Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

Not feeling ‘social’

October 5, 2009

Forty-nine percent of companies do not have a specific approach or policy on employees’ use of social media on behalf of the companies, according to a survey reported in the October 2009 PR Week (link here, but requires subscription).

Jim Tsokanos, president of North America for MS&L, a PR firm that sponsored the survey with PR Week, comments:

When we live in the world of the empowered consumer and everyone has a point of view, and they share it at the speed of light, for companies to not have policies in place to guide how social media can be utilized by their employees, I thought was very interesting.

You can tell he’s in PR: Dangerous might be a better word for half the companies lacking policies on social media use. The risk is especially acute for public companies, who could face serious disclosure issues or ethical breaches in a tweet.

As I’ve suggested before in IR Café, public companies need to develop policies on who can use social media to discuss the business and guidelines for how. (Links to examples of social media policies at this post.)

Investor relations professionals ought to offer input on social media, at least to address the defensive compliance issue – and, getting radical here, also to include the financial community proactively among audiences served via social media.

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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: Go there

September 17, 2009

Social media guru Brian Solis, principal of Silicon Valley PR firm Future Works, visited the Kansas City chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) tonight – bringing the message that interactive web platforms are transforming the way companies communicate with their publics.

Brian comes at social media from a branding and public relations perspective, and his PR 2.0 blog is well-known. His first engagement in social media was selling digital cameras through the old bulletin boards and forums of the 1990s. And he still approaches the topic looking for measurable impact on sales of products.

As an investor relations practitioner focusing on communicating with financial audiences, I see most companies struggling to come to grips with social media. Web 2.0 is a threat to corporate reputations – and an opportunity. Most companies are still experimenting and trying to clarify their strategies. Some are in full denial.

Several messages that Brian shared stuck with me:

  • We are moving into this uncontrolled, overstimulated world of social media. Like it or not, customers and investors and employees are talking about our companies in blogs, on Twitter and Facebook, with videos on YouTube.
  • Most companies and communicators are struggling to find the best ways to participate in social media to connect with their audiences. “We’re all sort of equal in terms of what we don’t know,” Brian said. This was reassuring to hear from a guy who’s been at it since before Facebook, Twitter, etc. existed.
  • There is great value in personally visiting social media sites, searching for your company and brands, and listening to what people say. We should know who the influential reporters, bloggers and Twitterers are in our industries. By monitoring, we can calculate sentiment, garner feedback and get an early warning on crises, he said. Observation and data come before engagement.
  • Companies need to address the organizational issues of social media. In a couple of years, all areas of our companies will be using networking platforms, one way or another, Brian said. It’s inevitable given the rapidly rising public use of websites for networking, content creation and sharing.

Brian noted that his contacts from companies seeking help come from different departments: Customer Service, Marketing, IT – not just PR (usually not IR, I bet).

As communicators, we should come to grips with policy issues raised by new media and put tools and procedures in place for people across our companies. As IR people, we need to lead in planning for disclosure and capital market impacts.

Update: See also a post on this topic by Dan Schawbel on the PR 2.0 blog, and a neat post by Laurel Papworth, an Australia social media strategist, with lots of examples and links to social media policies (thanks to Dan for the link to her blog).

From old media to social media

July 7, 2009

Entrepreneurs trying to raise capital – and get businesses up and running – are turning more and more to social media stars vs. traditional media to get the word out, The New York Times reports in “Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley.”

The hottest PR people in Silicon Valley, says The Times, care less now about reporters at tech pubs or financial magazines than the influential voices online:

This is the new world of promoting start-ups in Silicon Valley, where the lines between journalists and everyone else are blurring and the number of followers a pundit has on Twitter is sometimes viewed as more important than old metrics like the circulation of a newspaper.

Gone are the days when snaring attention for start-ups in the Valley meant mentions in print and on television, or even spotlights on technology Web sites and blogs. Now P.R. gurus court influential voices on the social Web to endorse new companies, Web sites or gadgets — a transformation that analysts and practitioners say is likely to permanently change the role of P.R. in the business world, and particularly in Silicon Valley.

This, of course, is tech PR – the air has always been rarified around Silicon Valley startups, their founders and service providers. But the Times story has much to say about how information spreads in the rapidly changing world of social media.

One thing remains the same. Communicating begins with building relationships, so that when you have something to say, you’re talking to people who know you. I like the quote from Brooke Hammerling, one of those Silicon Valley publicists. Noting that Twitter is today’s fashionable way to get the news out, she says some newer platform may take its place: “It will morph, but it’s still all about relationships.”

(If you’re an investor relations person who doesn’t think IROs should even care about public relations, come back tomorrow for some compelling evidence.)

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.

Best April Fool’s story

April 1, 2009

The UK’s Guardian carries the best story I’ve seen for April Fool’s Day:

Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology,the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication.

The move, described as “epochal” by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter’s brief text messages, known as “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters each. …

A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper’s archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets.

The story offers examples of new-media stories such as: “OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see tinyurl.com/b5x6e for more”

Come to think of it, this isn’t all that far-fetched. Have you seen an annual report yet in 140 characters or less? “Notice & Access” may evolve there.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed a good chuckle today.

Resolutions for 2009

January 5, 2009

In the spirit of new beginnings, I’ll share a few of my resolutions for 2009. Don’t worry, nothing on weight or exercise to engender any guilt feelings. These all touch on the business of investor relations:

  • I hope to speak more clearly and write more clearly. Creating a message that is well-understood by each person in our audience – clarity – is the measure of success in investor relations and corporate communication.
  • I plan to expand my own network of relationships. Personally, I favor business relationships that grow into mutually supportive friendships.
  • I want to give away more, and also bring in more.
  • I hope to surprise people with the quality of our work on every project. This little firm, Johnson Strategic, is a calling – not just a job.
  • I strive to continue learning new ways to communicate. Interactive tools are transforming the way people seek and find information, but in the corporate world we are not yet very good at connecting via Web 2.0.
  • I want to write this IR Café blog for the benefit of investor relations professionals – and stimulate conversation to build up all of our skills.

What are your resolutions for 2009? Care to share?

Corporate blogging: A personal touch

December 3, 2008

The switch that unleashes the power of communication is making it personal – and this applies to corporate websites, blogs and social media – author and communications prof David Perlmutter says.

Perlmutter studies and blogs on political communication and wrote Blog Wars: The New Political Battleground, which came out early in 2008 chronicling, among other things, the superior online presence of Barack Obama’s campaign for President. I went to Perlmutter’s lecture on business blogging today at the suburban Kansas City campus of the University of Kansas (where he teaches).

The mark of a great communicator, Perlmutter says, is that a member of the audience comes away saying, “I felt like he was talking to me personally.” Without the human connection, talk is just noise. So it is with corporate forays into interactive media, Perlmutter says. The goal is mass communication, but the voice must be personal.

“I have seen a lot of corporate blogs and, boy, they read like corporate blogs,” Perlmutter says. “This is something that big institutions have trouble figuring out how to do.” Finding the right voice will be different for every company, but it will certainly take some thought.

The professor also hit one of my favorite themes: Companies shouldn’t leap into blogging, Twittering or using other media without first figuring out how those tools serve their business purposes. A blog, for example, demands time and resources – someone to maintain relationships by posting fresh material, responding to comments and implementing new ideas. So, Perlmutter says, “The first decision you need to make is, what is it actually trying to accomplish?”

For investor relations people looking at what I call IR 2.0, strategic thinking is a critical first step.

More on bear market IR

October 7, 2008

Over on IR Web Report, a consistently informative source on all things online, Dominic Jones kindly refers readers to this blog (see Oct. 6 post) – and adds his own useful insights. He endorses the value of staying in front of investors but notes that the Web offers new, low-cost ways to do so:

Technologies like blogs, podcasts, vodcasts and Twitter enable everyone from the CEO to workers on the shop floor to tell the company’s story. And often their voices, real and unrefined by the corporate PR machine, have much more credibility than sanitized, over-massaged press releases.

Putting a human face on the corporation, he adds, is critical:

… if you want to give your company an edge in this market, you’d do well to remember that investors are also buying into a business run by real peopleGet those people out in front of investors, not just in person in small group meetings or one-on-ones, but out on the web as well.

My thought is that IROs might take advantage of a depressed time (and the CEO/CFO’s reluctance to go on the road and meet depressed investors?) by moving forward with IR 2.0. Dominic’s blog archive is a good place to start researching more interactive forms of communication – and preparing a case for management and legal to embrace the trend toward online IR.