FINRA is Official Social Media Guide for Financial Advisors

As content writer for professional service and financial service organizations, I find that all my customer segments are not playing on a level playing field in regard to social media. Specifically, I’m talking about financial advisors, financial planners, broker-dealers – those people licensed to help other people with planning their financial futures and investing appropriately.

Like others that have to be adept at personal marketing and selling, financial service professionals have discovered the benefits of social media and online marketing. Unlike most of us though, financial professionals have a pretty heavy regulatory burden. Mind you, I’m all for protecting consumers from the unscrupulous advisors, but I can empathize with financial service professionals and their bafflement with their oversight.

They answer to Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FINRA is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States.

The question then is, “How does a registered representative leverage social media and stay in compliance?”

The answer is a bit convoluted. The easiest way to manage the “stay in compliance” part is not the play the game. In other words, omit social media from your marketing mix, even though it’s fast becoming an expectation by many consumers. Consumers expect to interact with people and organizations regarding most every aspect of the consuming lives: cars, restaurants, hotel destinations, and yes, financial services and products.

Follow the FINRA bible of social media

Step #1 to using social media while staying in compliance is to read (and print out) the “Guide to the Web for Registered Representatives.”  It is the official rulebook, however, it can be vague at times, and it’s periodically updated and/or interpreted by FINRA and other regulatory bodies. Watch for the updates, too, of course. Google Alerts is a handy and free tool for getting updates when certain keywords, or topics, are mentioned in cyberspace.

Step #2 is to learn how respected organizations and people interpret the guidelines, and to keep track of how FINRA rules on those people and organizations that are using social media that are out of the ordinary, or not specifically covered by FINRA. Social media is so new and so different that we’re going to see changes in the guidelines evolve on a continual basis.

Nuts and bolts of FINRA social media guidelines

A number of organizations are closely following and summarizing the latest information coming from FINRA. Since they do a nice job of providing the “nuts and bolts” of social media compliance for the financial services industry, I will not try to duplicate their efforts. Instead, I will mention a few that I found very helpful.

  • FINRA. Always start with FINRA, and state/local regulatory bodies. They are the ultimate source of how financial services professionals can use social media.
  • Socialware. Socialware is headquartered in Austin, Texas. The company (in their own words) “operates a social middleware platform that enables enterprises to transform public social networking Websites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter into enterprise-grade channels for communication and collaboration.” They also are closely following trends in social media for the financial services industry and share their insights in the Socialware blog/website.
  • HearSaySocial. Hearsay Social offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) social media management platform that acts as a layer on top of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media. The company says it offers the only social media management solution that comprehensively addresses content, compliance, and analytics for corporate-to-local companies. The Hearsay blog and Ally Basak Russell, of Hearsay, are good sources of information about FINRA and social media use in marketing financial services.

If you know of other sources of good information, please let me know! Good luck with leveraging social media in your business.

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