As human beings, our behavior hasn’t changed for centuries. We naturally socialize. Socializing our buying decisions is something that we have done for centuries. Social media simply allows us to connect with those wider social groups—geographically—making our social groups more potent as our social interactions become public through social media.
As social media continues to evolve, so too does its usage and the regulations surrounding those professions adhering to compliance requirements. Starting in 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued regulatory notices to provide guidance regarding the use of social media in the financial services profession, specifically Notice 10-06 and then in 2011, Notice 11-39.
Why haven’t more financial services firms embraced social media as part of their sales and marketing programs?
Some of the key reasons are regulatory.
FINRA, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and several other regulatory bodies outside the U.S., each impose strict guidelines and rules on the use of all electronic communications, including social media. This demands careful oversight of online communications and activities to ensure that financial advisors aren’t using social media channels inappropriately or without retaining records of all communications.
A sampling of Social Media-Related Notices and Rules
- FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-06: Summary: Static content on social media sites and blogs are considered advertisements and need to be pre-approved. However, interactive content, like chat rooms, is considered non-static and does not require pre-approval by a registered principal prior to use.
- FINRA Regulatory Notice 11-39: Summary: To answer some of the questions raised by Notice 10-06, this notice clarifies that it’s the content of the communication rather than the channel that is being reviewed. Firms are also subject to the “adoption” and “entanglement” theories regarding third-party posts, and that business communication through personal devices must be supervised and recorded.
- NASD Rule 3010: Summary: Members must establish, maintain, and enforce written procedures for communications of registered representatives
- IRS Circular 230: Summary: Tax professionals could be subject to penalties regarding written advice, including their use of social media such as blogs, and Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter comments.
- New FINRA Rule 2210 (effective February 2013): describes various communications categories (institutional, retails, correspondence), and approval, review and record keeping requirements for each
- SEC Rules 17a-3 and 17a-4: require written, enforceable retention policies, searchable index, viewable and readily retrievable, offsite storage, and storage of data on WORM (write once, read many) optical media
In addition to making sure they adhere to the rules and regulations, firms are also concerned about the risks of data leakage, malware, and viruses. However, as new technologies have emerged to address regulatory and security challenges, financial service firms are demonstrating to their senior management that the risks of using social media may be mitigated.
What it all boils down to is this. Before engaging in any social media activity for your firm, be aware of the regulations surrounding social media in a professional services firm. Take them into consideration and demonstrate that you have taken a thoughtful approach. Put the review process into place. And most importantly, identify an influential principal of the firm who will champion the effort. It’s worth the effort. As firms slowly adopt social media within their distributed teams as a means to reach out to clients and customers, they are beginning to see increases in new customers and revenues that more than offset their initial concerns about the risks.