Q4 WEB SYSTEMS, a provider of website software for investor relations departments, has been quietly rolling out a new breed of corporate website that features direct integration with a variety of third-party online services to push out information to investors and other stakeholders.
While the Toronto-based firm is currently tapping into only a handful of major social networks and multimedia services, the approach it is taking is likely to lead in time to the development of companies’ websites as high-tech hubs for their own real-time dissemination systems that surpass the speed and relevance of current disclosure services.
By using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which enable web services to exchange information, Q4 is giving its clients the ability to post new information on their corporate websites while simultaneously alerting investors to its availability on a growing range of other sites. The approach is more secure and eliminates the typical delays and uneven access investors experience today when companies use PR wire services, feeds, email, or when they manually post information to a variety of websites and social network accounts.
Targeted investor audiences and social networks
Q4’s API–based services currently support Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr, but the company plans to extend its clients’ reach by tapping into other APIs that reach targeted investor audiences. By using the StockTwits API, for example, Q4 could enable companies to distribute their messages to targeted investor audiences and benefit from StockTwits’ distribution to Bloomberg, Yahoo! Finance and CNN Money, among others.
“I think StockTwits has been doing an amazing job and I’m confident we’ll be integrating and working closer with them in the future,” says Q4 CEO Darrell Heaps.
In the past few weeks, investor relations messages from Q4’s clients have begun appearing on Twitter and Facebook carrying a “source” identifier indicating that they emanate from a new application developed by Q4. These messages are created by the software that runs the IR websites of Q4’s clients.
Customizations and filters
Messages are either compiled in the company website administration area by company personnel who have appropriate permissions, or they are automated so that whenever a company publishes certain types of new information on its website, preset alerts containing shortened links are immediately pushed out to various APIs, as well as to the site’s email and RSS subscribers.
IR website managers can customize how they want each type of automated alert to appear. They can add prefixes or suffixes to messages, such as hashtags and StockTwits ticker symbols, or they can filter new content for keywords so that appropriate information is sent to different services or accounts.
“This allows the client to filter out certain types of releases they may not want in their Twitter feed. For instance, if it’s an IR Twitter account the client may not want product press releases to be shared to Twitter, which is easily accomplished using the filters,” says Heaps, who has posted a demo of the Twitter and Facebook integration in the video embedded at the end of this post.
Real-time analytics and insights
The alerts created by Q4’s software automatically shorten links using the Bit.ly URL shortening service’s API. This provides companies with access to real-time statistics about how their alerts are being used, including the locations of users, where they are accessing the alerts, and the number of clicks on the links. Since the Bit.ly usage information is real-time, companies are able to assess if their information has been sufficiently disseminated for regulatory purposes.
Integration with social networks also enables companies to better understand who is using their information and to more easily monitor and respond to recipients’ reactions to the information.
However, Heaps points out that Q4’s API integration isn’t meant to replace companies’ use of other tools to monitor and engage with their stakeholders. It is merely designed to make it easier for companies to get new information to their followers without the current delays and uneven access.
Most companies today do not post news releases directly to their websites, relying instead on third-party feeds to post the information on their sites after it has been distributed via PR wire services. This often results in delays of several minutes between when some investors – typically industry professionals — receive the information directly from the PR wires and when it appears on companies’ websites.
Similarly, when companies post information to their social media accounts, they often have to wait for the information to appear on their websites before they can include links to it in their email, RSS and social media alerts. By the time the information is posted on the site, however, the news is often already being spread on social networks by third parties, giving the impression that companies are slow to keep their stakeholders informed.
Q4’s software is ideally suited to companies that are using their websites as their primary disclosure channels for Regulation FD compliance. It enables them to push their information out to a wider range of sources, better quantify the number of people the information is reaching, and track actual usage. It also provides powerful audit trail features and resilient hosting.
However, the software is currently being used by companies that continue to rely on PR wire services for regulatory compliance, but which are also using social media channels to amplify their reach and build online communities around their companies.
IR websites of the future
In future, company IR websites could themselves offer their own APIs to enable other web services to pull in formation from the sites, such as news or XBRL data.
And as a growing number of web services provide access to their data via APIs, IR websites will be able to tap into vast amounts of relevant information, from current and historical news articles featuring their companies to industry and stock market data.
This is an evolving and exciting area for investor relations technology and we will continue to bring you information about developments.