Leading up to their IPOs, Internet sensations Groupon and Facebook could do no wrong. Everyone wanted to ride the public relations wave of exciting news.
But along comes the mundane world of finance, where high-flying Groupon and Facebook are met with dismal ledger sheets and waning stock prices. Now it seems everyone is jumping off, forcing the PR teams to change direction from managing positive buzz to stopping a crisis of confidence.
This week the media reported that some of Groupon's early investors cashed in their stock as they headed for the exit. And Facebook's stock price has slid to half of what it was before the social network’s IPO, as original investors dump their shares.
It's a tough job to keep notoriously fickle Wall Street investors happy, particularly with the well-established boom/bust record of Internet stocks. Everyone is looking for the next Internet boom companies, such as Google or eBay, but more often they get a Pets.com or Go.com.
As with any financial story, the devil is in the details, and that’s where these companies can score some PR wins for their reputations. For instance, although some early investors sold Groupon and Facebook stock, they did so at a huge profit. And the number of early investors who sold is matched by those who stayed on board with the companies.
This angle with Groupon was missed by the front-page story in The Wall Street Journal
, but was pointed out by Fortune
in a story under the headline, “What WSJ
got wrong about Groupon.”
Facebook’s stock slide this week coincided with the opening of a period in which early investors are allowed to sell their stock. The media pounced, looking to vilify Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Again, the details can help turn the negative tide around, such as how the company is focusing on innovation and building services.
Some media picked up on the notion that Zuckerberg is taking a page from Google’s successful IPO by getting Facebook staff to focus on building a company and not personal wealth. There’s also the idea that Facebook, like any new public company, needs to get its footing before anyone writes its obituary.
Another tactic is to highlight financial wins, while acknowledging losses.
According to its first earnings report, Facebook grew its revenue by 32 percent, and analysts are expecting a profit of $1.7 billion on $6.4 billion in revenue. That’s similar to how Google performed shortly after it went public.
Aside from the finances, PR teams can look for stories to highlight. (And, for Groupon, to deflect the all too common stories
about the startup hurting—even sinking—small businesses.) The public loves a good story, and positive public sentiment about a company can influence Wall Street. The prime example is Apple, whose stock this week is hovering at its all-time high.
Of course, it also helps when the stories are backed with solid profits.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.