THEY say the devil is in the details, and that certainly holds true for Canada-based gold mining giant Barrick Gold Corporation (NYSE: ABX), which has recently begun using social media tools to spread its message and engage with investors on the web.
This month, Barrick began embedding investor presentations on its corporate website using the popular SlideShare service, the equivalent of YouTube for PowerPoint presentations.
The main benefit of using SlideShare is that it enables investors to embed company presentations on their own websites and online social networking sites, thereby spreading the company’s information and exposing it to a larger audience.
This is something that I have been recommending to clients privately for the past year. I have also discussed it informally with certain web developers, including with Q4 Web Systems, the young Toronto-based company that provides the content management system for Barrick’s website.
Unauthorized Presentations on Barrick’s Website
However, in their rush to be first to market with making content on corporate websites shareable Q4 and Barrick have failed to think through the small details of using document-sharing services.
As a result, Barrick and Q4 have left the door wide open to having unauthorized third-party presentation information appear on Barrick’s corporate website.
This is a serious misstep by Barrick, a company that prides itself on taking disclosure controls extremely seriously. In fact, it was Barrick’s quest for stronger controls over its website that led Q4 to develop a “website recording system” that subsequently became the basis for Q4 as standalone software company.
As I write this, investors and others visiting Barrick’s website can view at least 9 different presentations that Barrick has not authorized.
One of these presentations is from micro-cap Canadian a junior mining and exploration company Bard Ventures Ltd. (CVE: CBS), which actually has no business relationship with Barrick.
Anyone viewing Bard’s corporate presentation on Barrick’s website could easily be led to believe that Barrick is providing the content or endorses it. See the screenshot below.
Other third-party presentations appearing on Barrick’s website include one containing the resume of one David L. Novak, two presentations on Web 2.0 tactics for investor relations from separate consultants, and a presentation containing a transcript of an earnings call for Verizon Communications.
Easily avoidable using SlideShare’s Custom Embed Code
While having unapproved content appear on your website is a serious issue, perhaps more embarrassing for Barrick and Q4 is that this situation could so easily have been avoided.
This is because SlideShare gives you the option to include related presentations or not. The “without related presentations” code is just an extra click away from the default embed code.
It seems that either Barrick and Q4 were not aware of this option, or they knew and chose not to use it.
Exposing Website Traffic Information Publicly
One of the consequences of adding SlideShare and other document sharing service embeds on your corporate website is that you often will publicly expose how much (or little) traffic your site is getting on the pages where the embeds appear.
As I write this, the SlideShare presentation embedded on Barrick’s main presentations page has been viewed 66 times in the week it has been posted, according to SlideShare. You can see this shown in the image below.
While embed views typically underreport actual traffic, it seems that Barrick’s main presentations page, which should be a heavily used destination, is getting very little traffic relative to similar pages at other companies I have insight into. In the hands of a competing IR department or even an investor, this could be useful information.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t expose website traffic information, just that it’s often a consequence of using document-sharing embeds on your website and you need to be aware of it.
Social Media is Simple, Except When It Isn’t
In this post I’ve highlighted two of the most obvious considerations IR departments – and their vendors and suppliers – need to think about when using document-sharing services. There are other considerations you need to be aware of that I won’t go into here.
But if there is one general rule you should remember about social media and document sharing services it’s that while they seem simple on the surface, there are many complex factors to consider before you use them.
In the coming weeks and months, IR departments will come under increasing pressure from vendors to use social media in their IR programs. It’s important that you pay attention to their pitches because social media will change how you conduct IR in the future.
But beware of vendors and consultants who only give you the positives while glossing over the real and potential negatives. They’ll put your reputation in harm’s way in their zeal to further their own business objectives.
By working with the right partners and thinking through the implications of each service you use, you can avoid unpleasant and embarrassing situations like the one Barrick has found itself in.