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Posted on 11.03.2011

Investor Relations Go Social

In a rather unusual but certainly interesting move, one of the world’s largest companies put its toes in the social media waters as a way to reach investors and financial analysts (as well as customers, employees and anyone else in the world with a computer and access to the Internet). Walmart Chief Financial Officer Charles M. Holley posted a message to the financial news aggregator site Seeking Alpha last month explaining how the Fortune 1 company plans to maintain its position in the global marketplace. While most corporate attorneys become apoplectic at the utterance of “corporate officer” and “social media” in the same sentence, it appears the investor relations professionals at Walmart (likely with help/prodding from the company’s marketing and PR team) helped calm any legal nerves.  In reality, Mr. Holley’s post is likely taken from the same song sheet the company uses when addressing analysts and investors in Reg FD formats as well as one-on-one conversations.  Transcripts of those discussions are often available online and excerpted on blogs and media outlets, so sharing executive perspectives is certainly not pioneering uncharted territory. Nashville PR firm show corporate communications example The “new” element to Mr. Holley’s contribution on Seeking Alpha is the close connection between his post and the dialogue that it spawned.  In the first 10 days after the post was made, 36 comments were shared on the site – most of which seem thoughtful and productive to professional discourse (even if not all are flattering to Walmart or optimistic about its stock’s potential).  But online (and offline) conversations about NYSE:WMT occur among analysts and investors every day. So if we consider the potential risks of the message and the medium to be fairly neutral, I find some significant upside to Mr. Holley’s decision to go social:
  1. He was not edited. Just like the traditional opinion piece in a hard copy paper (which can be very hard to secure), the blog post gave Mr. Holley the opportunity to share complete thoughts in his own voice.  He did not have to rely upon (or worry about) the whims of an editor’s analysis.  Nothing was deleted, nothing was paraphrased, nothing was subject to interpretation by anyone other than the end user/reader.
  2. He was complete. The Walmart IR and legal teams surely worked overtime on this piece.  In fewer than 900 words, Holley painted his company’s “big picture” through two-dozen or so brush-stroked illustrations.  He referenced company history, relationships with merchants, increased efficiencies, enhanced physical plants and reduced capital costs.  And in a nod to reality, he acknowledged high fuel costs, food inflation and job insecurity among customers globally.  An interview with a financial reporter from a news or business daily will typically translate into just few sound bites from the interviewee – and they will rarely offer a complete reflection of the conversation.
  3. He was a cheerleader. Holley wove in Walmart’s corporate slogan and referenced the company’s impressive five and 10-year CAGR.  To ensure he ended on a high note (something rarely achievable in the traditional interview/article process) he closed with optimism: “During a challenging time in the world, we are excited about the future and what a stronger Walmart will mean for our customers and our shareholders.”
In this analysis, Mr. Holley’s dip into the Web 2.0 pool seems like swim worth taking – and 10 days out, his stock did not appear to have suffered (nor does it seem to have gained).  Walmart IR folks have indicated they aren’t sure they’ll  repeat the effort – but I have to think this trail has now been blazed and will be followed.  What do you think? Should other companies take this leaders’ lead?  

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