Category Archives: Social media for IR

Board Directors now discussing more pro - than con - of social media

This morning’s Vintage-moderated social media discussion at the NYSE Governance Boardroom Summit brought together a room full of general counsel and directors from a wide variety of publicly-listed companies. The discussion was “Social Media: Communications, Compliance or Just Plain Circumspect.”

The conversation began with some basic social media vocabulary (what is a cashtag) but quickly evolved to discussions of policies and risk.

Vintage and PR Newswire partner with the NYSE at all governance summits and with products for their issuers.

Vintage and PR Newswire partner with the NYSE at all governance summits and with investor relations products for their issuers.

The most interesting, if anecdotal, observation is that most directors now understand the potential of social media – not just the risk. Additionally, similar to fall session, the risk is National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) based, not RegFD. Also, in light of the constant influx of social media products (Snapchat, Yik Yak, etc.), there has been a sense of leveling / stabilization of the main channels used by companies.

Bits and bytes:

  • Forget about “control.” Conferring to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers’ attempts to control or limit what employees post on social media websites and their personal accounts often violate the employees’ rights to engage in protected activity. Focus on “communications” instead.

Apart from legal guidance, employees need to have transparency intothe company’s goal on why and how social media is being used to promote the business’ goals. Employees need to understand why the policy exists so they treat it with respect and understand the company’s strategy. Also, get them involved…explain how EVERYONE can work to extend the company’s message.

To that, a social media policy needs to outline the company’s social media strategy. At times this means encouraging employees to “retweet” and share the brand’s outreach – other times it emphasizes the negative consequences to the employee of rogue social media posts.

  • Limit official social media policy to communications about company products or services and anti-harassment guidelines. Clarify any discipline.
  • Explain RegD and how the disclosure of confidential, nonpublic information could affect the company’s stock price and investor behavior.
  • Indicate restrictions on the unauthorized use of corporate logos, trademarks and copyrighted material in social media posts.
  • Provide examples of best practices for social media communications. Provide examples of improper social media communications.

The five take-aways where:

  1. Ask to see your companies’ social media policy – like the NLRB example below.
  2. Learn more about social media monitoring. Most all in the room did not realize that there were “single portal tools” like our Agility product (sales pitch) that can parse the web (clear out the noise) for relevant social media content about their companies.
  3. The simple equity monitoring exercise of a cashtag search. NO ONE knew of this.
  4. Meet with General Counsel. Learn what their view on social media is – what tone have they set and if they are unnecessarily hindering communication.
  5. Discover if investor relations have established a presence – especially for crisis communications. Social media accelerates everything.

Lastly, none of the board members in the audience felt it was their role to “tweet.”

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SAMPLE SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

At [COMPANY], we understand that social media can be a fun and rewarding way to share your life and opinions with family, friends and co-workers around the world. However, use of social media also presents certain risks and carries with it certain responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines for appropriate use of social media.

This policy applies to all associates who work for [COMPANY], or one of its subsidiary companies in the United States [COMPANY].  Managers and supervisors should use the supplemental Social Media Management Guidelines for additional guidance in administering the policy.

Guidelines

In the rapidly expanding world of electronic communication, social media can mean many things.  Social media includes all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else’s web log or blog, journal or diary, personal web site, social networking or affinity web site, web bulletin board or a chat room, whether or not associated or affiliated with [COMPANY], as well as any other form of electronic communication.  The same principles and guidelines found in [COMPANY] policies and three basic beliefs apply to your activities online. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of [COMPANY] or [COMPANY’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Know and follow the rules

Carefully read these guidelines, the [COMPANY] Statement of Ethics Policy, the [COMPANY] Information Policy and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy, and ensure your postings are consistent with these policies. Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Be respectful

Always be fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of [COMPANY]. Also, keep in mind that you are more likely to resolved work-related complaints by speaking directly with your co-workers or by utilizing our Open Door Policy than by posting complaints to a social media outlet. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage customers, members, associates or suppliers, or that might constitute harassment or bullying. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or any other status protected by law or company policy.

Be honest and accurate

Make sure you are always honest and accurate when posting information or news, and if you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Be open about any previous posts you have altered.  Remember that the Internet archives almost everything; therefore, even deleted postings can be searched. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about [COMPANY], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers, people working on behalf of [COMPANY] or competitors.

Post only appropriate and respectful content

Maintain the confidentiality of [COMPANY] trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trades secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.

Respect financial disclosure laws. It is illegal to communicate or give a “tip” on inside information to others so that they may buy or sell stocks or securities. Such online conduct may also violate the Insider Trading Policy.

Do not create a link from your blog, website or other social networking site to a [COMPANY] website without identifying yourself as a [COMPANY] associate.

Express only your personal opinions. Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for [COMPANY]. If [COMPANY] is a subject of the content you are creating, be clear and open about the fact that you are an associate and make it clear that your views do not represent those of [Employer], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers or people working on behalf of [COMPANY]. If you do publish a blog or post online related to the work you do or subjects associated with [COMPANY], make it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of [COMPANY]. It is best to include a disclaimer such as “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of [COMPANY].”

Using social media at work

Refrain from using social media while on work time or on equipment we provide, unless it is work-related as authorized by your manager or consistent with the Company Equipment Policy.  Do not use [COMPANY] email addresses to register on social networks, blogs or other online tools utilized for personal use.

Retaliation is prohibited

[COMPANY] prohibits taking negative action against any associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any associate who retaliates against another associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Media contacts

Associates should not speak to the media on [COMPANY’S] behalf without contacting the Corporate Affairs Department. All media inquiries should be directed to them.

For more information

If you have questions or need further guidance, please contact your HR representative.

Google + Twitter = more $cashtag visibility for investor relations

Briefly: Google and Twitter just announced that tweets will once again show up in Google search results. What this could mean is $cashtag tweets will reach a new audience of investors that don’t have Twitter accounts. Bing already offers tweets in its search results.

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There’ll be no judgment here whether this is good or bad. That is for your company strategy to decide.

Points to lament:

  • Investors who don’t use Twitter will now have easy visibility into all the Twitter chatter about your stock
  • Stock bloggers and opinion portals will have gained deeper access to investor eyeballs than before
  • Google results will “publish” a true real-time feed on breaking news (and haters) about your stock
  • The “…so, what is our IR & social media strategy?” discussion may arise again within with your senior team
  • You may need to review your social media monitoring strategy – at least benchmark now to see if the Google / Twitter integration has any measurable impact

Regardless of the points above, Twitter is a newsfeed that carries stories about your company. For a clearer understanding of Twitter and StockTwits as it relates to IR, you may find this blog post helpful as well as this whitepaper.

Have a nice day.

Survey results 2013 v. 2014: Is investor relations tweeting?

Once again, we asked IR clients and prospects their view on social media. For the best apples-to-apples comparison, we asked exactly the same audience the exact same questions we asked one year ago.

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BELOW: Small adoption, year over year.

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BELOW: Most all the “other” comments can be summarized by this verbatim comment: “No real demand by investors.”  This does seem to align with what investors told us.

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BELOW: Perhaps the “yes” and “no” decisiveness for 2014 v. 2013 show a maturity of decision making and understanding of what social media is and is not. Interesting that the 2% “yes” from last year is equal to the 2% adoption indicated on the first question.  

BLOG_tweets_next-year

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BELOW: If tweeting, IR departments are slowly taking control of their own outbound. This may need a data parse by market-cap later. 

BLOG_tweets_dedicated

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BELOW: Just FYI. Overall, the study received 970 responses. 

BLOG_tweets_caps

View this study as “trending data” and not as any “IR needs to take action and do XYZ .” Our view has been solid on this topic. Social media is a news channel – and individual companies should adopt it OR NOT per their own shareholder communications mosaic strategy. It’s not a wasteland but it’s not sliced bread either.

LINKS:

Here is a whitepaper download on the topic.

Here are blog discussions on the topic.

Here is a fancy-schmacy version of the 2013 results.

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Forget content, the $cashtag is king in IR social media

cashtagisking1Investor Relations Officers don’t realize how easy they have it.

Sprouting up from the post “StockTwits drives 3X the traffic than Twitter for shareholder communications,” have been client discussions regarding that, compared to all other communications departments within a corporation, the Investor Relations department has it easy in regard to social media.

Three factors contribute:

  • The $cashtag
  • The audiences’ expectation
  • StockTwits

The $cashtag is king

At last count, there are eleventy kabillon people in Tweet-based social media, all sharing obscene amounts of information. The only way to find value from this data is via filters… and the $cashtag ( a dollar sign and ticker symbol ) is the smartest – and more importantly – the most specific filter in all of social media. If you consider social media as one huge database… your $cashtag only ever refers to your company. Nothing else is your $cashtag. It identifies your ccompanyexactly like your ticker symbol. #Hastags #are #too #random #these #days.

Additionally, the $cashtag is usually only found within capital markets-based content, simplifying monitoring. No other department within your company can type in a mere four or five characters to search and review relevant content. No other department can push news instantly into investor-targeted databases, reaching both buyer and seller. More on this in the StockTwits section.

The audience’s expectation is low.

Relax. Investors don’t expect Investors Relations to suddenly become chatty because of social media. They know you have strict regulations. However, social media-minded investors do have a technology expectation: social media, like other (legacy) news distribution channels, will deliver news. Put your news releases into the stream. Nothing more. Your news’ headline, a link to the news release and your $cashtag. Done. At that point, the $cashtag fueled databases and your investors will engage with one another.

Also, your IR department should stop expecting ROI. The “investment” you expend looking for a Return On Investment will be more than the energy spent pushing your news into social media. Besides, what is your investment? Sending a tweet – which can be automated.

This whitepaper download offers a detailed process.

StockTwits is the purest social media network on the planet

Investor Relations Officers don’t realize how lucky they are. StockTwits, by design, is the last unspoiled capital markets social media network.

Objectively, in addition to having a higher apples-to-apples 3x volume of activity compared to Twitter, the network:

  • Is only comprised of members who are interested in capital markets
  • Is proactively monitored to prevent pump-and-dump activity and faux accounts
  • Does not allow discussions of penny stocks or pinks – their $cashtags are not “activated” in the network – which is focused almost exclusively on NYSE and NASDAQ traded equities
  • Feeds into professional and public capital markets research portals

Subjectively, if you review the StockTwits stream, you’ll note that most of the discussion are what an investor is doing now – at that moment. They are not blogging an opinion or analysis, which has negatively permeated many of the long-form blog-based social media channels. The physical limitations of a 140 character micro-blog prevents StockTwits from becoming another ‘stock newsletter” content publisher.

One important disclaimer. Content does drive shareholder communications, which drives shareholder confidence… which drives shareholder value.  The $cashtag is king in social media as it drives investors to your content. 

Have a great day.

 

RegFD faux pas is the least of General Counsel’s social media worries

At this week’s NYSE Governance’s General Counsel Forum, I was fortunate to attend the best social media panel I have ever heard.  And I’ve heard a lot.

Why was it so good?

  • Extremely refreshing to meet General Counsel who embrace social media’s fluidity and who proactively work to mitigate social media risk without neutering it’s potential
  • Reaffirming for the investor relations’ practice that GCs trust IRO’s judgment towards the disclosure of material non-public information via social media
  • Embarrassingly obvious how myopic we “IR service providers” are in regard to social media

Extremely: The number one social media challenge for companies is far from RegFD slip-ups. For social media, GCs are focused on the triage of privacy, ethics and policy management – all to keep their organization from the ever-present microscope of the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB). Social media policies typically restrict what employees can say about their company. However, due to Section 7 protections, the NLRB scrutinizes such policies heavily, especially if a policy infringes upon speech about working conditions. Free and protected speech must be just that. Free and protected. This is the stuff of HUGE lawsuits. Hardly a the blip of a Wells Notice.

VintageontheNYSEfloor

Reaffirming: After the formal presentation, I spoke to GCs about IR. None of them had an iota of anxiety about the disclosure of material non-public information via social media. They all stated that – as far as they were concerned – social media is no different from any other disclosure channel… and that IR knew what was needed in regard to RegFD. To quote: “We can simply protect ourselves with an 8-K if there is an issue.” BAM!

So, what are the shareholder communications take-aways from the session?

  • Monitor the socialsphere. All the GCs on the panel do that within their legal department. They don’t leave it to PR or marketing. This is particularly important to the financial services organizations that are required to act on a “nasty tweet” as a formal customer complaint. GCs recommend using a pay-per product [like our Agility] or free services like Google Alerts.
  • Social media has made crisis communications a real-time event. You cannot sit around for three days and draft an action. You have to work at the speed-of-web. Be cognizant and staffed for that. Don’t hire “college interns” to “do social media.” They will know the technology, but lack maturity.
  • You cannot regulate employees’ social media use. You can guide them, offer true-life examples and explain the risks you are trying to control and how it impacts success – personally and collectively.

Embarrassingly: Is social media important to IR? Yes! No! Maybe! Find the path that works best for your shareholder communications strategies and goals, whether you want core hands-free auto-post tweeting, schedule pre-scripted tweets around the earnings call or fully embrace consistent conversation. Social media channels are far too fluid for any advice to be solid from one week to the next.

  • No matter what else you read, there is only one “IR and Social Media Best Practice” to follow. Use your $cashtag, otherwise you are wasting your time.
  • But, hey, don’t listen to me.

Have a great weekend.

The most thoughtful discussion on social media risk assessment and management

If you want to read only one report on social media and risk, I recommend Accenture’s whitepaper Comprehensive Approach to Managing Social Media Risk Compliance. You can download it here directly from Accenture. You can also watch a few videos from their team discussing the insights.

Their discussion follows exactly the same conversation path at the NYSE boardroom Summit two weeks ago.

The Accenture conversation:

“At issue here is the fact that traditional risk management policies and procedures were not designed for, quite literally, minute-by-minute monitoring of social media chatter to identify brand, strategy, compliance, legal, and market risks.”

ACCENTURE

One key takeaway: neither the NYSE Boardroom Summit nor the Accenture report make any judgments about  “should I stay or should I go now” in regard to social media. Social media is a given now. The point is to have a senior level discussion about risks and policies.

Our recommendation for using social media without RegFD concerns can be found here.

Have a great day.

Board members are under a lot of pressure. Sending “Tweets” is not one of them.

The 11th Annual NYSE Boardroom Summit was an exceptional conference. Hundreds of directors, general counsel and compliance officers from hundreds of public companies’ boards assembled to review the essential issues that drove success in 2014 and what will drive success in 2015.

NYSEBOARD

One point was evident – the board members in attendance have an intense desire to be effective as possible: cyber-security, succession, diversity, culture, activists, crisis preparation, say-on-pay were all on the two-day agenda. The common tread across all these topics was understanding and mitigating risk for company and shareholder alike. You can download the summit handbook here now, courtesy of the NYSE Governance Services team.

One of the most promising sessions (that pertains to this blog) was titled “Social Media and the Changing Landscape of Corporate Disclosure.” Being a noise-maker in the shareholder communications industry, I was looking forward to hearing what boards were doing in regard to social media: 1.) what channels do they use, 2.) what topics do they share, 3.) how they work with the company to assure no material disclosure.

Well, the conference would have none of that. Having directors personally active in outbound social media was never discussed. Not even in the slightest. The dialog was completely focused on the business and risk oversight of the companies’ use of social media. It’s important to emphasize there was not a “should we or shouldn’t we” debate like is still lingering in investor relations. The board was not “against” social media - it’s just not in their sphere of communication responsibilities.

Ironically, these four tweets best summarize the session:

  • Boards’ responsibility is to concentrate on social media risk and policy rather than “tweeting.” #NYSummit
  • Boards to focus on the prevention of the negative rather than the promotion of the positive re: #socialmedia #NYSummit

Have a great day.