OFTEN dismissed as noise, blog is still a four-letter word for many companies’ investor relations departments. But they are missing out on an opportunity to get valuable feedback and tactical intelligence at negligible cost.
By monitoring what blogs are writing about, you can gain a better understanding of investors’ perceptions about investor relations practices and even your company.
Take Google’s earnings conference call today. Barron’s blogger Eric Savitz makes an interesting observation about how engaged Google’s leadership is in the company’s investor relations versus Microsoft’s and Apple’s. Eric thinks it’s relevant enough to mention in the first paragraph of his report:
I give them credit, by the way, for getting the whole team together each time – CEO Eric Schmidt, co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, CFO George Reyes (who at various times seemed to be getting lost in his own script during his prepared remarks) – you don’t get that kind of firepower on most other big-cap tech earnings calls; Steve Jobs doesn’t do the Apple call; Ballmer and Gates skip the Microsoft call.
Interesting that people notice these things and then talk about them where millions of people theoretically can find them. Do your executives all attend quarterly conference calls? How’s your CFO’s delivery? Eric, and many other business bloggers, have some free advice for you.
Bloggers often comment on companies’ website practices
I find blogs useful for learning about how people use technology and how important ease of use is to them. You will often see investors, analysts and journalists mentioning problems they’ve experienced on corporate websites. They can be very vocal about some issues, which is an indication of how seriously they take usability.
For example, over the past few days there’s been a bit of a ruckus among bloggers over a website plugin from Snap.com, a new search engine. On websites that install the plugin, users see a small preview image of the linked-to website when they hover over links. The plug-in was installed as a default on WordPress.com, a blogging service that hosts over 640,000 blogs.
A lot of people find the Snap previews irritating because it pops up when they don’t expect it, and it distracts them from what they are doing. A virtual uproar broke out after Nick Wilson, a web entrepreneur, wrote a piece entitled 3 Reasons Why Snap Preview is Ruining Your Blog, and Hurting Your Readership.
That led a lot of commenters and other bloggers to voice their agreement that the previews are ruining their web surfing. Om Malik, former Business 2.0 writer and founder of blogging network GigaOmniMedia, Inc., was particularly sharp in his criticism:
Nick Wilson is spot on when he writes that the Snap Preview crap that is showing up everywhere is just a piece of shit that comes between a blog and its readers, adds no value. You visit a blog to read that blog, not have some random widget pop up. I stop visiting blogs that have this feature. Everytime it shows up on one of our WordPress.com hosted blogs, my blood pressure goes through the roof.
Shows you the depth of feeling that usability issues can evoke, especially amongst people who are heavy web users for their jobs. Like analysts and portfolio managers, journalists and bloggers. Believe me, you’re probably pissing someone off right now. (Free advice from me to Thomson Financial, drop the default registration screens already!)
Active listening with blogs
There are some simple ways to monitor the blogosphere discussion. Type in your company’s name and those of your peers into Technorati and Google Blog Search and subscribe to the free RSS feeds to see all blog mentions within minutes of them being made. You can also subscribe to the Yahoo! Finance blog feeds for your company, although that gives you a fairly narrow view of around 200 blogs only.
There are some paid services that will do the monitoring for you and give you a daily report or edited feed of useful blog posts. I don’t like either idea because I think you need to get involved and experience the conversation first hand, not have someone else do it for you.
Unfortunately, that does mean dedicating someone’s time to monitoring blogs. Just how much time is required depends on your company’s profile and how active your company wants to be.
By monitoring what is being said about your company and about your competitors, you might feel the need to become a participant in the conversation, by commenting on blogs or even starting your own blog.
But even if you don’t go that far, listening to what people are saying won’t hurt a bit. You might even learn something.