IN MANY ways, the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference held each January in San Francisco is a barometer on the state of investor interest in the healthcare sector.
And with this year’s attendance up smartly to more than 8,700 attendees and 350 presenting companies, things are looking decidedly upbeat.
But the conference is also a benchmark of sorts for the adoption of social media in the corporate and investment arenas. Healthcare and finance are two of the most heavily regulated industries, so social media activity around the conference should provide a very conservative benchmark of its progress in the broader capital markets.
I’ve been monitoring social media activity around this year’s conference, and while it’s still only a tiny part of the event, there has been a major uptick in activity from last year.
You can see as much in the number of Twitter messages about the event. For the 2010 conference, there was a total of 620 tweets during January that included the tag #JPM10, which is how Twitter users indexed messages about the event.
By comparison, by the end of the first day of the 2011 conference, there were over 450 tweets mentioning the tag #JPM11. If the pace is sustained, by the end of this year’s conference Twitter activity will easily be three times that of last year.
A handful of IROs and a lone CEO
Institutional investors, corporate executives, and investor relations professionals just don’t seem that keen on sharing information on the social web.
That said, I’ve counted at least a half dozen IR professionals who have put in an appearance on Twitter from the conference. Julie Huang, president of Kaimen Company, is there. As is Lilian Stern of Stern Investor Relations and Jason Spark of Canale Communications. There are even a few corporate IROs who I won’t name because they seem to be using Twitter more for personal pleasure than business purposes.
Among the C-suite there’s Richard Pops, CEO of Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS), who seems to have been quite impressed by CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. She hosted him on her Closing Bell program, which was broadcast from the conference.
In a more corporate vein, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is the only company that made more than a cursory mention of its CEO’s appearance at the conference. CEO Matt Emmens was noted by several people for handing out drinking straws during is presentation to simulate limited lung function caused by cystic fibrosis.
While one person in the audience quipped that the straws were for drinking the company’s kool-aid, another attendee said he thought it was an effective communications tool.
No replacement for ‘being there’
Overall, though, while there may be an increase in social media activity, the fact is it’s mostly irrelevant to investors. Say what you will, the really useful information is being shared in private meetings between company executives and JP Morgan’s well-paying clients.
And that’s how it will remain until CEOs and IROs begin to use social media in greater numbers and with greater purpose. That purpose might be to generate more interest in their companies and rebuild public confidence. Or failing that, it might be to meet some new regulatory mandate.
Until then, there really is no substitute for being there. If you can get an invite.