I recently had the pleasure of being a panelist at two National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) events centered around social media and investor relations, including a Seattle Chapter program on Disclosure and Best Practices  and a Rocky Mountain Chapter program on Measuring, Monitoring and Evaluating Social Media . Both spoke to the increasing role that social media is playing in investor relations and indicated that it is a top-of-mind subject among investor relations officers (IROs). For instance, in a recent survey of NIRI Silicon Valley members, when asked which topics they would like an SEC attorney to address at a future event, nearly 50% said they wanted to know more about the intersection of social media and RegFD.
As director of sales for Marketwire’s Northwest region and as co-VP of marketing communications for the NIRI Silicon Valley Chapter, I also see, on a daily basis, what many IROs are doing (or not doing) to incorporate social media into their investor communication strategy. If you are an IRO who has come to terms with the fact that social media isn’t a passing trend, how can you begin to put social media to work for your IR program? Let’s look at some of the major components of a social media program, and how you can incorporate them into your own IR strategy:
Amplification is little more than sending the same content that you’d normally send — whether it be a press release, webcast link, or investor presentation — over a social channel. If you’ve tweeted a link on your earnings release, you’ve “amplified.” It’s simply the step an IRO takes to send the standard message to a new audience, in a new way.
Tweeting the link of a news release or webcast is probably the easiest first step to take, but it’s truly the tip of the amplification iceberg. Another way to amplify includes adding your investor presentation to YouTube, thereby taking advantage of the increased visibility of hosting your presentation on the No. 2 most popular search engine in the world  and allowing people to view and re-embed the video wherever they please.
Companies have moved into the content creation stage when they create a new message to support the content they’re amplifying. For example:
- Adding context to the tweet about the earnings release, rather than the simple “click here to see our Q1 2011 earnings release.”
- When a company develops new material to use for investor communications (e.g., a blog post, video, etc.).
Pitfalls abound here as the IRO must be very conscious of whether the content (or context) is actually ”new” information, in which case an 8-K  must surely follow. [Note: Publicly traded companies must file Form 8-K, as required by the SEC, when certain events take place.]
Many IROs struggle with convincing analysts and investors to focus on specific corporate messages or financial metrics. The act of calling out these items over social media channels that touch hundreds of millions of people may, over time, influence investor perceptions. Additionally, a pre-recorded video or live video webcast that humanizes executive managers may add a certain level of accessibility, making it much more likely to be shared and syndicated to others. Polycom’s quarterly earnings webcast is a great example of this.
Monitoring and Analysis
Monitoring and analysis can be applied throughout any social media plan, but is arguably the most useful at the very beginning when developing the overall IR strategy. I’m often shocked at how many IROs are unaware of what’s being said about their company across social media channels. Because there is so much noise out there and so many unfounded rumours that stakeholders can easily discover, IROs need to be alerted to the conversation trends. Even if the odds of media or analyst inquiry are low, having an early warning system and the foresight to prepare a response can only help an IRO.
When evaluating your company vis-à-vis competitors, monitoring and analysis of social media can also yield some fascinating trends around sentiment, keyword themes and even geo-demographics. At another NIRI event entitled, Measuring the Success of your IR Program, Laura Graves, VP of IR at Cisco, presented some of the metrics the company follows in the wake of their earnings announcements. In addition to the typical analysis, they focus on message adoption and sentiment, demonstrating a solid understanding of what social and traditional media channels were saying about their results, and those of their peers. This information is relatively inexpensive to obtain, and helps present a much more comprehensive picture to the IRO, executive management and their board.
The last major component, the merits of which are fiercely debated by many IROs and general counsels, is engagement. Now that a company is leveraging social media channels as an amplification tool and monitoring what’s being said, at what point do they respond to the key voices discussing topics related to the company’s IR program? The answer is based on a variety of factors, including the company’s industry and its regulatory environment, internal culture and resources, the source of the original chatter (true online influencers or unknowns) and many other variables.
Engagement can be a slippery slope: Once you begin, audience expectations have been set, and it’s difficult to stop without a negative reaction from your followers. That said, it’s important to have a concrete objective and purpose rather than engaging for engagement’s sake. Many IROs I speak with are committed to responding to all investor inquiries, regardless of how many shares the investors hold. For companies with a large retail shareholder base, this can be daunting. Certain social media channels, such as a blog or Facebook page, can provide an excellent platform for open discussion about a company, allowing IROs to quickly address questions and point people in the direction of more information on the IR website. Because these interactions are viewable by anyone, it’s likely that investors with similar questions can be accommodated at the same time.
If you are an IRO, what other ways do you use social media?
- Crafting an investor relations-friendly social media policy 
- Think IROs can’t be social? Think again. 
- Building strong stakeholder relations with social media