IN MY previous post, I called attention to the outstanding readership profile of Seeking Alpha, an increasingly popular web service that offers public company representatives an unprecedented opportunity to connect with a highly qualified audience of investors and analysts.
In this post, I’ll explore different ways that investor relations departments can use Seeking Alpha to raise awareness of their companies among the site’s almost 3-million-strong audience of professional and sophisticated individual investors.
Companies that currently have a low profile among U.S. investors, such as thousands of smaller U.S. companies and hundreds of international companies with a U.S. capital market presence, will likely benefit most from building a presence on Seeking Alpha.
There are a variety of ways companies can build a presence on Seeking Alpha. However, the more effort your company is able to invest in the site, the higher the potential rewards. The best results will be achieved by companies that become active and trusted contributors to Seeking Alpha.
This is undoubtedly the easiest and lowest risk approach to getting attention on Seeking Alpha; create an online display ad and pay Seeking Alpha to run it. If you have the budget, I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to advertise on Seeking Alpha. Of course, advertising costs money and typically isn’t a long-term strategy. However, you could consider using it for a limited time in combination with other tactics.
2. Contributor Outreach
The more information that is available about your company on Seeking Alpha, the better. It looks bad when there’s less information about your company on a site than there is for other companies. A lack of information, even if it is not of your own doing, doesn’t inspire confidence in investors.
Since much of the content on Seeking Alpha comes from its 3,600-odd contributing authors, reaching out to Seeking Alpha contributors with the objective of making them aware of your company is one way to raise your company’s profile on the site.
Some contributors may already be covering your company, your industry or your peers. You can find relevant contributors by visiting the company pages on Seeking Alpha to see what articles and comments have been written about your company and its peers. The Top Authors, Articles, Instablogs, Stocktalks and Comments areas on the stock pages will show you which contributors are active in your company’s industry.
Many contributors have created profiles on Seeking Alpha. These may offer links to contributors’ websites as well as contact information. Calling or emailing contributors to introduce yourself and ask if they’d be interested in learning about your company won’t hurt a bit. If they’re not interested immediately, offer to put them on your mailing list or make yourself available to them if they need information about your industry. Don’t spam contributors.
Seeking Alpha has a popular earnings call transcript database that is free to the public and therefore widely referenced and quoted by the site’s contributors and other bloggers. Transcripts make it easier for your company’s information to be discovered and increase the likelihood of contributors writing about your company.
Transcripts are currently provided for the highest profile U.S.-listed companies. If your company is not included in the site’s transcript coverage, you can have Seeking Alpha add your company for a modest annual fee. If you are already paying another service to transcribe your calls, it makes sense to switch to Seeking Alpha for the added exposure the service provides.
3. Become a Registered User
Becoming a registered user on Seeking Alpha is by far the best way to use the site. This involves creating a profile on the site, following other site users, contributing content and commenting on other users’ contributions. There is no cost to become a registered user.
Seeking Alpha is currently putting together a pilot program where they are authenticating accounts set up by representatives of public companies. This is a good idea because it helps the site’s users know when they are reading content provided by a verified company representative. Without it, anyone could pose as a company rep and post misinformation to the site.
It’s vital to recognize that you will only get out of Seeking Alpha what you are willing to put in. You have to be prepared to invest the time to become immersed in the site, reading other users’ contributions and participating only when you know you can add value. Treating Seeking Alpha as just another destination for your news releases, or simply pushing promotional materials to the site isn’t likely to get you very far, and could put people off.
It’s also important to recognize that contributors to Seeking Alpha are people, not companies. While you will be representing your company, you are you first and a representative of your company second. Do a good job of presenting yourself and your expertise to the community and that will rub off on your company. If you are good at your job and have a passion for your business, you’ll make a great Seeking Alpha user.
As a registered user, you have access to several important publishing tools. They are:
Unlike most other social networks, Seeking Alpha gives you a lot of room to promote yourself and your company. When you sign up for an account, you can create a personal profile on the site that includes a photograph and biographical information about yourself. You can also add a profile about your company including a logo, contact information and links to your website. The profile area also asks you to describe your investment interests and trading style. Most public company reps will probably choose “Stocks – long” under Interests and “N/A” under Trading Frequency. You can edit and update your profile at any time. Just click the Settings button in the Seeking Alpha toolbar that appears at the bottom of your browser window. Rhonda Bennetto of TVI Pacific Inc. has a good profile on Seeking Alpha.
One of the first things to do after creating your profile is to make your presence on the site known to other users. The easiest way to do this is to follow other users. Following simply means that whenever you log in to Seeking Alpha, you will see the latest contributions from the people you are following.
If the people you follow are active Seeking Alpha users, they might follow you back. This is an important point. Not all contributors to Seeking Alpha are active site users. The editors source articles from a large number of finance bloggers and industry experts, but the authors might not be active on the site itself.
To find relevant people to follow, use the tactics I mentioned above under Contributor Outreach, such as following people who have written about your company, your peers and your industry in the past. As a registered user, there’s a shortcut you can use to find relevant people to follow. Set up a portfolio comprised of your company and its peers and every time you visit the portfolio page you will see the latest posts and comments about your portfolio companies.
It’s an especially good idea to follow people who comment on articles and posts about the companies in your portfolio because they are active site users and likely interested in the same things you are. I’ve set up a portfolio of companies that are active in the investor relations business and have found interesting people to follow as a result.
Commenting is an excellent way to make your presence on Seeking Alpha known to other users. Of course, commenting on articles about your company’s competitors can be tricky. Don’t use comments simply to promote yourself or your company — and never bash a competitor on the site. Instead, look for opportunities to add valuable industry context that can help other users. If you disagree with a post or someone else’s comment, say so and back up your argument with facts.
High quality, useful comments are likely to earn you attention from other users. They will likely click on your user name to learn more about you and might start following you as a result.
The Instablogs feature gives you the ability to post full-length articles on Seeking Alpha. Unlike “Articles” which are reviewed by Seeking Alpha’s editors, Instablogs are not distributed to Seeking Alpha’s partner sites, such as Yahoo! Finance. However, you have the option to submit any Instablog to the site’s editors for consideration. You should always do this if you are responding to an editor-reviewed article about your company by another contributor. Seeking Alpha’s policy is to give public company responses equal prominence to the original article you are responding to, including distribution to partner websites.
A big positive with Instablogs is that you have total control over the content, including the ability to edit or delete a post. Conversely, editor-reviewed Articles typically cannot be removed once they have been published, so keep this in mind before you submit an Instablog to Seeking Alpha’s editors for consideration.
Since Instablogs are given less prominence on Seeking Alpha than other content, there’s less incentive for companies to want to use this feature unless they have a reasonable number of followers who will be notified each time they add a new post. However, it’s important to begin adding Instablog content as soon as possible because the posts will help other users determine whether to follow you.
Probably the biggest challenge for public company representatives is knowing what content to provide through the Instablog feature and how to write it. This is not a place to post news releases about material or even non-material events. Instead, posts should provide in-depth, factual background on your company, its products and the wider industry.
As much as possible, write your posts in the first person and link to third-party sources of information and context, including to your competitors. Companies operating in specialized industries likely have the best prospects for gaining traction through the Instablog feature because they can contribute information that is currently missing from the site. Indeed, being a successful Seeking Alpha contributor is very much about finding your niche and building expert status in it.
StockTalks are Seeking Alpha’s version of Twitter messages. You have 140 characters or less for a message. I don’t really see much use for these except for drawing attention to Instablogs you might write. However, Seeking Alpha is giving StockTalks a lot of prominence on the site, so it’s worth exploring ways you might use them. The editors suggest using StockTalks to draw attention to new content you have posted on your website. This might be something worth exploring.
An uneasy new reality for IR
Building a presence on Seeking Alpha isn’t something you should do without thinking carefully about what you want to achieve and how you will manage the many added burdens that come with participating on third-party websites. In my next post, I’ll look at the legal and regulatory considerations of participating on sites like Seeking Alpha in more detail, but I believe they are easily managed and should not prevent you from participating.
Of course, this is all-new terrain for investor relations professionals. There is a lot about it that remains untested. But closing your eyes and ignoring a site like Seeking Alpha with it’s massive audience of prospective investors isn’t a serious option either.
If social websites like Seeking Alpha are where investors are going, then IROs and company executives will eventually go there, too. It’s only a matter of time. When, not if.