Every generation has a point in the development of technology where they hit the wall. For my grandparents’ generation it was color TVs. My grandparents could never seem to be able to tune in their color TVs so that people looked normal – they always had a reddish or green tinge to their skins. For my parents’ generation, the people who were able to survive the Great Depression and World War II, cell phones have stopped them cold. Today’s seniors just don’t seem to be able to grasp what all those cool features on the phone are for – and why would you want a camera on your phone anyway? While I don’t claim to speak for my entire generation, for me, my technological Waterloo has been social media.
I don’t think of myself as a Luddite. After all, I write a blog, my business has a web site, I have an iPhone and I work on a computer most days. I’ve even learned how to send text messages on my phone, as it is the fastest way to get a response from my three college age children. But I confess that twitter and facebook have me stymied. I just don’t get it. Twitter because I’m incapable of saying anything in 140 characters or less and facebook because why would you want to put all that information out there in the public domain? And because I don’t get the social application of these services, I certainly don’t understand their application to investor relations.
First, let’s start with our friends at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC has been very clear that all of the rules that apply to disclosure of information in other contexts also apply to social media. So I guess that means that if you inadvertently twitter a piece of material, non-public information, you must issue a press release as soon as possible thereafter. Of course, if you’ve taken the time to type out the information, I would question how “inadvertent” the disclosure was, which means that the press release should have been issued either before or simultaneously with the twitter. And how do you write a “Safe Harbor” disclaimer in less than 140 characters? These are the sorts of things that will drive your securities law lawyer to distraction, so they are quite possibly inclined to say that you would be better off not twittering about investor relations topics in the first place.
Secondly, who has the time? We all live days that are filled with lots of information flow, meetings, phone calls and other demands on our time. Do you really need another distraction, particularly one as unfiltered as social media tends to be? In a business context? I remember in the early days of email having a colleague extol the virtues of email because it bypassed all the filtering layers of a corporation, allowing anyone to communicate directly with you. These days I look at the constant stream of email that flows through my computer and sincerely wish for better filtering devices. And I don’t even work in a corporation, with its constant stream of emails from Human Resources, Security, IT, meeting and calendar reminders and notices of the annual golf outing, charity events and other odds and ends.
Finally, let’s not forget the primary mission of investor relations, which is relating to investors – making sure they understand your company and its prospects so that they can accurately value the company and its stock. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that this means that you actually have to talk to investors, listen to their questions and give them thoughtful responses. For that, the best, most efficient piece of technology that you have was invented in 1876. It’s called the telephone.
I suppose that over time social media will create a niche for itself in business, but for the present, to me, it seems over-hyped. I believe that truly sophisticated technology simplifies you life rather than adding more complications. And I don’t see how social media makes your life simpler.