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NIRI 2013 Case Study: Importance of educating IROs on social media

By   1 August 2013 No Comment

sm-rgbDennis Walsh is Vice President & Director of Social Media at Sharon Merrill, a critical communications and investor relations strategic advisory firm. He counsels clients on a broad array of issues such as market research, competitive intelligence, earnings announcements, investor targeting, roadshow planning and social media. Dennis oversees Sharon Merrill’s Socialize IR consulting service, which is designed for public companies that recognize the benefits of incorporating social media into their shareholder engagement program. He also is the editor of Investor Relations Around the Web, a free weekly email roundup of the latest in IR news.

Dennis was the moderator of the social media panel that I took part in at NIRI. I have been fortunate to interview all the other participants of the panel and I was excited when I finally got the chance to speak with Dennis. As the moderator he did not get a chance to express a lot of his own opinions on social media in the world of IR. Below, Dennis answers my questions and gives some great insight on the importance of learning more about social media before jumping into the experience.

Why was it important to have a social media panel and workshop at the recent national NIRI conference?

Social media has evolved from a fun way for people to connect with friends to a go-to resource for corporate information and breaking news.  Years ago, you couldn’t bring up Twitter in a professional setting without eliciting chuckles and ultimately being dismissed. The value of communicating through social media had yet to be proven.  If you fast forward a few years, social media is now an essential component of any corporate communications program. The NIRI panel helped IR professionals to understand what steps they could take to begin assessing the need for a social media presence and how such a program could evolve over time.

What were the key takeaways from the workshop?

First, IR professionals must be aware of the conversations happening online about their companies. Also, for those companies that have a social media program not managed by the investor relations function, IROs must insert themselves into the process to ensure consistent messaging and Reg FD compliance. And finally, we wanted to emphasize that companies need to, at a minimum, launch a social media monitoring program.  Then they can determine if there is a need to establish a proactive presence on any social media channels.

How was the composition of the panel determined?

The panel was assembled to provide a diversity of experience and expertise. Dave Urban from Johnson Controls had just launched a Twitter channel dedicated to IR.  It was great for the audience to hear about the process his company went through when they decided there was a need to engage with investors through social media. RJ Jones from Zillow was able to speak from his experience in managing a more advanced social media program.  His company had recently taken questions during the live earnings call via Twitter and Facebook. While it is unlikely that the audience would be ready to take this step, it was important that they see where a social media for IR program could go.  Of course, it was necessary to have someone with a legal background on the panel, Broc Romanek, to assure the audience that, if done properly, you can get legal counsel on board with the concept of using social media for IR. We also had Chris DeMuth, a portfolio manager at Rangeley Capital, on the panel to describe how some professional investors are using social media. It was an eye-opener to many in the audience when Chris talked about how he uses his blog to discuss investment ideas.

What kind of discussions are you having with potential/current clients and/or with others in the industry about social media for IR?

We are talking with clients and others about social media more than ever. The recent comment on social media by the SEC certainly has drawn a lot of attention to the subject. We offer Socialize IR for companies that are ready to establish a social media program for investor relations. In addition to IR folks, we are connecting with more PR and marketing professionals about the topic, since it’s very common for the social media program to be managed by one of these functions. And because they are sharing information with the public regularly, it’s necessary that they have a full understanding of Reg FD and how it relates to social media.  We are working with companies to set up monitoring programs, establish social media policies and usage guidelines, and implement proactive programs.  These are great first steps and it is exciting to see that social media in IR is finally being embraced.