Last night I returned from my first public speaking engagement at a conference. The conference organizer is Ryan Smith, an outstanding Dave Ramsey endorsed local provider in Utah. Not only is he a client, but he’s quickly becoming a trusted confidant too – partly because he’s so friendly and social. From the movies and how the media portrays these financial planners as Wall Street 1%ers, I’ve always had the impression that these guys were stuffy and unfriendly. With Ryan Smith and his group, it couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re down to earth, friendly and social.
As a marketer I write a lot of ad copy and other messaging. Most companies that are thought leaders have a very social and friendly way of communicating in their copy. Ryan’s group is growing and his company is definitely in the magic quadrant as far as company success and thought leadership goes. However, before attending this conference and getting a more intimate understanding of the vast regulations that restrict their marketing communication styles, I was always a little surprised at how sterile their messaging needed to be.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the organization that polices the way financial service professionals communicate with clients and potential clients. FINRA has a lot of regulations my client is beholden to when creating marketing content: they must have record of all messaging they use, all social media must be archived, there must be someone on staff fulfilling a compliance role that reviews all new content, in social media you cannot make any recommendations and must be absolutely neutral in representing new/potential investment opportunities, etc.
FINRA and the SEC take their regulation very seriously and will withdraw licensure and levy enormous fines to any financial service professionals who don’t follow their guidelines. As such, Ryan and his team are very careful in all their social media.
That being said, here are some ways we’ve still been able to use social media to their advantage.
Social media guidelines to follow when posting on behalf of financial service professionals:
- Static content (that being put up as a static web page, being printed in brochures, etc) still needs to be run through FINRA for compliance approval. Interactive content (social media generally) isn’t considered “planned communications” and thus it can go out with being FINRA approved. Interactive content still needs to be archived and needs to follow FINRA guidelines, you just don’t need to run it all by FINRA first.
- If you publish a post/tweet that is FINRA compliant, but then 3rd parties (usually just other consumers/investors coming in to the conversation to share their opinions) come in and post non-compliant content the financial planner isn’t responsible for that content… which makes sense as they often have no way of policing those comments. However, their archiving tool does need to record all 3rd party posts published in response to the FINRA compliant post that started the conversation. So, another valuable marketing tool that you should add to your arsenal is a social media archiving tool.
- You still need to run posts by the compliance officer for whatever firm you’re posting on behalf of, but to make their job easier make sure you avoid absolutes, such as “is.” Instead use “may.” I know… I hate this legalese as it doesn’t let an organizations true personality shine through, but it’s necessary.
- Also, regurgitating what others have said and quoting them or linking to news articles is generally a safe bet. This is a way you can get the organizations personality to shine through a bit. If you’re always linking to MSNBC articles you may be more left leaning in the political spectrum. If you link to Fox News it shows your organization is leaning the other direction. If you post to Dave Ramsey articles you’re representing the organization as a smarter investment firm that doesn’t invest on fads. Notice that that last sentence wasn’t FINRA compliant, as it was taking an absolute position stating that Dave Ramsey’s investment style is a “smarter” one. I can say it because I’m not a registered financial planner. 🙂
I’ll be in Europe on a much needed vacation during the next FINRA annual conference (May 20 – 22), so I won’t be able to attend the advertising regulation break outs, but I’ve heard from someone in the industry that FINRA is going to post all the sessions online (video format) a few weeks after the conference. So, I encourage anyone working in the financial services sector to watch the FINRA site for those videos.
In the meantime, if you’ve had any FINRA run ins, I’d love to have you leave them here in the compliance section! Umm… comment section. Shows where my mind has been living the last few days.Author's Google+