Tips for IR Success Online

The IR Society provides readers with some valuable pointers for creating and maintaining an investor relations presence online. Below are the key elements highlighted in this post that must be addressed in a company’s IR online strategy.

  • Share what the company is about, its story, and its history by creating an “About” page on the corporate site.
  • Provide investors with easily accessible, updated, and accurate financial data.
  • Make sure to update site visitors on recent news and developments within the company and the company’s industry.
  • Allow readers to learn about the company’s strategy and mission statement concerning investments.
  • Provide a current analysis of current shareholder data.
  • Give bond investors and credit analysts access to current credit and debt standings.
  • Provide shareholders with information in regards to corporate governance and how IR is managed in the company.
  • Site visitors should be able to read a company’s corporate responsibility policies and enforcement.
  • Companies should incorporate some new technology onto their web site.
  • Give readers the option to express any comments or concerns in regards to feedback for the company.

Social media strategist, Aliza Sherman, gives investors four notable steps to take for achieving financial social media success in this article from IR Alert.

1. Monitor what is being said about the company online, especially on social media sites and blogs.

2. Enhance the company’s online presence by adding video, press releases, quarterly earnings, reports, and presentations.

3. Use social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to push out company information to key publics and drive traffic to the IR web site.

4. Measure and keep track of the company’s online efforts and whether or not they were successful.

Advertisements

Ever heard of StockTwits?

Dominic Jones, creator of IR Web Report, recommends here that company IR teams should start using current social media sites that have been created to only target financial analysts and investors. The two most popular of these microblogging and monitoring services are StockTwits and Seeking Alpha.

In this webinar from Darrell Heaps and Q4 Web Systems, 47% of investors look online to monitor a company’s presence on social media sites and financial blogs. Investors and shareholders use these sites to research what is being said about the company and to acquire potential ideas for investments.

In another post from the IR Web Report (see here), recent statistics prove Seeking Alpha as an extensive and influential site frequented by financial professionals. The article discloses that Seeking Alpha has 2.8 million site visitors each month, with more than half providing substantial financial information to other readers. It also reports that top management, executives and senior professionals use Seeking Alpha more than any other financial web site for information, networking, and research in regards to IR.

In addition to Seeking Alpha, there is another social media site that is rapidly rising in popularity amongst financial professionals. IR Web Report highlights here the development of StockTwits. This site is similar to Seeking Alpha as it encourages companies and investors to engage through an online community setting. StockTwits allows its users, which mostly consists of IR departments and financial professionals, to post their most valuable and important information at the top of their pages to guarantee that it does not get buried in the stream of other posts/tweets. Companies like Ford Motor Company, CME Group, and Hewlett-Packard Company, currently rely on StockTwits to instantly update their investors on new and important financial information.

These investor relations sites give companies and investors more control over financial disclosure while also creating a stronger channel for financial communication.


Cisco and Social Media, A Love Story

Cisco Systems is an ideal model for companies to follow when getting started on the implementation of social media and financial disclosure. Corporate Responsibility Magazine reported Cisco as #6 on the 100 Best Corporate Citizens List 2009, highlighting corporate transparency as one of the most significant deciding factors. The magazine article points out that despite over the 400 companies that have been featured on the list over the past ten years, only three have made it each and every year since the list’s creation – Intel, Starbucks, and Cisco!

According to Sharon Merrill Associates, Cisco’s communication with shareholders thrives online. The company posts financial information on their IR Web site, as well as through social media tools such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and their corporate blog, The Platform. Cisco relies heavily on social media as a strategy to reinforce and simplify existing company messages. The company’s extreme online visibility allows shareholders and other constituencies to communicate directly to the Cisco IR team through a variety of social media channels.

Here is an image example provided by Q4 Web Systems that shows how Cisco uses Twitter to communicate to investors. This particular tweet features a link to a video of the CEO and CFO discussing the company’s finances and quarterly earnings.

Here is an example of how Cisco successfully utilizes their Facebook page. The company creates corporate and industry events on Facebook, like their 2009 Financial Analyst Conference. With these Facebook applications, Cisco can invite others to attend or at least to update interested constituencies about the details and successes of the event.


DellShares

Although reports from a 2009 Q4 study found that 55% of companies rely on Twitter for reaching their shareholders, Dell has taken a different approach for applying social media to investor relations. The computer giant is considered to be the first company to use an investor relations blog, DellShares, to communicate financial information.

Rob Williams, director of investor relations for Dell, gives his reasoning for IR blogging in a 2008 article, “Welcome to the Jungle.” Williams points out that Dell is talked about in more than 1,000 blog posts each day. He decided that their IR team should join and contribute to the online conversation. Not only do Dell’s investors read DellShares, but other companies and IR teams read it, eager to learn about this new phenomenon of financial blogging. Williams states that two members of the IR team have been authorized to update DellShares at least once a week. This authorization helps Dell bypass the legal scrutiny of online financial disclosure.

In another article by Q4, Williams offers some tips for companies to think about before launching an IR blog:

1. An IR blog is not a replacement for communicating information through traditional means. A company should not overlook the importance of news releases and SEC reports as a way of disclosing financial information.

2. The blog must provide readers with factual information. Controversy should be left out of financial disclosure. A company should not offer its opinion and attitude toward financial issues. This helps build credibility for the blog and the company.

3. A company should not use the IR blog to market and promote its products and/or services. It is an “investor relations” blog and thus, should be treated as such. It is solely a means of communicating financial information.

4. While the blog is primarily used for investor communications, it also serves a listening purpose. The IR team should also listen to its investors and shareholders reading the blog and see what they have to say about its content and your company.


eBay Tweets

According to a study conducted by the Society for New Communications Research, Fortune 500 companies chose to use Twitter more than any other social media channel in 2009. Although Twitter was found to be number one, the study also recognized that Fortune 500 companies have increasingly adopted corporate blogs and podcasting.

One of the first companies to utilize Twitter for financial communication was eBay. Corporate blogger, Richard Brewer-Hay was hired by eBay in the beginning of 2008 to implement the use of social media throughout the company. Brewer-Hay began a corporate blog and Twitter account allowing stakeholders to receive informal, yet up-to-date and valuable information about eBay and its activities.

Brewer-Hay continues to tweet updates on financial information for investors and shareholders who might find this communication helpful and relevant. In this Tech Crunch article, Brian Solis states that in January 2009, Brewer-Hay began tweeting eBay’s quarterly reports as they were announced.

The use of Twitter for disclosing financial communication raised some concern amongst eBay’s legal team. For this reason, Brewer-Hay is now required to provide disclaimers along with his tweets containing financial information. Followers of eBay’s Twitter have complained that his tweets now are just statements from executives and lack the informal, personal tone they once had.

Lisa Wood of the Foley Hoag law firm, offers her opinion in the Wall Street Journal article. Wood believes that financial matters should not be communicated through social media sites unless it has already been made available elsewhere.

Do you think companies should be able to fully disclose financial information? Or should there be some legal guidelines?


The Influence of the SEC

In the last couple years, companies have started to recognize the great potential and opportunities social media can offer to reaching shareholders, investors, and financial analysts. In a 2008 decision, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) acknowledged social media, specifically corporate blogs, as a legitimate form of financial disclosure to a company’s constituents.

According to page 109 of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate by Joel Postman, the SEC decision to allow public companies to release financial information through social media outlets helps eliminate the time and money burdens of standard SEC financial reporting.

In a PR 2.0 post, Brian Solis discusses the SEC and its influence on how companies disseminate information to their stakeholders, particularly investor relations (IR) professionals. Solis points out the importance of remembering that despite the SEC recognizing social media as a valid source of disclosure, there still are limits and restrictions for sharing information. The SEC reiterates that companies still must follow current federal securities laws. Rather than jumping at the chance to reveal any or all financial information to stakeholders, IR has surprisingly remained on the sidelines, carefully waiting and observing potential opportunities and risks.

With regulations and principles from the SEC in mind, there are numerous corporations that have utilized social media for reaching shareholders and communicating financial information. I will highlight a few of these companies and use them as examples for how they chose to apply social media to IR development in upcoming posts.


Why should companies use social media to reach shareholders?

Social media offers companies many opportunities to reach their shareholders and broaden the realm of financial communications. However, with new rules and regulations enforced by the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), there has been some hesitation from public companies to include investors in their social media strategy and communication plan.

Public relations firm, MWW Group, offers insight into this topic of investor relations in “Social Media and Financial Communications.

This article gives advice and guidelines for companies who are trying to understand this notion of utilizing social media to reach shareholders, as well as how to do so while following SEC regulations. The firm also provides companies with insight into how social media will be beneficial to their financial communications strategy and strengthens relationships with their investors. With updates from sites like Twitter and Facebook, shareholders can gain frequent need to know information instantly from a company. Visual web sites like YouTube and Flickr allow investors to connect a face and a voice to the company they are interested in. This helps establish an image and identity for a company, creating a more personal relationship. Social media encourages two-way communication between a company and its audiences through comments and feedback. By reaching out to shareholders in this manner, the company creates another successful way to distribute information, thus strengthening financial communications and investor relations strategy.

To wrap up, in a 2009 panel discussion titled “The Evolution of Financial Communication,” Eileen Cassidy Rivera, VP of Communications and Investor Relations at Vangent Inc, argues that with the rapidly growing presence of people online, today’s investor relations officers (IROs) must find new and innovative ways to distribute information out to their relevant audiences. She concludes that social media allows IROs to reach audiences in a more creative manner, expanding away from traditional media into the modern developments of networking technology.