The Shareholder Forum

supporting investor interests in long term enterprise value

 

Purpose & History of Services

The Shareholder Forum

The Shareholder Forum supports investor interests in corporate enterprise value with services that require independence – and that may benefit from the Forum’s network resources and recognition for advocacy of long term investor interests – to assure a definition of relevant issues and fair access to information that can be relied upon by both corporate and investor decision-makers.

The policies that provide a foundation for the Forum’s marketplace functions have been carefully developed and tested to allow any investor to participate in its communications, either anonymously or visibly, without acting in concert. Established originally to accommodate professional fund managers, this independent moderator function has proved to be consistently effective in managing orderly processes of issue definition for rational analysis by fiduciaries who are responsible for informed decisions.

Initiated in 1999 by the New York Society of Security Analysts with lead investor and former corporate investment banker Gary Lutin as guest chairman to address the professional interests of its members, and independently supported by Mr. Lutin since 2001, Forum programs have achieved wide recognition for their effective definition of important issues and orderly exchange of the information and views needed to resolve them. The Forum's ability to convene all key decision-making constituencies and influence leaders has been applied to subjects ranging from corporate control contests to the establishment of consensus marketplace standards for fair disclosure, and has been relied upon by virtually every major U.S. fund manager and the many other investors who have participated in programs that addressed their interests.

Currently important applications of the Forum’s independent position include the support of corporate managers who wish to provide the leadership expected of them by responding to activist challenges with orderly reviews of issues relevant to long term investor interests.

Requests for Shareholder Forum consideration of support may be initiated confidentially by any investor or by the subject company, or by the professional advisors to either.

 

For other reports relating to shareholder communications and SEC regulations, see

 

 

Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2009 article

 

Need a Real Sponsor here

THEORY & PRACTICE   |   APRIL 27, 2009

Corporate Blogs and 'Tweets' Must Keep SEC in Mind

Social Media Offer Immediacy and Spontaneity to Communications but Risk Running Afoul of Regulations


An eBay Inc. effort to broaden communication through the popular Twitter Web-messaging service highlights the hurdles facing corporate users of online social media.

The online auctioneer launched a corporate blog in April 2008. Two months later, blogger Richard Brewer-Hay began "tweeting" -- posting updates on Twitter -- about Silicon Valley technology conferences, eBay's quarterly earnings calls and other topics.

[Twitter]

Twitter

Here are some big companies with corporate blogs that link to corporate Twitter accounts:

Best Buy
Safeway
Cisco Systems
Toys 'R' Us
Dell
Johnson & Johnson
Wells Fargo
Microsoft
Time Warner
FedEx
New York Life Insurance
McDonald's
Oracle
Google
Avnet
Amazon.com
CBS
Texas Instruments
EMC
Monsanto
Whole Foods Market
Newell Rubbermaid
Symantec

Source: Society for New Communications Research

Note: Other big companies may have Twitter accounts that are not featured on their corporate blogs.

 

 

 

The growing Twitter audience also attracted the attention of eBay's lawyers, who last month required Mr. Brewer-Hay to include regulatory disclaimers with certain posts. Some followers think the tougher oversight is squelching Mr. Brewer-Hay's spontaneous, informal style.

His experience shows the tension that can arise as more companies tap social media to reach investors, customers and others. Eighty-one Fortune 500 companies sponsor public blogs, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Chevron Corp. and General Motors Corp., according to the Society for New Communications Research. Of those blogs, 23 link to corporate Twitter accounts.

On Thursday, a Johnson & Johnson executive reported for the first time on the health-care giant's annual meeting via Twitter, which allows users to post "tweets" of as many as 140 characters from devices with Internet access.

Such efforts raise thorny questions. Blogs and tweets can run afoul of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations on corporate communications. But sanitizing such posts risks hurting credibility with online audiences.

"This is all new to companies, and they're not sure where they can go," says Dominic Jones, editor of IR Web Report, an online newsletter for investor-relations professionals.

The SEC boasts its own Twitter account, and encourages companies to communicate to investors via the Web. In July, the commission said companies could disseminate certain information on the Web without issuing a news release.

But even some tech-savvy companies remain wary. Intel Corp. in May will be among the first companies to allow shareholders to ask questions via the Web and vote online during its annual meeting. But the chip maker avoids blogs and Twitter for investor issues, because it fears violating SEC disclosure rules or inviting public criticism in a company-hosted forum, says Kevin Sellers, vice president of investor relations.

"There's always going to be a person with an axe to grind," he says. "Do we really want to sponsor that?"

Employees' online chatter has created problems elsewhere. Two Texas lawyers last year sued Cisco Systems Inc. and an employee for defamation after the employee in a blog accused the pair of criminal activity in a case against Cisco. The case is pending, and the employee left Cisco voluntarily later last year.

EBay hired Mr. Brewer-Hay in January 2008, as it sought to shore up its reputation among sellers on its Web site. It asked the social-media veteran to be an "internal reporter" to increase transparency and put a face on the company, says Jose Mallabo, eBay's director of corporate communications.

His informal tweets proved popular, attracting 1,400 "followers" today, up from 345 on Jan. 1. During a January conference call, Chief Executive John Donahoe told investors that eBay's Skype Internet-telephone service offered only "minimal" synergies with the rest of the company. "Watch this space," Mr. Brewer-Hay tweeted. On April 14, eBay said it planned to spin off Skype.

These days, Mr. Brewer-Hay is more restrained around financial matters. He posted around 75 tweets from his computer during eBay's quarterly earnings call Wednesday. Most repeated verbatim comments by eBay executives.

Users noticed a change. Mr. Brewer-Hay's prior tweets were "much more personal," says Sue Bailey, a follower who sells jewelry on eBay and writes a blog on e-commerce. In the past, she says, "it didn't feel like eBay tweeting, it felt like Richard tweeting."

Mr. Brewer-Hay says he's trying to stick to the script. "There's much more of a microscope on what I'm doing now," he says.

He and other corporate tweeters say the service offers companies many benefits, with manageable risks. Chuck Hollis, a vice president of corporate marketing at EMC Corp., says Twitter helps him spread company news and track the opinions of employees, investors and outsiders.

"The immediacy can be breathtaking," he says. "You can't ignore Twitter as part of your overall corporate social-media strategy, just like you can't ignore Google."

Corporate lawyers say companies should devise a social-media policy before adopting blogs or Twitter. "All of the traditional ways that a company can get in trouble for making public statements" apply to the Web, says Lisa Wood, of Foley Hoag LLP.

She urges companies to include the standard disclaimers they use in other communications, as Mr. Brewer-Hay now does. Ms. Wood says companies shouldn't disclose financial information on Twitter that isn't available elsewhere, and should make clear that opinions expressed by others in company-sponsored forums -- like comments on blogs -- don't represent management's views.

Write to Cari Tuna at cari.tuna@wsj.com

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page B4

 

Copyright ©2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

Inquiries, requests to be included in email distribution lists, and suggestions of new Forum subjects may be addressed to inquiry@shareholderforum.com.

Publicly open programs of the Shareholder Forum are conducted for free participation of all shareholders of a subject company and any fiduciaries or professionals concerned with their decisions, according to the Forum’s stated "Conditions of Participation." In all cases, each participant is expected to make independent use of information obtained through the Forum, and participation is considered private unless the party specifically authorizes identification.

The information provided to Forum participants is intended for their private reference, and permission has not been granted for the republishing of any copyrighted material. The material presented on this web site is the responsibility of Gary Lutin, as chairman of the Shareholder Forum.

Shareholder Forum™ is a trademark owned by The Shareholder Forum, Inc., for the programs conducted since 1999 to support investor access to decision-making information. It should be noted that we have no responsibility for the services that Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., introduced for review in the Forum's 2010 "E-Meetings" program and has since been offering with the “Shareholder Forum” name, and we have asked Broadridge to use a different name that does not suggest our support or endorsement.