WHILE many companies are using social media to push out investor relations information, global conferencing firm PGi (NYSE: PGI) is among a rare few that is also using social media in two-way conversations with investors.
During the company’s recent Q4 earnings call, PGi Senior Vice President of Strategy & Communications Sean O’Brien, who was an equity analyst and portfolio manager before crossing over to the corporate world, used StockTwits to highlight key figures from the company’s results and was on-hand to answer questions from investors.
His presence on StockTwits has won praise from investors and shows how senior level IR executives with a deep understanding of their company’s businesses and the required knowledge to navigate the regulatory landscape can safely use social media in the same way they use other communications channels.
Social media for IR soon won’t be unusual
In an interview with IR Web Report, O’Brien says Atlanta-based PGi, well-known to IR professionals as the service provider behind 1 in 4 earnings calls, views social media as just another way to communicate with external stakeholders, one that soon won’t seem unusual.
“When I started as an analyst, email came along and compliance said we couldn’t use it. Then they said we could use it in limited circumstances, and finally it became standard practice. The same thing with IM, everyone on The Street now uses some form of instant messaging, but when it first appeared there was resistance. Social media is going in the same direction,” says O’Brien.
He points out that his activity on StockTwits during his company’s recent earnings call involved highlighting key data points from the company’s earnings release that was already public due to being submitted on a Form 8-K with the SEC.
“We take the regulations seriously,” he says. “We’re not going to say anything in social media that we shouldn’t be saying. Some people say they’re not willing to put conversations with investors in writing, but if that’s the case then they shouldn’t say anything at all — not on the phone or in a private meeting.”
StockTwits provides targeted investor audience
O’Brien says he was introduced to StockTwits through the service’s CEO Howard Lindzon, whose long-short equity hedge fund he worked for as a portfolio manager in 2000. He says he likes StockTwits because it provides a targeted investor audience and the StockTwits team aggressively monitors the network for abuse and spam.
“There are two main IR activities: raising awareness and targeting specific investors. StockTwits gives you the best of both worlds,” he says.
Asked how distributing information from his earnings release in 140-character snippets adds value to investors, O’Brien says: “Analysts and investors are overwhelmed with information during earnings season. There’s no way they can keep track of it all. If we can highlight facts that they might have missed, I have no problem doing that.”
PGi itself is on the frontlines of a new wave of technologies that are changing the way business meetings are conducted online. Part of our interview was conducted using the company’s new iMeet video conferencing product, which includes several social media features.
The company is also working on other new online meeting products that will have particular relevance to the investor relations market, including for earnings calls.
Says O’Brien: “Our constituencies are changing and their expectations for how they interact with us is changing. We have to listen with intent and interest to what our customers and our investors, the owners of our companies, are saying. You can’t put your head in the sand and ignore what is happening all around you.”
(Disclosure: I have in the past advised StockTwits on its IR services, but do not have a current consulting arrangement with the company.)