WE ARE forced to take a break from posting here for the next little while. But rather than leave you cold turkey, we thought we’d offer up these 10 points to contemplate and debate while we’re gone from the blog. We’ll see you soon, though, so keep watching this space.
1. Walk in investors’ shoes
Your IR website shouldn’t be a place where you merely dump electronic versions of your disclosure releases, presentations, reports and filings — and forget about them. It’s a meeting place, a gathering point for people with a common interest i.e. your company. Give them something worth coming to. Ask yourself: “If the roles were reversed, what would I want?” Think about the different scenarios under which investors visit your site and design accordingly.
2. Webcast almost everything
This is aimed mostly at European companies, but North American companies should also take heed. Anything less than a one-on-one with a key shareholder or major prospect should be made accessible to all investors, preferably via a live webcast and a follow-up transcript. That means all presentations, group conference calls and tours should be webcast for no other reason than it’s now insulting and elitist to exclude a broader audience. Again, this is not a regulatory issue. It’s something you’ll do if you want to remain popular with investors of all sizes. Cost and logistics are no longer a valid excuse for not webcasting everything. Look at the new Ustream.tv service, for example. Using a webcam, laptop with Internet access, and an Ustream.tv account, you can live video webcast almost any event with very little effort or cost. You can also record your webcast for on-demand playback on your website. The only limitation on what you can webcast is having access to a high speed Internet connection. In those rare situations where you don’t have web access, record the event on a digital video camera, upload the footage to YouTube and then embed it on your site. It’s free.
Write shorter sentences. Use plainer words. Do the math for people, such as providing % change columns in financial statements. Use simple visual tools like diagrams, charts and tables. Use informative headings for sections of text. No one is asking for dumbed down disclosure. They want smart disclosure. And smart disclosure is when you do some of the brain work before investors get the information.
4. Put the web first
Don’t leave important decisions about the format and design of your disclosure documents to the last by dumping stuff in PDFs. These things should be the first things you think about. By thinking ahead of time about how your information will appear on a screen, you will be less likely to make common web usability mistakes and more likely to end up with information that people will enjoy using. They’ll come back. Often.
5. Stop butting in
Too much of what passes for investor communications today is scrubbed, spin-cycled, scripted and over-lawyered by legions of helpers. There’s little open discussion and conversation around mutual interests. Management behaves like it’s under siege and investors behave like clamoring monkeys catching peanuts at a zoo. Blog, chat, throw your CEO under a bus, if you have to, but let management do the talking in their own words and let everyone participate. Most important, listen to the feedback — again, it’s free!
6. Get hip to new tech
There are a lot of useful new technologies around today purpose-built for helping people communicate better. Most of them are cheap. Adapt, adopt, mash and experiment with new ideas. A lot of the stuff you’re paying for right now from Thomson and Shareholder is long past its sell-by date. Throw it out over time as you discover better ways to tell your story.
7. Get a web guru
I’m sorry to break it to you, but every IR department needs at least one of these folks. In the old days, you’d send stuff to a design firm and then to a typesetter and printer. Today, you control your own printing press, your own radio station and TV channel. Jeepers, everybody does. Look at blogs and YouTube, they’ve democratized access to media. What? You going to be the only kid on the block without these toys? You need someone on your staff who gets this stuff.
8. Try a bit of Web 3.0
Four words: Extensible Business Reporting Language. XBRL, for short. It’s cool. It’s still early days, so you’ll be part of something new and vendors will bend over backwards to help you. Join your local regulator’s pilot XBRL filing program. The SEC has one. Canada is getting with the program, too.
9. Think global
It’s a big wide wonderful world full of equally wonderful people looking for companies to invest in. The Web gives you a way to reach them. But to do that, you have to speak their language — which actually is mostly plain English. The other common language is HTML text — not PDF, not Word, not text jpegs. You see, HTML makes it easy to translate a web page using Google Translate or Babel Fish or one of the other crappy online translation tools that people still use for some strange reason. Oh, and don’t forget there are no seasons (summer, winter etc.) on the Web. And the month in dates should always be spelled out or abbreviated. And what currency is that in, actually?
10. Get independent advice
This is only partly a bit of shameless self-promotion, but we have seen enough to know that you are not going to get good advice from the dominant big vendors and their friends. Look, it’s no secret that most IR people don’t know a lot about technology and web communications. If we were in their shoes, we’d get independent advice on any new project from impartial experts who don’t also build or sell website design, development or hosting services. There is no way that anyone who offers such services can give you unbiased advice. You don’t have to use us, you could use Nielsen Norman Group, Bowen Craggs & Co, Forrester and some others that we’re probably missing. If it means you’re going to get good, unbiased counsel that will benefit your investors, it doesn’t matter where you go, just as long as you get the advice you need. Of course, we’re happy to help you ourselves or we will steer you in the right direction. Here are our details.