Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

How to make Social Media work for Earnings

Does social media work well with earnings? It was my goal to find out a few weeks ago as we planned the social media component of LinkedIn’s first earnings announcement and the accompanying earnings call, which went out yesterday at 2pm Pacific time. For those of you who missed the action, here’s a recap.

But, I digress. My goal was to find out what are the key social media tools a company should leverage during an earnings call and I found there were two, in particular, that could come in handy. After the jump.

Step 1: Start with the Basics / 3 key social media channels

First off, figure out the key social media channels that’ll work best at disseminating information around the earnings to the right audiences (investors, customers, members of your service, etc.), in the right way (share friendly and compliant). This may seem simple, but planning every last detail whether it’s post, tweets or sequence of uploading content well in advance really helps.

Here are the three basic social media channels that we used for our first earnings call yesterday:

  1. The LinkedIn Blog – post from the CFO
  2. LinkedIn’s Company Page – will link to our twitter page @linkedin  (didn’t want too many tweets, cluttering our homepage there, so we decided to have select tweets that redirect to our Twitter page where I’d be live tweeting the call)
  3. LinkedIn’s Twitter Page (real–time updates during the earning call)

In addition, specific to the earnings call – I found the following two channels helpful. More on that in just a second.

  1. LinkedIn’s Slideshare Page
  2. LinkedIn’s StockTwits Page

This is of course, in concert, with your existing official channels that should kick-start the process (there are mandatory regulations that govern this process; so make sure you work with your legal team on figuring out that order). In our case, right after the press release crossed the wire, and the PDF slides were up on our IR site, the social media component went into play. So, time it well and stick to your schedule.

Trust me, it’s all a blur once the call starts and you start live tweeting – plus, there are so many moving parts that you’ve got to be careful you don’t mess up the ordering or accidentally upload stuff before the official news is out there. Also, don’t schedule stuff for auto-publishing, cos, you never know when things break.

Step 2: Make it easy to share / Slideshare 

I think the biggest advantage that social media brings to the table is the ability to let users – members, investors or other bloggers get a hold of content (like earnings deck slides) and make it easy for them to share. The earnings call (in our case) was an audio webcast and you had to register to listen in. You could also download a PDF deck of slides, but you’d have to email that and there’s no way to tweet that either.

Enter Slideshare.

Not only does Slideshare make it easy for you to upload your slides in private mode (premium feature) so you have it ready to go when the call starts, they also offer customization that lets you feature your earnings slide on your Slideshare homepage. And, of course, it makes sense to add your Twitter and StockTwits widget as well. More on that in a second.

Some examples of companies that use Slideshare around earnings: Dell, Amgen, and Pfizer. Here’s the brand new LinkedIn page.

Step 3: Get Compliant / Stocktwits

Finally, the biggest question that companies have about earnings call and social media is staying out of trouble and keeping your blog post/s and tweets compliant with regulations. First off, you wanna work closely with your legal team to nail the specifics around your Safe Harbor statement and Disclaimers, which we used on the blog post. But, what about tweets and 140 chars?

Enter Stocktwits.

If you’re live tweeting your earnings call — and I’d recommend you do that — ideally, you’d want to add a disclaimer to every tweet that contains financial information. Now, doing that manually is one heckuva problem and Stocktwits helped take care of that (premium feature we subscribed to).

They have a system which allows you to add a disclaimer to every tweet (it may be a simple tweet, link to other webpages, a slideshare page, etc.) That does reduce the # of characters for your tweet (from 140 to 117) but from my perspective the premium feature was worth the peace of mind. In addition, they allow you to send this out to your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

Here are some examples of companies that have used Stocktwits in a similar fashion: eBay, Dell, AEP.

And, here’s our Stocktwits LNKD page.

To summarize, the earnings call was like our other recent announcements on social media but the two new components that made the earnings call simpler, were Slideshare and Stocktwits. Here’s how I described it on their official blogs:

As a social media company, it was a no-brainer to use Slideshare to share our earnings call slides on our corporate blog. While Slideshare made it easy for our readers and followers to share this content virally, Stocktwits ensured that our status updates and tweets were compliant; both necessary components for an effective social IR strategy.

Work in social media for a company planning earnings? Got questions? Let me know.

Leave a comment or @mariosundar a question to me.

Filed under: Best-of, Business Blogging, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Linkedin, Slideshare, Social PR, Stocktwits, , , , ,

Airbnb is sorry. Really, really sorry.

Airbnb CEO just blogged a much awaited response to what we (in the tech community) call #ransackgate (the unfortunate story of one of their customers who was ransacked) recently. As someone who dabbles in words, I found their blog post today a great start on their road to recovery.

As I’d outlined in my post yesterday, there was a ton of back-and-forth over the past week, between Airbnb co-founders, CEO (Brian Chesky), investors and EJ (whose house was recently ransacked). As I’d outlined, the original blog post that Brian published on TechCrunch was quite a yarn.

I concluded that they need closure on the case, and an intense customer service makeover to move forward. Today’s response goes far in that direction:

“Over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go.”

Wow! a real apology. Kudos there.

With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure.

But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody.

Moving forward: to assuage customer concerns and irate customers, they’ve instituted a $50K guarantee retroactively. Wow! that sounds really hard to manage but is probably really good news for folks like EJ.

To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.

We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website.

We will extend this program to EJ and any other hosts who may have reported such property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past.

As I’d said in yesterday’s post, they would also have to make it easier for you to get help (something they sorely lacked from the two incidents we just saw recently) in the event of such a catastrophe. And, they now assure you of a 24 hour customer hotline.

24-Hour Customer Hotline (Nice!)

Beginning next week, we will have operators and customer support staff ready to provide around the clock phone and email support for anything big or small.

2x Customer Support Team

Since last month we have more than doubled our Customer Support team from forty-two to eighty-eight people, and will be bringing on a 10-year veteran from eBay as our Director of Customer Support next week.

Dedicated Trust & Safety Department

Airbnb now has an in-house task force devoted to the manual review of suspicious activity. This team will also build new security features based on community feedback.

Contact the CEO (Nice!)

If you can’t get a hold of anyone or if you just want to contact me, email brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

There’s still no closure on the EJ case (but that’s gonna take a while), but they seem to have done the right thing by instituting the guarantee that should take care of folks like her, fessing up, apologizing, assuaging potential customers’ concerns, earning some goodwill and halting the PR trainwreck that all of us had to witness.

Filed under: Social PR

Spin, Lies, and Airbnb

The one thing more absurd than the debt-ceiling cliffhanger these days, is the unraveling AirBnb PR fiasco that’s been getting more bizarre with each passing day.

What really stands out is the botched PR response to an unfortunate customer experience, with multiple points of view obfuscating reality and closure.

The Rashomon effect is made worse by spin...

Airbnb is a service that helps people rent out their homes or apartments or boats (yes, boats) to other “real people”. And last month one of these apartment rentals resulted in a scary home destruction:

Three difficult days ago, I returned home from an exhausting week of business travel to an apartment that I no longer recognized. To an apartment that had been ransacked.

With heart pounding and stomach churning, I slowly swung the door open as both a pungent odor and the full realization of what had occurred washed over me: this wasn’t just a random break-in. My home had been burglarized, vandalized and thoroughly trashed by a “traveler” I connected with via the online rental agency, airbnb.com.

The post really goes into detail on the level of destruction in a home, a nightmare situation none of us would ever want to step into. That was a month ago. More recently though, in the past few days, there’s been a storm of back-and-forth blog posts from both the company and victim of that destruction. So, let’s try peeling the layers here…

Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, wrote a pretty reasonable guest post on TechCrunch, pointing out the company’s efforts to help the victim (“EJ”), pointing to a resolution and offering next steps to assuage other users’ concerns. That’s a textbook response to such situations and in the face of it does seem adequate. But, that soon turned into a crazy back-and-forth this past weekend when the user wrote a second post refuting some of his claims.

He said. She said.

Airbnb CEO: “Our first concern was to make sure our host was safe.”

Which may not have necessarily meant they help secure her safety.

EJ (victim): “I am not clear here if Chesky is trying to convey the message that Airbnb was involved in securing my safety, but the company was not. My safety was secured by my own efforts.”

Here’s another:

Airbnb CEO: With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good.

As TechCrunch points out, it makes it sound like that was the first time that happened, but apparently not. Granted these break-ins (two in the public eye) may be more the exception than the norm but the way the media works is to focus on the extreme situations — whether good or bad. And, this is one such terrible experience that makes for a riveting human interest story. I think Robert Scoble does a good job of pointing out how companies should deal with customer service disasters of this type.

But, I digress. The back-and-forth between the CEO and the renter gets ugly with the following back-and-forth:

Airbnb CEO: “We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution. While we are not at liberty to discuss the details during the investigation, we understand that with our help, a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence.”

In her 2nd post, published on July 28, EJ refutes that claim:

EJ: As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case.

One month ago an individual was apprehended, however as far as I know, this person was transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.

She then goes on to suggest that things were even worse:

EJ (victim): And I was – but no longer am – scared of Airbnb’s reaction, the pressure and the veiled threat I have received from them since I initially blogged this story.

On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed “liaison” from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.

Wow?! And, that would contradict what their CEO had said earlier: “We have been in close contact with her ever since”. And…

EJ: During this call and in messages thereafter, he (ed. another co-founder, not Brian) requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist” of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”.

If true, that’s just sad, disappointing and plain wrong.

Closure & Moving Forward

At the end of the day, I think both parties (Airbnb and the renter) find themselves in an extremely difficult time in their lives. Airbnb just raised another round of funding and is on a hot streak, but the renter has just lost her peace of mind, home, and belongings (a month ago) with no end in sight.

What makes matters awful, is the company’s attempts at making this go away by utilizing everything from traditional spin to suggestions on shutting down the victim’s blog. Given how emotional this can be (for the aggrieved party) this needs to be dealt with in a considerate manner without coming across as pressurizing someone whose life has been upended recently. Interestingly enough, that customer service approach works in the best interests of the business as well.

Once again, I recommend you read Scoble’s post on a few ways to deal with this crisis.

For now, I think the onus for the company should be on getting some real closure in this unfortunate event, ensuring there aren’t any more random rants from their side, and an official update on their blog once there’s some real news to share. Most importantly, given Airbnb’s business model, the institution of a serious customer service policy (like at Zappos) seems essential.

All else is spin.

What do you think Airbnb should do? Tweet me @mariosundar.

Filed under: Social PR, , , , , , , , ,

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