FACEBOOK, by virtue of its 300 million strong user base and built-in viral marketing features, is an appealing target for investor relations officers who want to market their companies to a wider audience.
A growing number of companies have started to use Facebook Pages for IR and PR in recent months. Most pages are corporate pages rather than IR-specific ones, but they include enough relevant information to interest shareholders and prospective investors.
Smaller companies’ Facebook pages tend to have a stronger IR focus than those of larger companies, which often use Facebook primarily to recruit new employees. Small mining and exploration companies, and technology firms of varying sizes, are particularly active on Facebook.
|Exeter Resource Corp’s Facebook page|
Facebook versus Twitter
Facebook pages are inherently more engaging and effective from a communications perspective than setting up accounts on Twitter, the microblogging service that is only now getting attention from the IR community.
Facebook’s tools for sharing links, videos and photographs, combined with its superior commenting and voting features completely dwarf Twitter’s rudimentary features. Twitter’s limit of 140-character messages and its well-chronicled struggles with stability, spam and weak security make it a less than ideal platform of investor relations.
However, the big attraction of Twitter is it perceived simplicity. It’s much easier to set up a Twitter account and start tweeting than it is to set up and maintain a Facebook page. However, Twitter’s simplicity is deceiving. There are many issues most IR practitioners on Twitter are not thinking through, including legal concerns such as safe harbors, entanglement, selective disclosure and privacy concerns.
While not exclusive to Twitter, compliance issues are easier to manage on Facebook because there are not the same restrictions on message length. A company can, for example, publish the full-text of an earnings release on Facebook if it wishes. It can also easily include disclaimers in its messages where necessary.
Of course, you can use both services if you wish. Facebook makes that easy by offering an application that publishes messages on Twitter when you post new content on your Facebook page. This can be a handy tool for creating greater awareness that new information has been published on the company’s Facebook page.
|The Timken Company’s Facebook page|
Facebook pages cumbersome to manage
In reviewing dozens of corporate Facebook pages and maintaining a Facebook page for IR Web Report (become a fan), I have to wonder if all the effort that goes into creating and managing a page is worthwhile.
It’s hard work to keep a Facebook page fresh and interesting. In part, this is because Facebook provides very poor content management tools for page publishers.
Some companies obviously aren’t able to keep their pages up to date. Look at ABB Group, for instance. It has been 11 months since the following page was updated. http://www.facebook.com/pages/ABB/16524057261 .
This has got me thinking that a better approach might be to *enable others* to give your company a presence on Facebook. I don’t mean encouraging them to set up a Facebook page on the company’s behalf, I mean making your IR website compatible with Facebook and other social media.
|Goldcorp Inc’s Facebook page|
Widgetize your IR content for embedding on social networks
This can be done by enabling people to share and/or embed your website’s content on their Facebook accounts. For example, if you provide a video on your website, let visitors embed the video on Facebook and share it with their friends. Do the same with presentations, annual reports, news releases, charts and any other type of content that can be “widgetized.”
Unfortunately, no one has yet come up with a way to easily widgetize your IR content and then be able to track its deployment across the web and social networks. You have to use a variety of services depending on the type of content you’re making embeddable. This can be a time and labor intensive undertaking. But the tools are getting better and it won’t be long before IR website vendors begin integrating widgetized content to their platforms.
There are other ways to integrate Facebook with your IR website that can be even more effective. We are currently working with companies to create social media programs suited to their goals and capabilities that utilize more advanced programming.
Of course, all of this is new terrain for investor relations departments and their advisors. There are many disclosure, security, privacy and reputation issues that must be carefully analyzed.
Most companies want to wait and see others take the lead. However, some companies have decided that the opportunities outweigh the risks. They are right.