On Friday March 5, the 10 billionth tweet was made by a Twitter user. An astronomical figure, a sure sign of how Twitter has become a formidable media network. While there has been lots written about Twitter’s business model and its ability to generate real revenues, the usage model has created interesting implications in many ways, some unintended and surprising. For me, two interesting developments of Twitter in my professional life are in the areas of competitive intelligence, investor relations, legal compliance and public relations.
Previously, I worked at Glu Mobile, a leading mobile games developer and publisher. Glu’s primary competitor’s are Gameloft and EA Mobile. Historically, to gather competitive intelligence on a company, one key activity would be reading press releases from the company on new game releases, licenses signed, or other company news. Press releases were carefully managed and staged and the timing of them would be unpredictable. What I’ve found now is that most companies basically have a Twitter account and they will tweet certain facts, info on products, retweet customer feedback or just offer random comments related to the company. Generally, given the nature of twitter and its 140 character limit, these would be quick snippets of information that did not warrant a press release. Following a competitor’s twitter feed is an essential aspect of any companies leaders and in fact, for all employees of the company. These tweets often happen throughout the day and aren’t carefully scripted as a press release would be. Furthermore, you can see real customer feedback on a competitor’s product by reviewing hashtag results with that competitor’s name. With Twitter (and Facebook fan pages for that matter) this feedback is out there in the open with minimal effort on the users side.
Investor Relations, Legal compliance and Public Relations
Similar to competitive intelligence implications from Twitter, the investor relations function and legal compliance requirements related to investor relations has had to adapt to Twitter. As mentioned above, most companies have Twitter accounts and tweet statements to its followers and the twitter universe at large. Now, for public companies, there are careful guidelines from the SEC, FASB, and other regulatory bodies that govern what information can be released to the public, when it can be stated, by whom it can be stated, and the gray area allowed with certain statements that aren’t generally proven facts. In these companies, the legal department or investors relations department will have generally reviewed any outgoing communication for compliance, or have drafted the communication itself. Approved representatives of the company would have been selected and trained on what can and can’t be said. Twitter makes that a lot more difficult. For one, generally, the person maintaining the twitter account would not be an approved executive, or from the investor relations department, or in some cases, even from the PR group. These groups have generally been trained on the do’s and don’ts of public communication. Rather, the twitter account may be handled by a mid-level marketing or product lead who may not be as versed in what they can and can’t say. The legal team isn’t sitting right there as that employee responds to a tweet directed at the company so the oversight becomes challenging. And even if the company quickly trains that marketing or product person on the do’s and dont’s of communication, the reality is that generally many employees from a company have their own twitter account and can tweet whatever they want about the company without supervision…sometimes innocently boasting about an unreleased product which may not be an investor relations or legal issue, it may certainly be something the company wasn’t ready to disclose. Sometimes it could be in frustration to losing a key customer or missing numbers or in jubilation to winning a key customer, all communications that need to be carefully managed.
I’m a big fan of Twitter and know that Twitter is here to stay. It is not a social network, but in reality a media network that is open to everyone. This openness, the brevity of the communication, and the impressive platform it creates for thought leaders (both individuals and companies) to get their messages out has created some fascinating changes to traditional practices in many different areas. Including Competitive Intelligence and Investor Relations.