Leading IR Firm at Forefront of Developing Social Media Strategies for Investor Relations
16 December 2009
Over the course of 2009, I have connected with a lot of smart, seasoned IR professionals on Twitter. I have met IROs and IR consultants alike. One great contact I have made is Trevor Heisler, an IR consultant at TMX Equicom (a TMX Group company).
With experience as both an in-house IRO and IR consultant, I know the day-to-day challenges that IR professionals face. One newer challenge has been the question of whether to embrace social media as part of the broader communications strategy. Although I am not a practicing IR professional anymore, I was curious to hear how consultants were dealing with this rapidly emerging topic. With that, I asked Trevor to be interviewed with the goal of compiling tips that would help consultants handle client inquiries about social media.
1. What does Equicom stand for and what does the company do?
Equicom stands for Equity Communications. We develop and execute strategic investor relations programs for issuers that enhance the value and utility of their public listings. Our approach is pretty straightforward — by thoroughly understanding our clients’ businesses and by leveraging our expertise and knowledge of “the street”, we help our clients to effectively communicate their key messages, manage expectations and raise their profiles within the investment community.
2. Trevor’s bio
Trevor has more than nine years of marketing and communications experience in the financial services and capital markets industries. As a Senior Account Executive with the Equicom Group, he provides counsel and develops and executes strategic investor relations programs for publicly listed companies, primarily in the Consumer Products and Retail sectors. Trevor was instrumental in developing Equicom’s investor relations social media offering and has begun to work with clients to develop and implement their own social media strategies as part of their investor relations programs. He has an MBA from the Sobey School of Business.
3. How has the firm prepared for inquiries about social media from clients? Any specifically related to its’ use for IR?
We have set up an internal social media working group that has run education sessions for our employees. Following these education sessions, each Equicom Account Executive was tasked with reaching out to their clients to discuss social media with them to determine whether or not developing a strategy as it pertains to their investor relations programs made sense.
We have also developed a fact sheet, which outlines the social media services we can provide to clients. This fact sheet was recently sent to all of our clients.
4. Have there been cases where the client wanted to jump right in and you didn’t feel it was the right time? How was this approached?
Not really. However, we do feel that it is important for there to be clearly defined objectives, and preferably, a strategy in place, prior to using social media to augment your investor relations program. At the outset, we would at least want to make sure the client had some basic groundwork done first, starting with an audit of the social media landscape to see where discussion about their company might already be taking place and how their competitors might be using social media.
5. The firm has a Twitter account and tweets client news – is news tweeted for every client?
Yes, we tweet all of our clients’ news releases. We also tweet client roadshow activity, presentations, and notable corporate developments.
6. Did the firm need client permission to do this? Was there a formal internal discussion that ensued around the pros/cons of doing this? Any standard operating procedures that developed as a result?
We sent out a client communication letting each of our client’s know that we wanted to tweet their news release headings and links using our Equicom Twitter account. We did not receive a single objection.
Before we started our Equicom Twitter account, we had many internal discussions regarding the use of social media and Twitter specifically and how the tools might be used to build profile for our client companies as well as Equicom itself. We felt the pros far outweighed the cons. With that we created our social media working group and began formulating our go-to-market strategy.
7. Has tweeting on your clients’ behalf increased awareness for their company? Equicom?
In general, I would say yes. Tweeting on our clients’ behalf has increased awareness for our client stories, but for some more than others. Our clients that have benefited the most are the ones which have asked us to become more engaged on their behalf – by adding commentary around their news and/or setting up a client-specific Twitter account and/or sharing additional materials using tolls like SlideShare or Box.net. Clients who have made a conscious effort to implement and maintain a full social media strategy are definitely the ones who have benefited the most.
Through increasing awareness for our clients, we raise awareness for Equicom itself. It is another avenue that we can continue to demonstrate the diversity and breadth of our client base. Over time the number of our followers on Twitter has grown and we often have our content retweeted. However, I think the best example is that we have recently begun receiving calls from non-client public issuers interested in how we might be able to help them use social media to enhance their investor communications.
8. Is there more than one person who tweets on the firm’s account?
Yes. Our clients are divided into sector focused teams. Tweets specific to a particular sector are tweeted by a designated person within that group.
9. Does the firm have a social media policy in place for employees?
We have a policy with respect to what type of information can be shared or posted to our Equicom Twitter and SlideShare accounts, and our IRmatters blog. We have also adopted a separate policy for how we engage in social media on our clients’ behalfs to ensure we act ethically and adhere to principles of accountability and transparency.
10. How many clients are using social networks? Does there seem to be one network they gravitate towards first? If so, how do you counsel them on the merits and downside?
A growing number of our clients are either using, or exploring using, social networks. Importantly, we are beginning to receive interest from non-clients, so we do see this as a business development opportunity as well.
While it’s a small sample size thus far, Twitter has been the primary network used by our clients. We do our best to explain the usefulness, and the limitations, of Twitter in comparison to other sites. However, we also acknowledge that this is a new frontier for our clients, and for the most part, for IR in general. I believe Twitter is an easier jump to make than some other sites because it is easier to understand and use.
11. Do any clients use social media strictly for IR? Are you seeing anything interesting on this front?
We have a few clients that are using social media strictly for IR. In these instances, we have found that social media can be particularly useful for providing more detail about a company’s business, its operations, markets, technologies, etc., to help investors understand the company better. Of note, China Wind Power International was the first Canadian public company to live tweet from its AGM. We also made a Slidecast of their AGM presentation and have had well over 1,000 views on SlideShare since their AGM on November 12, 2009.
12. Does the firm monitor social networks on behalf of clients? Is this information presented to them? Do clients find this information valuable?
We do monitor social networks for those of our clients that have asked us to be more engaged on this front. Based on the feedback we have received to date our clients have found this information valuable. Our clients are always seeking more information.
13. What tips/steps would you offer consultants in helping clients get started in social media?
First and foremost, you have to use these tools yourself and get to understand the rules of engagement first hand. You can not offer up your expertise on something you have never used;
Second, you need to be aware of both the pros and the cons; the opportunities and the risks of using social media for business purposes;
Third, you need to determine which social media tools or sites are best to use for your client’s specific business, starting with where their audience is most likely to participate. The functionality of a social media tool or site is always secondary to the location of your audience; and,
Fourth, begin taking baby steps with your client. As they become more comfortable with it, take it to the next level.
14. Anything else to add?
Senior Management teams should be aware that social media has evolved into a powerful, relevant and targeted communications channel. On the IR front, by using social media public companies are more likely to discover how investors and other business stakeholders truly perceive them. If planned and implemented correctly, social media communications as part of your overall investor relations program can be an effective and cost efficient way to attract new audiences to your investment story.
With all of the benefits and promises of social media, we also need to be aware of the potential consequences, specifically with regards to regulatory issues. However, social media is no different than a corporate website and all other electronic disclosure media, in that they should all be considered an extension of a company’s normal disclosure practices and therefore subject to the same policies and regulations.
Finally, as thought leaders in the IR space, we need to keep abreast of change and know when to help drive that change in our industry. It’s an evolving industry and more and more, we are seeing that social media is a powerful tool, which we believe will be a part of that evolution. As such, we will continue to develop our social media programs to take advantage of established and emerging tools that can help our clients expand their awareness and achieve their capital market objectives.