A FORTUNE Global 500 company has suspended its activity on Twitter saying that the only people who engaged the firm were social media consultants and people trying to inflate their follower numbers.
STRABAG SE, a major European construction company that employs 75,000 people and has revenues of almost $17.5 Billion, used Twitter mostly for investor relations information. It announced its decision to suspend tweeting in a message that says:
“This is our last tweet for the time being. For up-to-date information on STRABAG visist www.strabag.com Best regards, STRABAG Communications.”
The controversial move by the Austria-based company is likely to be studied by some of the hundreds of other companies that are using Twitter, and may kick off a debate about the service’s usefulness for corporate communications.
“We do not see any benefit”
In an email to IR Web Report, Paula Rys of STRABAG’s investor relations team said: “We do not see any benefit in using this social media tool for the time being. Stakeholders did not discuss actively with us on Twitter despite our efforts to ask questions.”
Rys also pointed to a problem that many corporate Twitter users have encountered: “When we were contacted through Twitter it was either by a social media consultant or by non-construction related companies/persons trying to inflate their follower numbers.”
She added that going forward STRABAG “will only monitor social media activity and will not actively engage” in it.
523 followers in 18 months
STRABAG joined Twitter on August 05, 2009 and attracted 523 followers by the time it suspended its activity on Friday. Most of those followers likely discovered the company’s account through Twitter itself, although the IR department did advertise its account on its website.
Over an 18-month period, the company used its account to send out 146 messages, most of them of interest to investors, such as updates about analyst recommendations, notes about investor presentations and earnings announcements.
There was some interaction between the company and its followers about a year ago, but that tapered off near the end of the year.
Hampered by bad website
It’s important to note that using Twitter was more of a burden for STRABAG — and its followers — than is typically the case. The company manually posted each message on the Twitter website rather than from an RSS-to-Twitter service. The company’s website has no RSS feeds.
And none of the company’s tweets included active direct links to information on its website. This is simply because STRABAG’s website doesn’t have fixed URLs so you cannot deep link.
If the IR department wanted followers to see information on a specific page, it had to give directions, such as those shown in the tweet below from February 7. This likely severely limited the usefulness of the company’s tweets.
STRABAG has made an unfortunate but understandable decision. They showed up on Twitter intent to engage and have been disappointed by the experience thus far. Not being able to automate at least some tweets or deep link to information on its website created a lot of friction for them and their followers.
However, while the company was willing to engage, their expectations may have been too high. About 90% of people will never engage, but that doesn’t mean they are not reading or listening. Jakob Nielsen describes the phenomenon in his 2006 post Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute where he outlines the so-called 90-9-1 rule. Twitter likely has a different ratio since messages have a fleeting shelf-life.
But suspending activity because people aren’t engaging with you – or that the wrong people are — is too drastic. According to Klout, the Twitter analytics service, there are about 188 core followers who now will get no more information from the company via Twitter.
That’s too bad because the information STRABAG was sharing, especially the analyst recommendation changes, was useful. And the fact that they tweeted both positive and negative opinions added credibility to the company in my view.
Most important, though, based on everything else I’m seeing from other companies on Twitter and StockTwits, now is precisely the wrong time for STRABAG to suspend activity.
Investors are showing up on social networks in greater numbers; not just retail but professionals as well. And more companies are responding to that trend. I am now tracking more than 1,100 listed companies on Twitter, and many more are joining the service. While companies are still learning the ropes, there’s been a big increase in IR specific activity.
STRABAG has a lead on the new arrivals, but it could lose that now by suspending its activity.
What do you think? Was STRABAG right to suspend using Twitter? What would you advise them to do?