MIAMI — Whether social media could be a viable information source on company performance was at the center of a discussion on the convergence of financial communications and social media at the 2013 Global PR Summit.

The session, led by FTI Consulting’s John Franklin, debuted research that shows stakeholders are increasingly turning to social media and owned platforms when evaluating companies. Yet, only 41% of media and 13% of investors say they’re able to locate relevant corporate information online.

“Social media isn’t just about an earnings cycle -- it’s a part of tapestry that provides even more value,” said Paul Fox, director of corporate communications at Procter & Gamble.

Even so, this summer, activist investor Carl Icahn’s famously used Twitter to flex his muscles as an Apple shareholder, ultimately pushing the company’s stock nearly 5% higher.
“Apple didn’t immediately reply,” said Mitzi Emrich, managing director at FTI Consulting. “They wanted people to know they don’t engage about the value of their company on Twitter.”

Emrich pointed out, in doing so, Apple retained its brand voice.

“Just because you’re communicating important information, you don’t have to lose your brand voice,” Emrich said. “It doesn’t mean you use hashtags and emoticons. But you can still be who you are -- and it’s considered more credible.”

Herbert Heitmann, head of comms and government relations at Bayer AG, said in a crisis PR teams can get wrapped up in positioning the disaster -- while investors are bearing the impact.   

“Every communicator needs to be head-to-head with investor relations, working closely together,” Heitmann said.

When asked about building communities, Heitmann recalled an initiative during  his previous role as head comms at Shell to garner more online fans than Greenpeace. Heitmann said the company succeeded in doing so when they defined where Shell’s advocates are based. In this case, it was emerging markets.

“But just because someone pushes ‘like’ -- it doesn’t mean they’re an advocate,” P&G’s Fox maintained. “It’s a misplaced assumption that because you have a community, they will protect you if your brand comes under attack.”
Michael Fernandez, VP of corporate affairs at Cargill, said the goal should ultimately be telling the story to those who are truly persuadable.

“Part of that solution is based in social media,” Fernandez said. “But we go awry if we invest too much in the social media guy. At the end of the day, it’s just a tool.”  

Fox added, “what you see on social media directs people to the bulk of content online.”