by Bruce Carton
The Securities and Exchange Commission continues to dip its toe into the social media waters, but it’s doing so in such a cautious, disjointed way that it undermines the usefulness of powerful online communication tools.
The SEC’s stumbling over social media are surprising, given the aptitude it has shown for online communication for the last several years. In securities enforcement, for example, the SEC’s Website has been a tremendous source of information, and includes pages that list all of the agency’s litigation releases, press releases, and administrative proceedings. This information is extremely useful, and lawyers, reporters, investors, and countless others interested in the SEC and enforcement issues visit these Web pages daily. To the SEC’s credit, these Web pages are well maintained and reflect a clear commitment by the SEC to leveraging the Web to get the word out about its work in this area.
These days, however, a growing mass of people prefer to get their news streamed to them via social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook, rather than actively surfing the Web. With about 15 minutes of effort, the SEC could set up automatically generated, real-time feeds on Twitter or Facebook for each of the information sources discussed above (and many more), but to date these feeds do not exist. Worse, the few feeds that the SEC has set up provide an unfocused mix of data and, in at least one case, have not been updated in months. Finally, and perhaps most perplexing of all, the baby-steps the SEC has taken in the area of social media are virtually invisible to the public because the SEC’s homepage has not a single visible reference or link about any of its social media offerings.
Here is what I’ve seen from the SEC in the area of social media to date, and how it can quickly and easily improve on these efforts for the benefit of investors:
What the SEC has:
Right now the SEC has three Twitter feeds:
SEC_News: This feed includes a mish-mash of information from the SEC. It contains no litigation releases, no administrative proceeding releases, and a tiny subset of press releases—but of the seven SEC press releases issued in the second half of April 2011, only one is included on SEC_News. It also includes random information about things like meetings that are going on that many people probably don’t care much about (For example, consider this tweet: “WATCH LIVE: SEC Open Meeting REGARDING Product Definitions Contained In Title VII Of The Dodd-Frank Act).
SEC_Investor_Ed: This feed includes a bevy of announcements about what the SEC’s Office of Investor Education is doing. (For example, the SEC tweeted: “Office of Investor Education and Advocacy’s investing guidance for parents.”) But it contains even fewer press releases, and no litigation releases or administrative proceedings.
SEC_Jobs: This feed provides information on jobs that are available at the SEC. More accurately, this feed used to provide information on jobs that are available at the SEC. Although it was once updated throughout the day with new positions, SEC_Jobs has not been updated in nearly two months as of early May. Either no new jobs are available at the SEC these days, or the SEC has lost interest in the SEC_Jobs feed.
What the SEC needs:
First and foremost, the SEC should have separate Twitter feeds for each of its main streams of information. This would allow users to receive exactly the type of information they want, and no more. In the enforcement world, this would mean, at a minimum, separate and dedicated Twitter feeds for litigation releases, press releases, and administrative proceedings. Beyond the area of SEC enforcement, I believe additional SEC Twitter feeds for proposed rules, final rules, and no-action letters would also be useful and would garner a heavy following. This should be a very simple task, as there are many free services that permit Websites to have newly added content automatically posted to a Twitter feed.
Interestingly, in 2009 the SEC actually did introduce a very useful “SEC_Actions” feed on Twitter that was dedicated solely to announcing new Litigation Releases, as I suggest above. The feed, however, went dead after about five weeks. When I asked the SEC in 2009 why it had stopped updating the SEC_Actions feed, an agency spokesperson told me that this was because the SEC was “focusing on our investor education, news, and jobs Twitter feeds for now.”
As I wrote at the time, this explanation made little sense to me, given that the SEC_Actions Twitter feed could easily be wired to update automatically when the SEC updated its Litigation Releases page:
I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but to me, that is kind of like saying you’re not using your left turn signal while driving because you are “focusing” on the right turn signal, the gas pedal and the brake. That is to say, with about .0000001 percent additional effort, you could keep posting the SEC enforcement actions to @SEC_Actions and “maintain focus” on the other feeds.
Eighteen months later, the SEC has yet to add a single new Twitter feed and seems to have stopped “focusing” on its dormant SEC_Jobs feed.
What the SEC has:
A search for “Securities and Exchange Commission” on Facebook brings up a single page, with a seal and a brief description of the SEC from Wikipedia. It doesn’t appear to be the official Facebook page of the SEC. It contains almost no other links or information and is followed by just 262 people. That is the only SEC-related page on Facebook I could find.
What the SEC needs:
Facebook has more than 500 million active users. Do you think some of them might be interested in the SEC? I do!
The SEC should follow the example of the Department of Justice, which revamped its Website last year to, among other things, promote its new presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even MySpace. The Justice Department’s Facebook account already has more than 21,000 fans, and is regularly updated with key announcements and initiatives. The SEC could easily do the same.
What the SEC has:
The SEC conducts and participates in many meetings, conferences, speeches, and other events that are videotaped. It makes perfect sense that the SEC would have its own YouTube channel where all of these videos could be archived. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn while researching this column that the SEC already does have such a channel—you’ve just never heard of it. Even people like me who follow and write about the SEC on a daily basis have never heard of it. But I’m here to tell you it does exist—visit http://www.youtube.com/user/SECViews if you don’t believe me.
What the SEC needs:
Some form of communication with the rest of the world that this YouTube channel exists!
The Justice Department provides a good model for the SEC to follow in the social media area. On the homepage of its recently revamped website (www.justice.gov), there is a prominent box that reads “Stay Connected” and displays the well-known icons for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace. Clicking on any of those icons takes the user to the DoJ’s pages on those social media sites. Making it easy for interested parties to find you on social media seems like an obvious thing to do, but it is a step that the SEC and many other entities now venturing into this new world sometimes neglect.
In short, my review shows that the SEC now has two marginally useful and unfocused Twitter feeds; one “Jobs” Twitter feed that has not been updated in two months; no dedicated Twitter feeds for its most useful streams of information; a YouTube channel that almost nobody in the world knows about; and no official Facebook account. It is time for the SEC to raise its game in the world of social media, and start using these tools to their full potential to better educate and engage investors and the public.
Originally published in Compliance Week. Reprinted with permission.
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