This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) moved corporate disclosures into the year 2013, or at least 2010. In a release on Tuesday, the agency recognized that social media channels—including Facebook and Twitter—were acceptable methods of disclosure. The SEC included one caveat: investors must be made aware ahead of time that the company will utilize these channels for disclosure.
This move comes following scrutiny surrounding a tweet from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in November 2012, which announced that subscribers had passed the achievement of one billion hours viewed. The SEC issued Netflix a Wells Notice, announcing the investigation of Hasting’s potential violation of Regulation FD, which requires companies to disseminate information in a way that does not favor one investor group over another.
The SEC’s decision to allow corporate use of social media to disseminate information is not completely unexpected. Since 2008, the agency has permitted the use of corporate home pages to disclose sensitive information—the subject of its release, “Guidance on the Use of Company Websites for Disclosure Purposes.” In fact, SEC representatives have encouraged delegates to NACD’s advisory councils to use corporate websites when providing additional details that go beyond what is required by public filings.
For directors, a group notoriously slow to adopt social media, the SEC’s decision could mark a significant shift in how companies disclose sensitive information, and investor relations generally. Starting with the 2009’s Proxy Disclosure Enhancements and reinforced by Dodd-Frank, the length of corporate filings has increased with the number of required disclosures. As a result, directors have been recommended to “tell their story,” going past boilerplate language to explain the rationale and strategy behind decisions.
First and foremost, it is critical that directors understand their company’s consumer and investor base. If these groups are active on Facebook and Twitter, the SEC’s decision to conditionally permit these as communication channels could provide a new method of engaging increasingly active stakeholder groups.
In 2012, initial public offerings (IPOs) did not quite make the rebound analysts had predicted. In the year of the botched Facebook offering, just 128 IPOs were made. Although quadruple that of 2008, this marks a decrease from 154 IPOs in 2011. Last May, the Economist observed that this decline was part of a larger trend: the decline in popularity of the public company.
Since 1997, the number of U.S. public companies has fallen by 38 percent. Additionally, the average number of IPOs has declined from 311 per year between 1980 and 2000, to 99 per year between 2001 and 2011. In addition to companies actively not going public, in the last year several well-known businesses “went private,” such as Quest Software, CKE Restaurants, Burger King, and J. Crew.
In addition to the obvious distinctions of private companies—a lack of shareholders and adherence to regulation—NACD’s recently released 2012—2013 Private Company Governance Surveyfound many lesser-known differences. This survey features responses from over 550 individuals who serve private company boards. Some of the contrasts include:
Private company boards are smaller. On average, private company boards have 7.3 members—a decrease from 8.9 members in 2011. For the past several years, public company boards have consistently maintained an average of 8.8 members.
Public company directors are more likely to receive continuing boardroom education. In 2012, 82 percent of public company directors received continuing education in the last 12 months, compared to 57 percent of private company directors. This may be connected to company policy, however: 83.1 percent of public directors were reimbursed for education expenses, while only 54.5 percent of private company peers were.
Trend in the private company boardroom: D&O Insurance. Additional directors and officers liability insurance was obtained by just 15 percent of private company directors in 2008. In 2012, this figure jumped to 50.4 percent. In comparison, 42.8 percent of public company directors purchased additional D&O insurance in 2012.
Nominating and governance committees are much less prevalent at private companies. Similar to public company counterparts, audit and compensation committees are nearly ubiquitous at private companies. However, just 49.2 percent of private company survey respondents indicated that their board had a committee dedicated to nominating and governance.
Private companies employ different mechanisms to ensure director turnover. The most commonly used method of director turnover at private companies is director evaluation. Age limits and term limits are both used by nearly one-fifth of respondents. At public companies, the most prevalent mechanism to renew and replace directors is age limits, closely followed by evaluations. Term limits are used by just 6.5 percent.
Generally, private company boards maintain less diverse composition. Compared to 27.4 percent of public companies, 38.5 percent of private companies do not have any female directors. With respect to minority directors—based on race and ethnicity—70.3 percent of private companies have no such representation, compared to 51.8 percent of public boards.
In the new era of digital media, just 140 characters on Twitter have the potential to affect a company’s reputation and severely impact its brand. In this communications minefield, it is essential that boards stay up-to-date on their companies’ social media strategies.
While directors should consider the defensive mechanisms in place, social media presents more than threats to cyber security and reputation. Websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can create new opportunities for brand-building, instantaneous communication, and increased engagement with stakeholders.
Levick represents countries and companies in the highest-stakes global communications matters—from the Wall Street crisis and the Gulf oil spill to Guantanamo Bay and the Catholic Church. Levick was honored for the past three years on NACD Directorship’s list of the 100 most influential people in the boardroom and corporate governance community and has been named to multiple professional halls of fame for lifetime achievement.LEVICK’s digital team is a communications industry leader, deploying potent social media resources on behalf of clients worldwide.
Grafman monetizes content and investor capital for owners of intellectual property. As president of All Media Ventures, he advises investors, content owners, and media companies.
Grafman is chairman of Majesco Entertainment, a video game producer and distributor. He also serves on the board of directors at Big Tent (licensing), Pixfusion (technology), and is an operating partner at Mercury Capital Partners. He publishes frequently (Directors and Boards, NACD Directorship, Licensing Book, Inventors Digest) and contributes to MSNBC’s “Your Business.”
All of this experience has uniquely positioned Grafman to provide insight—from within multiple technology industries—into the importance of social media as a key component of any corporate strategy.
Fay Feeney, a self-described “digital whisperer,” is a trusted advisor to corporate boards and executives on the newest trends in business and social media. Feeney founded Risk for Good to advise board chairs, CEOs, the C-Suite, and the entire boardroom on how they can fast track their learnings in a digital world. In addition, Feeney provides strategic insights on how to connect to real time information, whether it’s found on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, or Google. This is a competency that will strengthen directors’ “duty of care,” while improving their governance of these emerging strategic risks.
Feeney is a regular attendee at governance education events and is an NACD Governance Fellow. Her insights at conferences have always proven fruitful and her participation in this panel is sure to help directors develop their digital skills.
Braun has done it all: entrepreneur, corporate attorney, and television network president and CEO. He has been managed and mentored by some of the world’s best executives and, in turn, has had the opportunity to manage and mentor other talented people who have gone on to great success. He currently serves as the dean of the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
Braun began his career in 1977 as a corporate attorney for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and later joined a client of the firm, International Film Investors (an SBIC), where as senior vice president he structured and negotiated financing and distribution for feature films, including Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Hopscotch, Escape from New York, and The Howling. He has also served as president and COO of Imagine Films Entertainment as well as chairman and CEO of Viacom Entertainment. In this capacity, Braun was responsible for the turnaround of the production/distribution division for prime-time network programming. Continuing his career in the media, Braun served as president of the NBC Television Network and a GE corporate officer. Most recently, he has served as president and COO of Vanguard Animation LLC, which he founded with the producer of the Shrek animated feature franchise.
This is a small sampling of the long career that has uniquely suited Braun to comment on the issues challenging companies today, specifically in the realm of social networks.
Please join this distinguished panel at the “Social Media and Reputational Risk” session at the NACD Board Leadership Conference, and learn how to succeed as a director in the age of social media.
The conference will be held Oct. 14-16 at the Gaylord National Resort inNationalHarbor, M.D.—just minutes from downtown D.C.