Coca-Cola, Best Buy Shareholder Votes Get Social Twist
When investors go to vote online on shareholder issues, they now can ask questions, almost as if attending the annual meeting in person, using a social app.
When investors in Coca-Cola and Best Buy go to vote online on shareholder issues, they now have an opportunity to ask questions, almost as if they were attending the annual meeting in person, using an application built on social software from Telligent.
The financial data services company Broadridge, which operates the proxyvote.com website for online shareholder voting, created the shareholder forums product initially for Intel. Coca-Cola and Best Buy are among the companies who have picked it up.
"Coca-Cola and Best Buy see this as a better corporate governance process, and a way to be more engaged with the retail shareholder," said Michael Mostransky, product manager for the Broadridge shareholder forums.
Telligent is one of the few enterprise social network vendors to address both internal and external audiences, and Broadridge is using the Telligent Community version for public communities on the Web. Telligent Enterprise is the corresponding version of the platform for internal corporate communication and collaboration.
Since the Securities and Exchange Commission began allowing proxy shares to be cast online, participation has declined, Mostransky said. "Voting dropped off as soon as the physical paper went away." That can be a concern for companies trying to ensure they muster the minimum number of votes required to do business.
Though adoption of the shareholder forums is not widespread yet, the theory is that shareholders might be more likely to vote if they can get their questions answered about what they are voting on, Mostransky said. "Hopefully, more engagement equals more voting." Broadridge integrates the forums into the workflow of the voting process, so that shareholders access the forums using the same control number code they use to sign in and vote. This means the company can be assured that the participants really are shareholders, as opposed to stock-bashing trolls who lurk in public stock discussion boards.
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Still, companies "are not sure how far they want to go--is this Pandora's box?" Mostransky said. As a result, this social software experience isn't all that social. Investor relations officers operating with the SEC looking over their shoulders aren't necessarily eager to invite free-wheeling discussion. Broadridge used the Telligent discussion forum software as a starting point, but modified it to be a tightly moderated system where shareholders can post questions, but they can't see the questions that others are entering. Rather than responding to the questions individually, the investment relations officer will compile the questions and a list of thoroughly vetted answers to present in the form of a frequently asked questions document, Mostransky said. As part of that process, however, the investment relations officer is able to sign into the system as an administrator and see all of the questions displayed in a message board interface, with a green bar next to each individual's name showing the weighting of that person's ownership in the company. This gives an at-a-glance view of the big shots in the crowd.
For Broadridge, the beauty of the Telligent software was that it could be modified to fit the purpose, Mostransky said. "The customization comes in when we have to create a new widget that's not off-the-shelf," he said, but most of the work can be done starting from a base template and adding a bit of Cascading Style Sheets code, or using a REST-style web services interface.
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