Making sense of your online experience for more than twenty years

Things we learned from BIWA 2011, part 1: ‘You can deliver TV over the internet, but the internet is not like TV’

Michael Hill International have hit last place in this year’s Best Investor Website (BIWA) survey. This isn’t big news, the company have been consistently in the bottom five for investor relations communication since 2008. But their websites have always appeared to be firmly directed at retail customers, suggesting that shareholders are not a priority audience. In 2010 they decided that their new site would take advantage of the web’s ability to deliver moving images, putting most of their web content in video form: Michael Hill TV.

Engagement-Rings-Wedding-Rings-and-Bridal-Sets-Michael-Hill-Google-Chrome

What you get visiting the MHI site in Windows without Silverlight installed

I believe there is a time to use multimedia online, and a time to present written information. Companies confuse these at their peril. Making such decisions is all about understanding ‘audience and purpose’. Customers may well be persuaded to buy jewellery because it represents an ‘aspirational lifestyle’. In effect: jewellery ‘looks flash’ and makes you feel flash. And the Michael Hill site uses moving images and sound to hammer this home.

But investors don’t make financial decisions in the same way. They make rational decisions based on market information, past performance and reasonable expectations of future performance based on corporate strategies. In other words, it’s about the numbers. And websites can do a great job communicating this.

Some information – such as plans for the future and summaries of recent corporate results – may be well-conveyed in video presentations. But most investor websites also favour reports, graphical presentation of statistics, and links to data feeds or independent market analyses. Good investor websites run the risk of being labeled ‘dull’ because they ‘stick to their knitting’ at the expense of leveraging off the ‘all singing, all dancing’ possibilities of online video – but by doing so they do meet the needs of their target audience.

The MHI site on an iPad, without Silverlight installed

By way of example, if you want information on the share price of Michael Hill International from their website, you have to download Microsoft Silverlight software so you can view the site at all. I didn’t want this software, and to be honest, I haven’t met anyone who really does, yet if you have to access the MHI site (as I do, every year), then you’ll have to take the time to get this first. Recently Silverlight has become more compatible with iPads and mobile devices, but it is also worth noting that excessive reliance on ‘singing and dancing’ web technologies does present serious issues for this growing market segment. Essentially, your site won’t work on them.

Once you have the right software, you then have to click down four levels into the site to where you are promised ‘share price history’ is to be found. And history is right – a rather plain-Jane table will tell you what the share price was last month. Most NZX50 sites will tell you – on their homepage – what the share price was twenty minutes ago, so as an investor, visiting the MHI site tells me mainly that the company doesn’t really care what I know about them. Other corporate information is contained in PDF reports. If you’re looking for specific information, you’ll need some time to download and check a few of these, as the site doesn’t have a search function. Googling specific information about their financial performance directs you elsewhere, such as to the NZX site. The PDFs on the Michael Hill site are not even searchable this way.

I could go on, but you get the picture. What the company’s website does do is show animated images of jewellery, and advertising. And of course it sells these things. It may do this very well (though you will still need that software first, as well as plenty of bandwidth) – but if you wish to access even basic data on company performance, look elsewhere. And in today’s challenging and competitive investment environment, relying on third parties to convey investment information about your company is giving up control of the conversation. You also defeat the legitimate expectation of investors and their advisors that you, as corporate governors, will have the courtesy to engage with them in a dialogue about your business. Surely that’s not too much to ask?

Posted in: BIWA
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