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Think IROs can’t be social? Think again

It was made abundantly clear in discussions at the fifth annual IR Magazine Canada Think Tank [1], held October 1 in Toronto, that social networks, Web 2.0, and our real-time, mobile nature of communicating with each another have radically changed the practice of investor relations.   A growing percentage of the Canadian financial community is embracing social media and reaping its rewards.  They are tapping into channels like Facebook and Twitter to listen to and engage stakeholders, employees and analysts, and they are utilizing digital channels like YouTube, SlideShare, and podcasts to expand the reach of corporate messages and materials.

The perception that “IR folks don’t use social media” is false, and it’s becoming more apparent that across the discipline, IROs, buy- and sell-side analysts, stockholders, investors, and  financial media are tapping into these conversations at a steadily increasing rate.  A recent Brunswick Group survey of U.S. and European institutional investors and sell-side analysts [2] (pdf) found that while the investment community looks to individual companies themselves as their primary source of information, social media channels are increasingly becoming influential.

According to Think Tank participants, to ignore the conversations that are taking place in social channels can often mean missed opportunities to connect with an entirely new audience and to gain valuable insight into real-time conversations about companies and among investors (and depending on the size of the organization, among employees themselves).  With more frequency, Canadian companies, both public and non-public, are entering the social space to be the voice of authority – not necessarily in a rigid, uni-directional way, but more to establish a corporate presence, quash rumour, correct erroneous dialogue and keep an eye on the competition.

Why partake in social media?

Of course, let’s not forget that these are public companies whose communication is strictly regulated – it matters who receives what information when and over what channels.  Talk is not of replacing traditional, formal disclosure channels with social ones, but rather using social networks, blogs and microblogs to enhance the overall communication experience.  Companies who are not, at the very least, using Twitter to republish the headline of a news release and drive followers back to the corporate website are doing themselves a disservice.  Setting up even the simplest of Google Alerts to keep tabs on what’s being said about your company and your competition across the blogosphere is a step in the right direction.

(Caveat:  Think Tank events are “closed door” sessions with anonymity guaranteed to participants, so this report has been generalized to a degree.  You can read more about the event in the IR Magazine blog post Canadian IROs out of survival mode [3].)

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