TUESDAY 20 JUL 2021 3:51 PM


Latika Shah, director at Edelman Smithfield, talks about the changing online landscape and how corporates can build trust through social media in a strategic and effective way.

This year, the furore around meme stocks put an end to the debate about whether social media can influence investors' investment decisions. But the truth is, even without the help of wallstreetbets and the army of retail investors who piled into these stocks - this debate should have ended some time ago. The notion that social media interactions occur in some sort of separate sphere defies the reality that all audiences are now digitally connected and it is impossible to communicate in silos.

2021 marks the 15-year anniversary for Twitter, yet listed businesses are still incredibly cautious about embracing social media to tell their equity story. There are multiple horror stories across corporate Twitter pages accidentally disclosing price sensitive information still loom large in corporate memories. However, there can be no doubt that companies are missing a trick by refusing to embrace social media, and in fact, are inadvertently allowing their corporate narrative to be hijacked by third parties by avoiding it.

The pandemic has increased the use of social media as a tool to find news across all segments of society. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021, 41% of those surveyed in the UK used social media as a source of news.

Journalists, investment commentators and retail punters have been discussing investment ideas and individual company's equity stories on social media platforms for years, but now even institutional investors are lurking and taking note of these discussions.

Edelman Smithfield’s Trust Barometer Special Report: Institutional Investors, shows that over 91% of institutional investors consult company and executives' social media channels when evaluating a current or prospective investment. This means that investors are nearly as likely to trawl through your LinkedIn channel as they are to look through your Annual Report.

This should be no surprise given the broader shift in how investors look at companies. Gone are the days when prospective and current shareholders just cared about the bottom line. The institutional investment community is focused on providing capital for businesses which do the right thing, with environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations increasingly part of fundamental analysis in investment decisions, rather than a secondary filter.

Our data shows that companies that score well on ESG metrics tend to be thought of as better long-term investments, more resilient in a crisis, and therefore deserve to be valued at a premium to peers.

So why wouldn’t investors be keen to understand a listed company's corporate stories outside of results? Particularly when much of the focus during the pandemic has been on the "S" of ESG – or, put simply, how they treated their people through the Covid crisis.

Owned channels on social media are a great way for both companies and their executives to showcase its culture and values which are becoming increasingly important to investors. Focusing social media posts on ESG themes also allows listed companies and their management teams to provide extra colour on the business without breaching regulators' disclosure rules.

Most FTSE 350s use social media to speak with their customers and potential employees but leaving your social media channels empty of your investor messaging is the equivalent of leaving a high street retailer's shop window empty – a missed opportunity to sell your product – your equity story. The story of the company should track a path throughout the business, from its staff to its advertising, right down to the tone it adopts on social media.

Critics may ask why they should engage on social media now, but the meme stock stories prove that the information landscape has changed for good. Companies can no longer address their audiences in silos.

Edelman's 2021 Trust Barometer showed that Business is in fact the most trusted institution, and so there is a real opportunity for corporates to build trust through social media, and build out new channels to reach customers, investors and competitors with a compelling narrative in a strategic and effective way.