EARLY adopters of social media for investor relations have long had to contend with consumer-oriented tools and services that don’t quite meet their stringent compliance and business needs. But that is about change as StockTwits* this morning introduces the world’s first set of social IR services built especially for public companies.
Now, before you start freaking out about me being biased because I have in the past been a consultant to StockTwits, I wasn’t involved in this product and any consulting I did for StockTwits was prior to its development. All credit must go to the StockTwits’ development team.
So I’m not going to hide my enthusiasm because today’s launch is truly a milestone for the investor relations profession. StockTwits has developed a product that for the first time brings together public companies and their investors in a compliant social media environment.
The new StockTwits IR suite includes a solid set of services that are being offered at no cost to public companies for a limited time. There is also an optional compliance module for $99 per month that provides an innovative way for IR departments to attach disclaimers to some or all of their messages sent across the StockTwits network, which now reaches an audience of about 60 million monthly visitors.
StockTwits’ new Vice President of Corporate Services Chris Bullock, who joined the company from NASDAQ OMX four months ago, has led the development of the new IR suite. He told IR Web Report that StockTwits’ vision is to be a gateway to social media for investor relations departments by providing a central dashboard of services where IR departments can manage their messages, monitor conversations about their companies, and measure their effectiveness.
Basic IR suite available free to all US-listed companies
The “basic” IR suite is available today at no cost to all companies listed on a US stock exchange, including international companies with a US listing. For example, SAP AG’s investor relations department is currently using StockTwits, along with about 50 other companies that have been part of a beta program.
The complementary suite includes:
StockTwits will verify that an account purporting to be that of a public company is in fact official. Verified IR accounts are identified with a unique green badge, which gives investors confidence that the messages they see are in fact official company communications.
Expanded Profile and Ticker Pages.
IR accounts get special options on their StockTwits profile and ticker pages. The profile page is essentially a company’s homepage on StockTwits and includes only messages from the company. The company’s ticker page is the stream of all messages from StockTwits members tagged with a $-sign and ticker, such as $HPQ.
StockTwits users can follow either the company’s account, its ticker symbol, or both. If a user follows the company’s account, they will only see the company’s messages, but if they follow the company’s ticker symbol, they will see all other users’ messages that include the ticker.
On both their profile and ticker pages, verified IR account holders can post additional information in the right rail, including:
- A longer company description;
- Contact information for the IR department;
- Link to the company’s most recent earnings call audio;
- Links to company web properties;
- Space to add disclaimer text; and,
- Automatic inclusion of the company’s latest investor presentation on SlideShare.
All of the above is also shown on a company’s ticker page, with an important additional feature where a company can post a “sticky message” at the top of the stream where it is immediately visible to anyone who visits to the ticker page.
As I mentioned recently in a post about whether tweets can meet Reg FD requirements , a key issue is the prominence of company messages on social networks. In typical social network feeds, company messages can quickly become buried by new messages from the company or from other accounts that an investor may be following. This “sticky message” feature addresses this issue and is unique to the StockTwits website.
This is a set of tools that you cannot see on the public StockTwits website. It is an administration area reserved for IR users only. Bullock gave me a tour a few days ago and I was impressed by what StockTwits is offering IR departments on a complementary basis.
The Dashboard includes tools to manage an IR department’s profile information and messages. Companies can link their accounts to their other social media outposts so that messages entered on StockTwits are automatically distributed to Twitter, Facebook pages and LinkedIn personal profiles.
They also can set up a variety of email alerts to be notified when certain events occur, such as when a StockTwits user publicly or privately messages the company, or if its ticker is “trending” or being discussed more than usual.
A compliance area allows companies to add their disclaimer text, download an archive of their messages, and manage the optional compliance module (see below). Companies also have a flagging capability which enables them to send priority alerts to a special StockTwits team that policies the service for spam, scams and messages that don’t comply with the house rules. From the start, StockTwits has actively policed its streams and does not allow penny stocks on the service, a fact that has attracted some criticism but which ultimately has served StockTwits and its community well.
One of the best features in the Dashboard is the free analytics that StockTwits is providing to all accounts. Bullock says advanced analytics will be provided in future optional paid modules.
The basic analytics package includes a variety of StockTwits metrics, such as the number of ticker mentions, profile views and total followers. Companies can also see which StockTwits users mention their tickers most often as well as information about their influence and following. Finally, the snapshot analytics shows the total reach of the company’s social media activity across all of its linked accounts.
Distribution to Financial Portals.
A huge attraction for IR departments to use StockTwits as their gateway to social media is that messages entered on StockTwits are disseminated to a growing list of major financial websites, including CNNMoney, Yahoo! Finance, Reuters.com, Bing Finance and Investopedia.
When added to company websites, as Q4 Web Systems is doing, StockTwits’ social media and financial portal distribution transforms IR websites into full-blown push technologies. Individual websites become their own PR wire services, distributing alerts to millions of potential investors simultaneously and in real-time, with all traffic going back to a company’s website where the IR department can offer a better experience to investors.
Compliance upgrade with linked Cmp.ly disclaimers
StockTwits plans to offer several paid upgrades to its basic IR service. Each upgrade option is expected to be priced at about $99 per month and up. Companies will be able to pick only the services they want rather than take a bundle of services that they may not need.
The first module being released today solves a problem that has prevented many IR and financial services professionals from using social media. Since messages on services like StockTwits, Twitter and LinkedIn are restricted to a certain length (140 characters for StockTwits and Twitter) it’s impossible to attach disclaimers to them.
Now, by partnering with a company called Cmp.ly, StockTwits IR users can set up a variety of disclaimers and then attach one that appears in their message as a link. The link remains in the message regardless of where it is distributed to.
If the message contains forward-looking information, the IR user can attach a safe harbor notice to the message through a Cmp.ly link. When investors click on the cmp.ly link, they will be taken to a page containing the company’s safe harbor language.
The attached disclaimer works differently when an IR department wants to link to third-party information such as a news article. In that case, the user will see a disclaimer overlay at the top of their browser window when they view the article.
Overall, this service solves the problem I wrote about in February 2010 in If Tweets had disclaimers.
StockTwits has created a compelling and easy-to-use service for IR departments that want to use social media in a more controlled environment while meeting their compliance obligations. Check it out.
* Disclosure: I have provided paid consulting services to StockTwits in the past 12 months, but do not have a current consulting arrangement with the company.