ONE of the perennial questions that companies ask about their online annual reports is what format do stakeholders prefer: HTML or PDF?
It’s a question that has been posed and probed in several in-depth academic studies going back more than a decade, and still there is no conclusive answer. The results seem to suggest that analysts and fund managers have a slight preference for PDF, while retail investors have a strong preference for HTML.
So you can imagine that I was more than a little interested this week when Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding (OTC: RHHBY) published its online annual report and then put out a poll on Twitter asking its followers what format they prefer when accessing the report.
PDF preferred in poll
The poll was created and promoted on Twitter by Sabine Kostevc, Head of Corporate Internet and Social Media at Roche and one of the world’s leading corporate web professionals.
As you can see in the screenshot below, she asked people to choose between HTML, PDF, paper, other, or to indicate if they don’t read annual reports. The options themselves were randomized so that respondents did not see them in the same order, which reduces the chances of people choosing the first option presented to them.
Now for the results, shown in the next screenshot. As I write, 25 votes have been registered and the favored format is PDF (56%) followed by HTML with 32% of the votes. No one says they want paper and 8% say they don’t read annual reports.
But HTML preferred in reality
However, these results contradict what people actually chose to use when they were earlier given a choice between HTML and PDF in a tweet that Roche twice sent out on Feb 2, the day before the poll. That tweet is shown below:
Since Roche used the bit.ly link shortening service to provide the links to each format of the report, we can now see which version people actually used by appending a + sign to the end of the links, which takes one to the bit.ly statistics pages for them.
As you can see from the screenshots below, the link to the PDF version was clicked 16 times, or 29% of all clicks, while the link to the HTML version was clicked 40 times, or 71% of all clicks.
However, we need to adjust these numbers to account for the fact that Roche included a link to the HTML report in its tweets about the poll. If we confine the period to Feb 2, the day before the poll, we find that the PDF version was clicked 13 times, or 36% of all clicks, while the link to the HTML report was followed 23 times, or 64% of all clicks.
Clearly, what people actually do – choose HTML more than PDF — and what they say they prefer – PDF more than HTML — are different things.
That’s why it’s so important that companies not rely solely on opinion polls or surveys, but rather study their web stats to see what people actually do.
Unfortunately for those in the US investor relations field, it doesn’t help when the regulator bans the technology that enables you to gather these kinds of important insights.