A wealth management firm's first foray into social media can be fraught with risks. Taking a measured approach is essential to avoid embarrassment, or worse, being caught out of compliance with regulatory requirements set out by state laws, regulatory rulings and federal regulations.

So what are the most common mistakes a firm could make when introducing social?

1) Not identifying and involving stakeholders early.

Going it alone is not an option when it comes to launching social media within an organization. A non-exhaustive list of stakeholders include corporate communications, marketing, investor relations, public relations, human relations, risk, legal, compliance, customer service, registered reps, IT, data security and senior management.

Not everyone will be enthusiastic about social media, but they each bring a different perspective and could identify areas of risk that an organization would want to work through before launching any social media initiative.

Importantly, there are typically only a few people in any organization that can say “yes” to a project and almost everyone can say “no.” And they will, unless you get their buy-in before launch.

2) Not doing enough research.

Look at your competitors and see what other organizations in regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or energy are doing. They would have to comply with similar regulatory requirements when it comes to social media. Research could reveal real-world examples and inspiration as to how your firm may want to use social media.

For example, when it comes to recruiting, some firms may use LinkedIn as a recruitment tool, with frequent job postings, videos and background on the firm. Or perhaps they use Facebook to illustrate the culture of the firm through philanthropy, events, photos, employee highlights and campus recruitment. Many use Twitter to post more factual updates such as press releases, links to white papers and events.

And don’t forget to research your own firm’s presence on social media. What is the sentiment towards your firm? Technology is available to help you in this area and to provide alerts when negative sentiment appears online. When negativity occurs, it’s more effective to join the conversation – correcting misconceptions and offering customer service – than to not be a part of the conversation at all.

From a regulatory perspective, it’s equally important to know whether your individual employees are adhering to your existing social media policies. In June 2013 FINRA issued an examination letter outlining requirements for a spot check of social media. Broker-dealers need to be prepared to provide an explanation of how the firm and registered persons are using social media and to provide a list of the firm’s top producing registered representatives using social media. So do your research!

3) Not developing a content strategy.

When Warren Buffet created a Twitter account and sent out his first tweet on May 2nd, 2013, there was great excitement. Despite garnering more than 805,000 followers, he has since tweeted only four times. But some commentators deem this to be worse than if he had never set up a profile in the first place.

Social media is a real-time medium. That means compelling content, provided on a regular schedule, is what will draw followers, customers and prospects to your brand. Most firms start by creating an inventory of pre-existing content currently available on their websites and other content repositories that can be leveraged for social media.
Firms could consider including industry trends, economic analysis, industry expertise, general topics on managing risk, saving and wealth management, news, press releases, events, appearances or quotes from your subject matter experts. Some firms look through their 50 page white papers to extract interesting, standalone tidbits of information and link back to the source document.

Remember that you should be prepared to handle queries or comments from your followers about your posts in a timely way, too. Social media is about two-way conversations, not a broadcast medium for corporate advertising.

4) Not properly training employees.

Training is essential to the success of any social media deployment. It's also required by FINRA and the SEC. The training should illustrate your corporate social media policies and explain what is allowed and what is prohibited. If features are blocked or prohibited, provide the reason to enhance compliance.

Providing specific examples of dos and don’ts accelerates the learning process when training advisors. In addition to fundamental training required by the regulators, advisors need training on best practices. Show participants how to set up profiles, engage with followers, contribute to communities, demonstrate expertise, grow their networks and analyze their effectiveness. Discuss the advantages of various networks to help users select which network best meets their needs.

Don’t forget that not everyone within the firm approaches social media with the same level of skill or experience. So make sure the training provides tips for using social media authentically, engagingly and effectively.

5) Not understanding the regulatory requirements.

Understanding the requirements set out in FINRA Regulatory Notices 10-06, 11-36 12-29 and recent guidance provided by the SEC is essential to avoiding non-compliance and potentially expensive sanctions.
For example, FINRA requires that:

  • Firms ensure proper record keeping of social media communications.
  • Firms qualify customer testimonials and endorsements for registered representatives which might mean prohibiting "Recommendations" and "Skills & Endorsements" on LinkedIn, for instance.
  • Recommendations are suitable, meaning it may be impossible for investing recommendations to be made on social media.
  • Firms ensure that all advertising communications are accurate, fair, balanced and not misleading.
  • Employees are properly supervised and evidence of supervision is provided to regulators.

In addition, the SEC, in its “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” guidance, suggests that each firm identify and consider the compliance implications of social media and test whether existing policies and procedures address or mitigate those risks. Highlights from the SEC's non-exhaustive list of 13 factors advisors should consider before embarking on social media include:

  • Complying with federal securities laws.
  • Putting in place specific policies governing the use of social media.
  • Identifying risks and test procedures to effectively address risks.
  • Frequency of social media site monitoring.
  • Design and implementation of workflows for pre-approving content.
  • Training and certification of advisors on the use of social media (echoing the advice provided by both FINRA and IIROC in Canada).
  • Allocating sufficient resources to monitor social media.
  • Examining the functionality of each social network to ensure client privacy is upheld and the firm and its clients are protected from security risks such as data leakage and malware.

Recently, the SEC also revised guidance to allow the use of testimonials for investment advisors in certain circumstances. In this latest development, advisors choosing to display customer testimonials will have to display all testimonials received, and cannot cherry pick only the most glowing testimonials. Compliance departments will need to review this new SEC guidance carefully before allowing advisors to accept testimonials.

So, before you embark on your social media journey, ensure that your organization has evaluated and selected the necessary technology and processes to deal with these requirements.

Avoiding these common mistakes will ensure that your firm’s social media journey will be compliant and successful.

Joanna Belbey is a social media and compliance specialist for Actiance.