One of the first places investors look to learn about and form an opinion of your company is your investor relations (IR) website. Often a microsite accessible from your corporate website, your IR site puts at investors’ fingertips the data and information they need to evaluate your company and make decisions about investing.
Yet IR websites do more than provide investors and sell-side analysts with numbers and percentages. Done well and meticulously maintained, they communicate who you are as a company and enable you to cultivate relationships and build trust, not just with the investment community but also with the media, your board, the corporate community, and the general public.
On April 2, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a report that outlines how companies can use social media outlets to disclose information and remain in compliance with Regulation FD. The report was the result of the SEC’s investigation of statements made on Facebook and Twitter by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, where he announced a “viewing” milestone for his online movie and TV rental company. While the investigation centered on whether Hastings violated Regulation FD, Hastings has maintained that his disclosures were neither material, nor exclusive.
From my vantage point, while the SEC’s new report opens the door for companies to disclose information via social media, it’s only propped open a crack and not enough that I’d encourage every company to use social media for this purpose. For one thing, a company is compliant only if it has previously communicated to investors that it plans to use certain social media outlets for news and information, and if access to these social media outlets is unrestricted. Following is more information about the report, what it means for your company, and what the risks are for communicating material information via this means:
What has changed?
The use of social media outlets is now included in the SEC’s interpretive release (34-58288), which in 2008 allowed company websites to be used to make disclosures under Regulation FD. The appropriate use of social media, like websites previously covered under this release, is the responsibility of the company. Websites and social media must be used according to the following rules:
They must be recognized as a channel of distribution of information to the market
They must be a source of broad dissemination to the market
There has to be a reasonable waiting period for investors and the market to react to any posted information