As companies develop a strategy for how to use social media for IR, it’s important to understand how others are using this communication channel, including activist investors. Activists are digitally savvy and use these tools in a very persuasive way. For example, in 2013, Carl Icahn tweeted about Apple (see below), and about an hour later, the stock pushed up from $475.76 to a high of $494.66.
To prepare for an activist situation, it’s important to know how activists communicate with shareholders. Here are three ways activist investors are using digital media:
1. Microsites: Many activists use microsites to house key information specific to the cause or issue they are advocating. The microsite is often designed in a style that is similar to the company’s brand and is highly visual with infographics, charts, images and even cartoons. From a content perspective, the microsite often includes letters to the Board and shareholders, press releases, slide presentations, Q&As, media reactions, bios for an alternate slate of Board members and contact information to ensure shareholders have easy access to everything they need to know about the situation (at least from the activist’s point of view).
2. Paid Search Targeting: To move up in search results and ensure their story is told, many activist investors put money into paid search targeting. As with any paid search ad, the search result looks similar to other results, but it is placed at the top of the page to attract more attention and clicks. The messaging is often eye-catching and draws additional traffic to the site that is being promoted. Activists against Buffalo Wild Wings and Arconic, for example, used paid search targeting to build awareness of a case for change.
3. Social Media: In addition to paid search targeting, activist investors are also using social media channels to amplify their message and drive shareholders back to their website. As noted above, influential activists such as Carl Icahn can have a large impact on a company with just one 140-character tweet.
The good news is these tools can also be used by companies to defend their position in an activist situation. It’s important, however, for the company to have established social media accounts with a solid foundation of followers “in peacetime” in order for this to be a viable communication channel in a high-pressure activist situation.