Social Media and Investor Relations – Surf’s Up!

I think social media and shareholder communications go together like surfboards and big waves. It’s a great big ocean of opportunity. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It can draw a crowd. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can totally wipe out. (Cue theme music )

Maybe you think you’ll just stay out of the water, so to speak. Unfortunately, since social media is happening with or without your participation, you still need to know what people are saying about your company. There was a great post from Bruce Johnston at DBJ Associates on what can happen when you don’t have a social media policy, which includes a link to the toe tapper video “United Breaks Guitars” which logged over 20,000 comments.

Part of your strategy needs to center on gathering information about your brand and being prepared to respond to it – whether it is positive or negative. Customer service, marketing, product management and investor relations can all learn a lot, and build a better brand by putting an ear to the Web 2.0.

In a recent interview regarding his CEO’s foray into the Twittershpere, Mark McKenna, Managing Director of Communications of Putnam said, “Bob is one of the first to recognize that that we need to get our content out there.” The good news? Bob Reynolds @robertlreynolds is the first CEO in the mutual fund industry on Twitter and Putnam got a lot of great PR from that initiative. The bad news? The strategy that Putnam has portrayed is about “getting the content out there.” Just talking, not listening. This may wow the folks in PR, but it won’t create a lot of fans among Twitterers.

One company that is doing a great job of leveraging the social web from shareholder relations to customer service is Johnson & Johnson. Marc Monseau the Director of media relations at Johnson & Johnson started their blog very humbly with the comment “it’s clear to me how important it is not just to watch, but to join in productively. Doing that will take some unlearning of old habits and traditional approaches to communicating — and I will have to find my own voice.” Three years after jumping into it, they now have a corporate blog, JNJBTW, the Johnson & Johnson health channel on YouTube, a corporate Twitter account and a Facebook page.

On August 6th Doug Chia, Senior Counsel & Assistant Corporate Secretary for Johnson & Johnson made his first post on JNJ BTW titled “Don’t Let Your Vote Go Uncounted.” The post was intended to let shareholders know about the elimination of the “broker vote” in uncontested director elections and does a great job explaining it in plain English.
This post provides a valuable service to the average investor who may not know that their broker can no longer vote their beneficial shares, and also helps to build trust. It’s smart, it’s timely and it is completely consistent with the rest of J&J’s social media strategy.

Maybe it’s natural that the marketing guys are going to paddle out before the general counsel, and maybe you need to start small so you can take a few spills without damage. But, once the lawyers are in the water you can bet it’s safe to swim.

So, Dude, check the water, paddle out, make a plan and ride the social media wave. Just remember, there’s always another wave coming.



Elizabeth Gooding

Elizabeth Gooding is the editor of the Insight Forums blog and president of Gooding Communications Group

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