Investor relations and social media

A view I hear from time to time goes that you can’t use social media – blogs, podcasts, etc – for investor relations purposes. How can you talk informally, conversationally and openly, one notion goes, about subject matter that is either confidential, regulated or both. How can you engage in conversation with people who will ask questions you can’t possibly answer.

A similar argument is also often present about specific industry sectors. Pharmacueticals, for instance.

They’re actually the wrong questions.

It’s a given that you would not use social media (any media, in fact) as your communication channels to discuss and encourage interaction with people on topics that clearly you can’t or don’t want to talk about. Forthcoming financial results, for instance. Or changes in the executive leadership team. There is a wide range of specific topics about which communication is strictly controlled especially if you’re a publicly-listed company.

Yet does that mean we simply close all the doors on social media? I don’t believe so.

Investor relations doesn’t mean you only talk about the things you can’t talk about, if you see what I mean. There is an abundance of things relevant to your business, your industry and your market that you can include in your social media communication, especially if you take a strategic view of your business.

Look at IBM’s “The Future Of…” podcast series as a great example. They are produced by the company’s investor relations department. Yet the subject matter isn’t what you might traditionally expect to hear from such a department.

There are also events to do with investor/financial topics over which you have no complete control. Earnings announcements, for instance. You issue the press release and schedule a conference call with the financial analysts where the company spokesperson reads a script (that’s the part you do control). Then everyone has that starched and formal Q&A session that make for dire listening most of the time (and dire reading when you then read the transcript).

What if someone blogged that call and added a bit of personal spice and interpretation to things? Brian White at BloggingStocks.com did just that yesterday when he live-blogged Microsoft’s earnings announcement webcast. Read his post and then read Microsoft’s press release.

And the Microsoft earnings call isn’t the first that Brian has live blogged – he’s also recently done Google’s, eBay’s and Apple’s.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting social media instead of formal and traditional communication channels. Think of social media as complementary. They can (and will) be a mix of channels you as the company can use and well as people outside your company (which is precisely where you have no control at all).

So what are the broad possibilities with social media for investor relations? That’s a question For Immediate Release listener Anton Shihoff of Finavera in Ireland would like to gain some answers to:

In the IR space, I’m finding it more difficult to come up with some innovative ways in which these technologies can be used. Some of the obvious ones like quarterly results could be recorded, spoken by the CFO, and released as a podcast. We could look at one of the senior managers or me writing a blog looking at what we’re doing on an ongoing basis [...] If you have any thoughts and ideas on ways in whcih we could use social media to help promote the company to an investor base, I would love to hear them.

You can listen to Anton’s full commentary in show #156 yesterday. It starts at 53:30 into the show.

As Shel and I love a challenge, we’ve earmarked Anton’s questions for discussion in episode #158 of “The Hobson & Holtz Report” podcast next Thursday 27 July.

If you’d like to contribute your thoughts and ideas, you can by sending email or an audio comment. Visit the FIR website for details on all the many ways you can participate in the show.

We would welcome hearing what you have to say. As undoubtedly would Anton.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.