The SEC is making it easier for companies to ride the social media wave.

Earlier this week, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) released a report declaring that companies could use social media channels to communicate newsworthy events. A key caveat in this ruling is that companies have to disclose where they will be breaking key news items.

The SEC report highlights the pervasiveness of social media. As an institution, the SEC is not necessarily known to be on the cutting edge of marketing communication tactics. However, the SEC has observed that companies are turning more & more to social media to get messages out there as fast as possible. The key driver in the SEC ruling was a Netflix branding action. Last summer, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings posted on his personal Facebook page that the company had exceeded one billion hours of streaming video for the first time, a fact that had not been disclosed elsewhere prior to the Facebook status update. Mashable noted that the Facebook posting caused Netflix stock to rise.

One of the key takeaways from this SEC decision is that social media platforms have proliferated to a point where they are considered mainstream. In many circles, there is a sense that the most important information gets transmitted through social media. Think about your own personal life for a minute. Do you get key news about your social circle more from Facebook or Twitter updates or from one to one interpersonal means like in person visits or phone calls? In a lot of cases, social media is how people keep tabs on one another, for better or worse. Those in the investment space are often keeping tabs on publicly traded companies via social media. I perceive this as an idea related to communication theorist Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “The medium is the message” . I believe that the way in which we communicate a message affects how it is interpreted by a target audience, whether in business or in one’s personal life.

What does all of this mean for the marketing process?

I believe this event is part of a continuing pattern that is emphasizing digital marketing means. The more solidified a brand’s online presence is, the more well positioned that they are to succeed. There’s a greater expectation now of a more fully formed digital presence, and a fully formed digital presence could be perceived as a baseline for a brand to have a relationship with a customer. The baseline could be enough for certain brands. A typical consumer is not going to have a truly deep relationship with their toothpaste brand of choice. However, in industries where distributed marketing models are used, such as insurance and financial services, there is often an interpersonal interaction component to the producer-consumer relationship. That impacts the brand experience and would also serve to impact the way that the social media channel presence is perceived, due to greater context.

Online channels exist for people and for brands to more easily disseminate messages. Even though social media has become pervasive, the challenge of quality communications does not end due to ease of use. Brands face a greater challenge than ever in effectively distributing, optimizing and managing content across an ever expanding pool of digital channels. Marketing automation software is a key path that numerous brands have chosen as a resource to address this challenge. The brands that are able to address this challenge most effectively are the ones that will grow their amongst their target market and on their income statement.