S'pore firms missing out on digital opportunities

BEHIND THE CURVE: The majority of companies on the STI will be punished by Google's move to boost the rankings of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results, as only 10 of them (or 33 per cent) have mobile-compatible websites.

Google recently rolled out its mobile-friendly update, which will boost the rankings of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Its definition of mobile-friendly is a website that "can be read without tapping or zooming, with tap targets spaced appropriately and that the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling".

I put the websites of the Straits Times Index (STI) companies to Google's "mobile-friendly test" - and the results are telling: The majority of them will be punished by this new algorithm, with just 10 of them (or 33 per cent) having mobile-compatible websites.

Google itself says that if a site's pages are not mobile friendly, there may be a "significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search".

This low level of mobile compatible sites in Singapore is despite the fact that key stakeholders are becoming increasingly mobile, with two billion people expected to be using smartphones by next year, according to eMarketer.

This trend is fundamentally changing the way in which we all consume information on a daily basis, and it should be driving the way that corporates share information with their audiences including customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders.

A corporate website is a key tool for companies to communicate with their audiences, and it is often the first place people go to find information about a company, its story and its growth prospects.

It is usually through Google Search that people find and access corporate websites, and this demonstrates the importance of search rankings.

With many companies investing in "search engine optimisation" and spending time creating content to push them up the rankings, its seems that Google's new approach may - to some extent - reverse these efforts, at least on mobile platforms.

This is indicative of a broader problem we see in Singapore regarding the way that companies integrate both digital and mobile platforms into their communications channels. We also believe they are missing the great social opportunity.

Singapore is home to some of the most active social media users in the world. Research conducted last year by social media agency We Are Social indicated that we have the world's second-highest social penetration rate of 59 per cent, more than double the global average of 26 per cent.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been active on social media for the past three years, and marked his recent anniversary with a highlights video posted on Twitter and Facebook.

However, corporates are not quite taking advantage of the great engagement opportunity. Less than 40 per cent of the STI companies have Twitter accounts, and only 13 per cent use Twitter to share corporate news, including financial results.

We believe that companies are missing out on engaging with important financial stakeholders. Research conducted by market intelligence provider Greenwich Associates found that almost 80 per cent of institutional investors frequently use social media platforms at work, and that information consumed via social media impacted the investment decision processes of 30 per cent of these.

The social media credentials of companies in Singapore also show that they are failing to recognise the potential benefits of social media, including its role as a channel to tell the corporate story to an increasingly international audience and its value as a tool to support the quick distribution of information, prepare for and deal with crises, better track conversations and identify influencers across the globe.

Looking at international peers, the social media credentials of STI companies fall short and this is an important comparison given that listed companies, regardless of location, are competing for capital on a global scale with investors demanding ever more disclosure, transparency and engagement.

Nearly 90 per cent of the top 30 companies in the FTSE100 (by market capitalisation) have Twitter accounts, 63 per cent tweet general corporate news and 57 per cent tweet financial results. This compares with the four companies, or 13 per cent, of the STI that use Twitter to share financial results.

Singapore looks even further behind against S&P500 firms. Among the equivalent top 30 United States-listed companies in the index, over 90 per cent have Twitter accounts, nearly 80 per cent use it to announce corporate news and nearly 70 per cent tweet financial results.

Many of the reviewed S&P500 and FTSE100 companies that do tweet financial results also do so using tools that make them more useful to followers. Nearly 20 per cent of the FTSE100 companies, and 40 per cent of the S&P500 companies analysed use "$cashtags", where they tag related tweets with a "$" sign and their stock ticker (for example, $SGX), enabling users to track all financial news relating to the stock.

Nearly 25 per cent of the FTSE100 companies and 25 per cent of the S&P 500 companies used a #hashtag, using a keyword phrase to tie conversations about the results together and allow followers to track this.

While it is not the answer to everything, more needs to be done to improve awareness of the benefits of social media, as well as mobility and digital platforms.

Let us hope that we see corporates develop to better manage virtual conversations about themselves, influence stakeholders through consistent messaging across platforms and embrace more integrated communications strategies.

If not, they run the risk of failing to attract the attention of an increasingly mobile, social and international audience and will feel the effect in their ability to educate and inform, build and protect their corporate reputations.

This article by The Business Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.