Dell Inc. is no stranger to mixing social media with investor relations. It’s widely recognized as a pioneer in using blogs, YouTube videos and Twitter for reaching investors.
But it wasn’t until recently when Dell’s investor relations team implemented some lesser-known social media tools that its social media results really kicked into high gear. As a result of Dell’s stepped-up social media initiatives, the company estimates a potential audience of at least five million people saw its most recent quarterly earnings announcement. That’s far higher than it has experienced in the past and may be a record for any public company.
Investor relations departments have been notoriously slow to embrace social media compared with other sectors of public relations and marketing, but that may be changing as new social media channels emerge that seem better suited to investor relations needs than popular consumer-facing sites such as Facebook.
Two of the new breed of investor-friendly social media sites that are creating the most buzz are StockTwits and Slideshare. Dell introduced both of these tools in its most recent quarterly earnings announcement and gives them credit for helping to significantly expand its audience.
StockTwits has become a favorite gathering spot for stock traders, investment bloggers and financial journalists. StockTwits lets investors type in a stock ticker symbol and see real-time discussion and the latest news about a company. When StockTwits began in 2009, initially the information came exclusively from Twitter messages (hence the name “StockTwits”) but today the majority of the short-form messages originate on StockTwits.
“StockTwits is now the world’s largest social network specifically for investors,” says Chris Bullock, StockTwits' vice president of corporate solutions. “We say Facebook is for friends…but StockTwits is for investors.”
In recent months, StockTwits has begun to encourage companies to originate investor relations messages on StockTwits rather than going first to Twitter. There are three reasons public companies should consider following this practice:
StockTwits allows companies to verify their pages so readers know the message is really from the company and not from a knock-off site, as sometimes happens on Twitter.
StockTwits carefully monitors messages to ensure “a quality conversation,” says Bullock, adding that they block spam, penny stock solicitations and messages with offensive language.
Messages posted first to StockTwits then get more broadly distributed, not only to Twitter but to prominent investor sites such as Yahoo Finance, CNN Money and Bing Finance. Bloomberg terminals also include StockTwit’s messages and Bullock says this list is likely to grow in the months ahead. This broader distribution makes some investor relations officers more comfortable from a disclosure perspective.
“There’s a whole conversation going on around every ticker,” says Bullock. “Journalists and investors can find out in real time why a stock is acting the way it is. From an investor relations standpoint, you should know what that conversation is about.”
While investor relations officers in years past generally ignored the uncontrolled and often profane chatter about their companies on online discussion boards, Bullock says IR officers should not treat social media in the same way.
“Unlike the old discussion boards, news on social media can become viral and can travel globally very quickly,” says Bullock. “It can have a real impact on your stock price. It’s an amplified effect and it cannot be ignored.”
Slideshare is sometimes compared with YouTube. While you can post or view videos on YouTube, Slideshare is where you post or view PowerPoint presentations and PDF documents. Since its founding in 2006, Slideshare has steadily gained momentum. Today, Slideshare attracts 50 million visitors per month. Everyone from the White House to major agencies such as Edelman and Ogilvy use the service.
For the past decade or more, the common practice in investor relations has been to post a PDF version of the company’s most recent PowerPoint on their IR website. Readers who want to access the slides must find and then click the small PDF logo, opening the document for viewing. The dirty secret is that very few people bother to do so, meaning that most PowerPoint slides languish, largely unseen, despite all the work that went into producing them.
Slideshare has the potential to breathe new life into IR PowerPoint presentations. As other companies are beginning to do, the IR team at Dell this past quarter posted its PowerPoint document on Slideshare and, for the first time, embedded the Slideshare interface directly on its own investor relations blog, appropriately named DellShares. As a result, nearly 1,800 people have viewed the presentation, far more than most companies get by posting a PDF version on their own website.
Thanks to innovative new services such as StockTwits and Slideshare, social media may at last have found a home in the world of investor relations.
Dave Hogan, APR, teaches public relations at Abilene Christian University and serves as director of investor relations and corporate communications for First Financial Bankshares, Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIN). Follow him on Twitter or view his profile on LinkedIn.