NIRI 2013 – Social Media Workshop Follow up: Q&A – part 1
At NIRI the conference this year, I was fortunate enough to take part in a panel discussion on the growing presence and importance of social media in investor relations. Dennis Walsh, Vice President and Director of Social Media at Sharon Merrill, moderated a diverse panel that (in addition to myself) included two IROs, a buy side analyst and a lawyer:
- Broc Romanek, Editor at TheCorporateCounsel.net
- Chris DeMuth, Partner, Rangeley Capital
- David Urban, Director of IR at Johnson Controls
- RJ Jones, IRO at Zillow
Below I am going to share with you some summarized points from each panelist as well as some questions that Dennis asked and their answers.
There was a lot of information shared, so in order to avoid overload, I am going to split the post into two parts. This first part will focus on the legal aspects shared by Broc and the investor perspective shared by Chris. The second part will be strictly dedicated to the ideas shared by the IROs (David and RJ) who were on the panel.
Dennis also provided a great overview of the workshop that you can read here: http://blog.investorrelations.com/2013/06/24/the-greatest-social-media-for-investor-relations-panel-ever/.
Stay tuned for some follow up blog posts where I sit down and interview each member of the panel to get an even deeper understanding of their thoughts and opinions of social media for IR.
Broc brought a very interesting perspective to the discussion. As a lawyer he often finds himself speaking with other lawyers and IROs who are desperate to keep their CEOs off of Twitter – mainly because they are afraid they will violate Reg FD. Broc felt that this was the wrong way to be looking at the situation because there is so much to be gained from having your CEO on Twitter because it brings a human element into your communications.
He also made these other points:
- Twitter and Facebook are only going to grow, so you want to learn how to embrace these channels now because it is only going to become more and more important.
- CEOs on Twitter are showing their humanity. Not just for investors but for employees too. Humanity builds trust and legitimacy.
- A lot of companies are tweeting the bare basics – financial reports, press releases. Those that aren’t should be. This activity has been ruled okay since it is all coming from your website which is a recognized channel anyways.
- The main problem that can be seen with Twitter is that the character limit can make it easy for things to be taken out of context.
Dennis: What do you do to convince management and legal that you should be using social media for IR?
- You need to build a strong relationship with the legal department.
- Draft blogs and tweets to show them what you want to share.
- Let them look over things as long as it takes for them to get comfortable.
Dennis: What is the best kind of content to be shared over blogs?
- Dell shares normal content that you would see on the website, earnings and events.
- Later on people should consider sharing some more personal information. Build the humanity of the brand. Build credibility and trust.
Dennis: What are the elements of a good social media policy?
- Should be short and easy to understand: one page with bullets.
- Training is usually the most difficult. Need to help people internally understand how important context is. Things can be misunderstood so the goal should always be concise and clear information.
Dennis: What are companies doing to make their blogs and channels recognized as a place they share information?
- So far 20 companies have filed 8-K’s for their channels. Most have just listed all of their channels to be safe which is not they way to go about it. You should have specific channels for investor communications and those should be the only channels you use to distribute material information.
Dennis: Are more companies adding social media to their disclosure policy?
- I haven’t seen that many. The hardest part of this task is archiving. It is the best way that companies can protect themselves in case things go to litigation. That’s why this shotgun approach is not the best idea. It is going to be that much harder to keep track of multiple social channels. Having just one or two allows you to easily track and archive what has been shared on that channel so that if it comes up later you have a full list of everything that has been shared and what time it was shared.
Chris Demuth, Partner, Rangeley Capital
It is always interesting to hear from the buy side – especially since many IROs think that they don’t use social media. In the beginning Chris said that using social media was not an obvious fit, as hedge funds usually work very hard to stay under the radar i.e. anonymous. The idea of comparative information is deeply ingrained and ideally you do not want to openly share any models or knowledge with competitors.
Here’s how his company made the decision to use social media:
- We really evolved. After Reg FD, we saw that the Internet was an excellent space to gather information on companies we didn’t have access to.
- It also allowed us to search out people who wouldn’t usually speak with us to find out more about the companies we were interested in.
- We found that social media, specifically Seeking Alpha gives great insight into what questions people are asking about a company as well as revealing what kind of knowledge people have about a company. It can also give great insight into how that companies performance is going to go.
- I started to talk about our favorite investment ideas in a blog. One of the companies that I blogged about ended up sharing my blog on their website and it has allowed us to build a great relationship.
- Social media easily allows you to share information that was always public but maybe not ever presented in an easily understandable method which in turn means it will often get lost in the clutter.
Dennis: Could you talk about your following on your blog and relationship with them?
We have had 100s of thousands of people reading what we have written. Since the majority of our capital is internal and the external capital requires a very long-term commitment I never thought that anyone would really care about what we had to say. I was really pushed to blog so that we could move some of the really small things that we work on out of our portfolio. The blog has been about me sharing information about smaller investments that really don’t fit the scale of what we are working on at the company.
Dennis: Do you always contact the company before you blog about them? What can they do to get in touch with you after they see the blog so they can start establishing a relationship?
They always know right away. Anything we say is in the public domain so we don’t really worry about it. We always send it over to the company to give them a heads up about what we are going to say. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by getting something wrong. We are not asking for permission from these companies but we do want to make sure that what we are sharing is as factually accurate as possible.
Stay tuned for part 2 where we share the condensed thoughts from David Urban, Director of IR, Johnson Controls and RJ Jones, IRO at Zillow.