The SEC’s big IDEA

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been the focus of a lot of attention lately.

Last month, the SEC announced new guidance in using traditional websites and social media channels as legitimate means for companies listed on US stock exchanges to communicate with investors and others.

That announcement will have a far-reaching impact on how organizations communicate, not only listed companies (I’ve outlined some reasons why I think so).

It’s not the death of the press release, as some would advocate; it’s more to do with an evolution in how news and other information is communicated. The distribution, especially, will change.

While that news is still being analyzed, an announcement yesterday from the SEC is, in my view, no less far reaching.

In a press conference that was webcast live – the recording is available – SEC Chairman Christopher Cox (pictured above) presented IDEA, a pretty good acronym for Interactive Data Electronic Applications.

During the course of the next three years, IDEA will replace EDGAR, the SEC’s 1980s-era computer system for filing documents electronically.

For the first time, it will provide the means for anyone with an internet connection – investors, financial analysts, anyone – to more easily find, analyze and extract data and other financial information about US-listed companies held by the SEC.

It’s also clear support for XBRL in financial reporting and information analysis. Maybe this is XBRL’s tipping point.

The SEC’s press release has the details and there is plenty of commentary and opinion.

Of equal interest to me was the prominent role social media played in yesterday’s event.

To start with, the SEC has a Twitter account – SEC_Investor_Ed – and posted some comments during the press conference as this screenshot from Summize Twitter Search shows:

This is another example of an organization embracing a communication channel like Twitter with the new alongside the traditional (the physical press conference and a live webcast), just like Dell’s experiment last week.

The Twittercast (to coin a phrase, unless someone else already did that) wasn’t especially dynamic, meaning there was little interaction between SEC_Investor_Ed and anyone following the tweets and posting questions.

Surprising, perhaps, given the opportunity the event presented for anyone with an inclination to ask an awkward question. Whether any question would have been answered via this channel is doubtful, though, especially as SEC_Investor_Ed had twittered that questions should be emailed in.

I’d be interested to know what the SEC communicators think about their experiment with Twitter yesterday. Did it achieve what they had planned? Or did it not? And what had they planned? What would they do differently next time (and surely there will be a next time)?

And what else might they have planned for their own use of social media? It seems to me that the climate within the SEC is fortuitous right now for pushing other social media envelopes.

Elsewhere yesterday, there was live blogging going on.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a reporter at the Financial Times and who writes at FT Alphaville, one of the best investor-focused blogs out there – I saw the nerve centre on my visit to FT headquarters in June – hosted a live blogging session with CoverItLive.

Check out the recording for a blow-by-blow commentary of the webcast as it unfolded, including input from investor relations expert Dominic Jones (who thinks yesterday’s event was largely a publicity stunt, and a successful one) and accountancy expert Francine McKenna.

In a final thought about what I saw in the webcast, I was pretty impressed that SEC Chairman Cox demo’d IDEA himself, actually sitting down and driving the presentation from a PC (a Dell, I noted).

I suppose he could just as easily have had one of the other SEC executives directly involved with IDEA do the demo. But his doing it is a clear signal that he not only supports the project but also is highly conversant with it and able to confidently take you through IDEA, as you can see in the webcast recording.