Tiptoeing into 2.0 on trends in corporate engagement, Twitter for IR? thoughts, Social media, reputation & IR, and Social media strategies: Talk, listen … or? Or go to the right side of this page, find “Browse by topic” and click IR 2.0 – Web & social media.)

Please comment with your ideas or links to social media & IR policies or resources.

Good news is, we’re all learning together. Have some fun along the way!

© Copyright 2009 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Looks mainstream to me

September 8, 2009

If you’re still wondering if social media are too far “out there” to consider using for your company, think again. As Exhibits 1 & 2 for the idea that social media have become mainstream for corporations talking to investors (among other audiences), consider Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

These two mega cap pharmaceutical companies, despite regulatory hurdles, legal worries and their status as conservative blue chip companies, are getting out there in the world of Web 2.0. Regardless of what business you’re in, you may be interested in comments from their execs as reported in Medical Marketing & Media:

JNJ began dipping its toe in social media three years ago and has been getting more involved since, media relations director Marc Monseau says in the August 2009 issue of MM&M. Now JNJ has a corporate blog, JNJBTW, a Twitter account @JNJComm, a JNJ YouTube channel and so on.

“It hasn’t been easy, and there certainly have been some stumbles along the way,” Monseau tells MM&M. He shares some lessons learned:

  • Understand your audience. Begin by listening in online communities.
  • Start small. Try out some low-risk activities in social media.
  • Work with legal. Address those regulatory concerns by working together.

Most of the social media effort is soft-sell marketing about health issues, but JNJ has done some interesting things in IR – such as live blogging its annual meeting on Twitter. You might think dishing up an annual meeting in three dozen 140-character tweets borders on silly, especially since people could hear it live on a webcast. But JNJ, like many companies, is experimenting to see what works best.

Pfizer is newer to social media. In the September 2009 MM&M, Ray Kerins, PFE’s VP of worldwide communications, talks about launching on Twitter (@Pfizer_News):

We’re trying to become transparent, but we’re doing it slowly and cautiously. For us to jump in with two feet would be stupid.

First step for Pfizer was monitoring Twitter, then being sure the right people were on staff to implement social media tactics, Kerins says. PFE has only been on Twitter for seven weeks, but already about 2,000 people are following – getting tweets ranging from earnings and merger updates to links to news stories on PFE.

Other companies do social media, too – and JNJ and PFE weren’t pioneers in IR 2.0, as some tech companies were. But their learning can contribute to our learning.

New feature: ‘Browse by topic’

July 27, 2009

Over the weekend I tinkered with this blog a bit to add an index by subjects – under the heading “Browse by topic” in the right-hand column.

Not a big change and not sexy looking, just a small enhancement aiming to make IR Café more useful and easier to navigate. The idea is that if you’re interested in, say, M&A communications you can click on that and get an archive of posts relating to that subject – without a whole lot of clicking around.

In the process, I made subject names more specific for all past posts. Of course, you can still use the search box in the upper right to search by key word – for example, earnings guidance or conference calls, which aren’t separate subjects.

Two goals for anyone with influence over a website are to make it useful and usable. As investor relations professionals, we should regularly look at our company websites to see if we can improve the IR sections against those standards.

Please let me know if this minor change helps you – or certainly if it causes any unintended problems. By all means, pass along any ideas for improvements.

IR Café: one year & counting

June 12, 2009

iStock_8241130_CupcakeToday marks one year since I began writing IR Café. The blog is a way to contribute to the conversation in the investor relations profession, exchange ideas with colleagues, clarify my own thoughts, and reach out to IR people I might not otherwise meet.

How very gratifying! Among the results:

  • Experimenting with social media – and the interrelationships among blogs, search engines, Twitter, websites and so on – is an exciting learning experience.
  • Just over 9,000 visitors have looked at IR Café to date. It’s averaging 30 a day in 2009. Not big numbers by web standards – but a lot more people than I normally see in a day or a year.
  • I’ve spoken or traded emails with IR people across the US and Europe – as well as Brazil, India, Israel and Russia. And I’ve met some in person, a warm affirmation that “the network” actually consists of real people.
  • While I’m still a newbie, I am having some fun.

Thanks to each of you for reading, commenting or reaching out to get in touch.

And now I’m going to sip on a mug of coffee and think about what’s next. Please send me your thoughts or suggestions for IR Café.

Tiptoeing into 2.0

April 28, 2009

A growing number of companies use blogging and social media networks like Twitter to reach out to investors and other audiences, but many are moving tentatively amid legal concerns about disclosure, The Wall Street Journal reports (“Corporate Blogs and ‘Tweets’ Must Keep SEC in Mind,” April 27, 2009, p. B4).

Among the Fortune 500 companies, 81 now sponsor public blogs, and 23 of those use Twitter to blast out 140-character corporate tidbits, according to the Society for New Communications Research.

IR 2.0 participants include old-economy giants like Wal-Mart, Chevron and General Motors, the WSJ says. Last week Johnson & Johnson distributed 23 news fragments – excuse me, Tweets – from its annual meeting via Twitter.

But getting out there comes with some concerns. the story notes:

Such efforts raise thorny questions. Blogs and tweets can run afoul of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations on corporate communications. But sanitizing such posts risks hurting credibility with online audiences.

‘This is all new to companies, and they’re not sure where they can go,’ says Dominic Jones, editor of IR Web Report …

Companies are taking different tacks on interactive IR issues.

Although several tech companies are in the forefront of social media for IR, chipmaker Intel has stayed away from blogs and Twitter because of concerns about SEC disclosure rules – and a desire to avoid sponsoring what can be negative comments from online followers – the WSJ reports.

On the other hand, tech company EMC likes Twitter’s ability to gather instant commentary and diverse opinions from employees, investors and other outsiders.

Online auction house eBay is balancing these concerns – using its corporate blog and Twitter updates to report on earnings calls and other business topics, while adding regulatory disclaimers to some posts to protect itself.

We’re in a great time of change. If you missed yesterday’s WSJ story, it’s worth going back to read. And taking a look at some of the blogs and Twitterers it mentions.

In different ways that fit our own companies, we should all be tiptoeing into 2.0.

Social media strategies: Talk, listen or … ?

April 17, 2009

I had a good conversation today with three friends who work in social media. (This was an old-fashioned conversation, sitting around a table at a coffee shop and chatting). One topic was how do companies use social media, or how should they use it?

Three strategies we’ve seen in businesses using Web 2.0:

  • Talking. Some companies are using Twitter, for example, to issue 140-character summaries of press releases or marketing pieces (with links). I heard another social media maven say recently that getting comments from other people isn’t the goal – it’s about getting your message out. He said the communications platform is what makes it “social.”
  • Listening. Other companies are listening intently to chatter in blogs and social networking sites, gleaning from these online conversations feedback about their product or service – and then fixing it. Or they’re hearing about the unmet need of consumers that could become their next big market.
  • Engaging. And then there are companies who really are creating a conversation. (“Conversation” is the social media buzzword that not all participants actually do.) These businesses are talking and listening. They may be systematically listening, which goes by the sinister-sounding verb “monitoring.” They answer questions. When they see someone complain about their company in a networking site, they reach out and offer to help. Almost like an old-fashioned conversation. 

So what’s your opinion: In the world of investor relations and corporate communication, what is the goal of blogging, Twittering and other-2.0-ing? Should a company talk, listen or engage with financial or corporate audiences online? 

And now you can engage: Click where it says “comments” at the end of this post. No name needed. And, of course, there’s no right or wrong answer – at least not in my book.