If only Gene Morphis had known about St. Louis startup company Gremln. He might still be the Chief Financial Officer at women’s clothing retailer Francesca’s.
Instead, Morphis was fired for cause in 2012 after sending a tweet to his followers that said, “Board meeting. Good numbers = happy board.”
While that Twitter post may have seemed innocent to most people, it was disseminated while the company was in the midst of a quiet period, and the tweet helped send Francesca’s stock soaring 15 percent. Saying he had “improperly communicated company information through social media,” Morphis was fired by the company. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the case.
Had Francesca’s been using Gremln, a tool that helps financial firms and other companies manage their use of social media, the incident could have been avoided.
“We all know that social media involvement is essential these days,’ says Ryan Bell, Gremln’s founder and president. “But most people don’t realize social media isn’t easy, it’s not free, and it’s most definitely not safe. We hear stories all the time about companies making mistakes, saying the wrong things, posting the wrong pictures. Careers are destroyed and reputations ruined with a single ill-conceived post.”
Gremln helps companies manage their social media through a software tool that allows them to set up a strict approval process for the release of information via Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. A tweet such as Gene Morphis’ would have gone through a multi-tiered approval process established by the company within the tool before it ever saw the light of day. Gremln also provides administration, archiving and reporting on everything a company does within social media.
One key component of Gremln’s social media safety net is its filtration system, says Bell. “We give a company a list of default terms we think you should avoid saying, based on your industry. For example, if you’re a bank you may not want to say ‘interest rate’, or ‘guarantee’. If you’re a publicly traded company you may not want to say ‘board meeting’ or ‘bad results’. So people are able to post freely to social media, but you can turn on the filters. So Steve, the CFO, can post whatever he likes. But if he posts any of these words or phrases, he gets a popup warning that he is about ready to make a mistake, and cannot proceed.”
While Gremln is being marketed as a tool that enables financial firms to participate in social media while helping maintain compliance with government regulations, anyone who has ever worked in any large corporation – no matter the industry sector — can spot its benefits, within the context of time management.
Take the case of a communications specialist who wants to issue news via social media but must reach out to multiple parties for approval first. Under the system used by most companies, that involves sending the message around the company by email, a process that could take days. Gremln’s system places the approval process into a single tool, and designated “approvers” who don’t review a social media message promptly are frequently reminded by email to do so.
“The companies are able to log in and register all of their social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.,” says Bell. “If you want to send a post out you can send it to all networks simultaneously. We help schedule and manage those campaigns. We take the act of communicating social media and wrap it in a security blanket and in a marketing tool so you can send it out in a timely, but safe way.”
Gremln scored a victory in January when the New York Bankers Association (NYBA) endorsed the company as the recommended social media management and compliance toolkit for all NYBA-member financial institutions.
Another win came last Tuesday night, when SixThirty, the St. Louis-based financial start-up accelerator program, announced it was adding Gremln to the second class of companies it is supporting. Gremln will receive a $100,000 investment and 16 weeks of mentoring at the T-Rex building downtown. The company also will be introduced to larger financial services companies based in St. Louis. Gremln is a 2011 graduate of Capital Innovators, another St. Louis accelerator program.
With 165,000 business subscribers – a number that’s growing — Gremln’s found its niche in a business context. But with so many individual social media users across the country apparently unable to muster the discipline to “self-regulate” what they post, a casual observer might wonder if Gremln would consider offering its services to the general public.
“We’ve given it a lot of thought and we think that’s a direction we might like to move in,” says Bell. “It’s not in the immediate delivery schedule, but we’re looking at ways in which we can take the existing system we built for businesses and make it useful for individuals to protect them from themselves. All of us are our own brand. We want to look professional to our colleagues, our communities and families. Gremln can help protect that”