No Love At First Sight: Financial Comms & Social Media
By Antoine Denry, Partner, Publicis Consultants, MSLGROUP EMEA
Communications experts are increasingly relying on social networks for creating a buzz around a campaign and building brand awareness. The fastest-growing micro-blogging website, Twitter, is a key lever to that development: it has 165 million active users and generates 340 million tweets per day.
To engage this vast audience, which constitutes an important client base and has a considerable influence on public opinion, companies are quick to open an account in an effort to develop consumer’s affect and boost their corporate profile. However, though social media has become an indispensible element to any successful PR strategy, there are still doubts about its usefulness in financial communications. Between financial communications and social media, love at first sight has not yet occurred.
Challenges: Open Vs Regulated
At first, companies invested largely in social media with the aim of promoting consumer products. Then they used it as a platform for corporate brand building. Financial communication, is, in that sense, still lagging behind. It faces the challenge of reconciling two worlds that are seemingly at odds with one another: regulated and unregulated information.
In addition, financial communications usually involve sensitive issues that only the top management is in a position to address. Its discreet and control-seeking aspect is out of sync with social media’s immediate and open access nature. So it is no wonder that in France, half of the CAC 40 companies have a corporate Twitter account, but none of them are dedicated solely to finance.
Americans Flock To Social Media
In the United States, 10% of the corporate already use social networks as part of their financial information system.
A large majority of journalists in USA use Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia for investigations and sourcing news. At the same time, 47% of financial analysts and institutional investors read blogs to get their information on a company they follow and 20% of them give credence to the information found this way. Around 60% of them think that social media will play an increasingly important role in decision-making on investment choices.
Rise Of Online Communities
I believe that the trend of companies integrating social networks into their financial communications will accelerate in the coming years. We already see the rise of online financial communities such as StockTwits and Seeking Alpha, which attract hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of visitors.
American firms already use various communication tricks such as information sharing on Slideshare, live tweeting during financial events, multimedia press releases and podcasts of investors conferences via iTunes. The companies compete with each other to develop interactive apps and integrate these social tools into their websites.
How Air Liquide Is Tapping Social Media’s Potential
The leading French group Air Liquide’s use of social media illustrates the role it can play in optimizing financial communications.
The group created a Twitter account @AirLiquidenergy that was dedicated to news in the energy sector. The account was manned by MSLGROUP’s Net Intelligenz. The account had more than 1,000 followers from diverse communities but offered limited possibilities in terms of group corporate communications.
In order to improve Air Liquide’s visibility in the social media, we recommended an overhaul in its digital presence by reorganizing its online activities under a single corporate Twitter account: @AirLiquideGroupe.
The new account would circulate information about the group to a larger audience and become more reactive during the crisis period. It would also serve as an interface between potential information seekers and the group’s spokesperson for a livelier exchange of information.
The news flow would be fed by five categories of contents: financial news, news about the Air Liquide foundation, exceptional speeches during crisis management, news about Air Liquide and generic news about the energy sector. Every tweet would also be directly posted on the company’s website.
Live Tweeting On Financial Results
Air Liquide then hosted a live tweet operation for its annual results announcement. It turned out that the event’s hashtag was used more than 100 times and the account’s followers increased by 12.5% during the operation. The results were largely retweeted by individual shareholders and financial journalists.
We also advised the company to extend the live-tweeting practice to its Annual General Meeting in order to increase visibility for that occasion. This successfully positioned Air Liquide as a next-generation company and enabled the group to orient their discussions in a favorable direction.
New Prospects For Financial Communications
Combining the advantages of mass media and relationship-based media, social networks are opening up new prospects for financial communications. Mass media has the ability to reach a vast audience from different backgrounds. Relationship-based media probe into consumers’ specific habits and carve out a tailor-made marketing plan with the maximum efficiency. Integrating the strengths of both these forms of media, social media not only allows for instant and ongoing communications between the company and the stakeholders, but also encourages newer ways to communicate.
Companies will need to re-evaluate their use of social media and overcome some of the old myths they associate with it. They would need to adapt to new methods of controlling the information throughput. At the same time, social media will have to respect the current rules of financial information, which apply to all forms of media. As we enter the age of conversations, corporate and financial communications will need to adopt social media to reach their full potential.
That Was Fun: Financial Communications in a Crisis – By Antoine Denry
Antoine is a Partner of Publicis Consultants, and specializes in investor & press relations, M&A transactions and crisis communication.