Twitter keeps tweeting, should IR be listening?
The business community has been intuitively skeptical of Twitter’s possible utility to companies since it’s inception. The list of reasons that Twitter would be useless to most businesses isn’t short.
The allowable message size is too small. What could anyone possibly say in just 140 characters that would be of any value? Users are primarily younger, technologically savvy teens, and twenty-somethings who don’t like to be “harassed” by the corporate world, and who wouldn’t have any money anyway except for movies, music, and cars. There is no way to monitor and manage the inevitable replies to any message posted by the company.
And, then there is that terminology. Can a serious company really be expected to care if its tweets are re-tweeted on Twitter? The list goes on.
This post is Part 2 in our series. Get Part 1 here: Investor Relations Twitter Difficulties
For Investor Relations groups, the list is even longer. There is no ability to include any form of disclosure in a message that is just 140 characters. Regulatory agencies haven’t given any clear guidance on what is or is not permissible to be discussed on an open forum like Twitter. People using Twitter aren’t the kind of people who invest in stocks anyway. Do Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Miller, or Bill Gross tweet on Twitter? Of course, not.
With a compelling list of business reasons stacked against any serious company using Twitter, why would any Investor Relations department even consider making Twitter part of their communications arsenal?
Perhaps it is because of the media’s incessant coverage of all things Twitter such as the breathless headline where AdAge claims Twitter’s news coverage is worth $48 million each month. Perhaps it is because of attention grabbing publicity stunts like Ashton Kutcher’s race against CNN for 1 million Twitter followers (Kutcher won), or Oprah Winfrey’s arrival as a celebrity Twitter tweeter. Perhaps the idea of a full-fledged company blog seems like too much, but surely, anyone could handle 140 characters at a time. Or, perhaps, the official corporate blog has proven itself to be a wide ranging success and something like Twitter seems like a good way to expand on that success. Of all the possible reasons, perhaps none is more true than simply being worried about falling behind while competitors with a head start race off to good fortunes.
Whatever the reason, IR is coming under increasing pressure both internally and externally to address the runaway train that is Twitter. Senior executives want to know what the Twitter strategy is. Investor advocates are vocal about getting vital information to the “little guy” on Twitter and not just to high-floor number Wall Street analysts at industry events and on conference calls. Formally developing a solid, fact-based response to these concerns whether positive or negative is fast becoming a top priority for IR departments. If you haven’t been asked about what you and the company plan to do about Twitter yet, you will soon.
Is That Tweet Official?
One of the biggest difficulties in understanding just what companies are actively involved in Twitter is getting a handle on just who is and isn’t running an official corporate Twitter profile. Just because there is a Twitter account at twitter.com/BigCoolCompany doesn’t mean that it is related to Big Cool Company at all. It may be someone who has no connection to the company and just likes to talk about it, for better or worse.
Often, official looking Twitter accounts are actually just the personal accounts of a company’s employees. The catch is that it can be somewhat less than clear under what circumstances these employees are tweeting under.
All the same, just because a Twitter account isn’t twitter.com/BigCoolCompany doesn’t mean it is NOT the official company Twitter account, like ebayinkblog (more below). Or, do you see where the Corporate Eye Twitter account goes?
Some Twitters have the company’s explicit permission to post on Twitter, but are not endorsed by the company, meaning any postings are the employee’s opinion and responsibility and not the company’s. Meanwhile, some twitter users have either no permission from their employer, or that permission is implicit, meaning that not only are their tweets not the official position of the company, they aren’t even acknowledged by the company.
Corporations Tweeting on Twitter
One of the high profile Twittering companies lately is eBay. The online auctioneer started a corporate blog in April 2008 and within a couple of months, corporate blogger Richard Brewer-Hay was tweeting on Twitter as well. The Twitter profile is called ebayinkblog, which at first blush may make it seem to be an unofficial Twitter account. However, the “Bio” section of the account clearly states its position as, “The Twitter feed for the official eBay corporate blog…” which is called eBay Ink.
A recent Wall Street Journal article notes how once tweets containing information about quarterly earnings and other financial info began appearing, eBay’s attorney’s showed up and required regulatory disclaimers on some of the tweets. If even a technology savvy Internet based corporation like eBay seems nervous about what goes up on Twitter, what does that say about the chances of a useful IR Twitter account at other companies?
Actually, it turns out the answer isn’t as clear as it might appear. While eBay does have an official, active Twitter account, other technology giants do not. Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, Oracle, Google, EMC, Texas Instruments, and Amazon all have corporate Twitter accounts. There are dozens of IBMers who have Twitter accounts, though there is no official IBM account. Likewise, there is no official Intel Twitter profile, despite how close twitter.com/Intel comes to looking like it is.
Just because a company has a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they do anything with it other than sending out customer offers, responding to customer complaints (usually from other Twitter users), and promoting marketing events. Indeed, EMC VP Chuck Hollis notes in his social media blog (as opposed to his “day job” blog, both hosted at emc.com) that many companies do nothing more with their Twitter accounts than re-post a one-line with links to press releases.
However, Mr. Hollis goes on to note the vast potential of social media sites like Twitter. If this company bigwig gets it, maybe that fear about your competitors taking off and leaving you in the dust isn’t so far fetched after all.
Investor Relations Twitter Beginning Strategy Steps
Without a clear cut path to point to, what should the savvy IR Department group do?
First, make a list of your direct competitors. Twitter is not a zero sum game. Your competitors do not have to lose for you to win and vice versa. However, the world of Twitter is just too big to try and monitor everyone, so start with a short list of your closest competitors.
Monitor what they do with the official Twitter accounts if they have one. Pay particular attention to what they do and do not tweet regarding things like financials, analyst meetings, conference calls, regulatory findings and so on.
Next, start Tweeting; not as a company official, but as a private citizen. Use your name or a pseudonym, but leave out your connection to your employer. You want to be able to practice your tweets. There is a whole world of etiquette and terminology to learn. It’s best to do that as Joe Public instead of as the official spokesperson of Big Cool Company.
Search out friends, family, and coworkers, then follow them. Read their tweets. Pay particular attention to what they “re-tweet.” Also, watch what, if anything, they blast from other Twitter users. What is considered spam, or rude, or newbie mistakes. Then, start making your own tweets and see what the response is like.
Once you have your feet wet, it is time to make a more in depth analysis about Twitter’s possible future at your company, particularly on the IR Website.
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