Social media has taken the world by storm over the last several years, but when it comes to corporate usage, there are some industries that have been a little reluctant to embrace networks like Facebook and Twitter. Chief among them are the financial services providers. The reluctance of investment brokers, lenders, insurance companies, and credit unions to tackle social media head-on is due largely to the need for industry compliance. Regulatory agencies like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hold brokers responsible for following strict communications regulations and hand out severe penalties for non-compliance, so it’s not hard to see why many of these companies have deemed social media more trouble than they’re worth.
But with the growing importance of social networks, financial services institutions can’t afford to avoid Facebook and Twitter and still hope to thrive in an ever more digital marketplace. So the question is, how can companies like Gremln help brokers navigate the compliance minefield of social networks?
First, let’s examine what exactly is it about social networking that poses a potential threat to financial services.
Regulatory agencies like FINRA and SEC exist to protect consumers from financial industry malpractice. FINRA’s mission, for example, is “to protect America’s investors by making sure the securities industry operates fairly and honestly. These regulatory bodies ensure that financial brokers work for the best interests of their clients, rather than for themselves. To this end, regulators have enacted a series of guidelines that mandate acceptable behavior for financial services employees. Financial institutions held accountable by these regulators are obliged to comply with the guidelines they set forth, or else risk penalties. FINRA can charge non-compliant companies fines upwards of $100,000 and can limit their contact with other financial services organizations. Penalties from the SEC can be even harsher.
Some of the rules these regulators have put into place concern the communication of services and service-related items to customers and potential customers. This is where social media regulations come into play. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter provide excellent opportunities for marketing and informational communications between brokers and their audiences, and because of this, all rules regarding overall broker-to-client communications must apply to social media as well.
For example, according to FINRA, “Every firm that intends to communicate, or permit its associated persons to communicate, through social media sites must first ensure that it can retain records of those communications…” It makes sense that firms should have to keep updated records of communications for liability purposes. After all, if FINRA suspects a company of communicational non-compliance, both sides are going to need those records to make a solid case. To a certain extent, this record-keeping mandate is easy to do when the main communications channel is email. Emails are already typed up and stored online, they can be easily downloaded, and most email programs make it extremely easy to archive messages within the system. But social media sites make it pretty difficult. Facebook communications remain on the social network, but in a rather organic, disorganized manner, and Twitter only maintains records of past messages for several months. The level of record-keeping required for any broker using social media can be overwhelming, to say the least, and likely plays a large role in the decision of financial services companies to steer clear of social media.
Another FINRA regulation states, “…firms must supervise these interactive electronic communications…in a manner reasonably designed to ensure that they do not violate the content requirements of FINRA’s communications rules.” In other words, one or more managers at each financial services company must be responsible for supervising the messages that their employees broadcast via social media to make sure that each message is within the bounds of compliance. According to FINRA, any message sent via social media must be suitable for all potential audiences. This means that brokers cannot offer personalized investment advice to any one person, or any one group of people, through social networks, because that investment information may not be suitable for other potential investors. Social networks like Twitter make it so easy to share one person’s messages with countless others, so even private messages or Twitter @mentions must be suitable for all audiences, lest they become shared publicly and have negative repercussions on external investors.
This need for supervision means each FINRA-compliant company must have at least one person monitoring all outbound social media communications from all company representatives. If the need to keep detailed records on communications isn’t enough to make a manager throw up her hands in frustration, the added stress of micromanaging social networks almost certainly will be.
Keeping a company within the bounds of social network compliance is a big job with potentially severe repercussions. Heavily regulated industries are in great need of a toolset that helps them navigate the dangerous social terrain.
And that’s where we come in.
We here at Gremln are excited to announce our upcoming social media compliance tools designed specifically for industries that adhere to strict regulation. This includes not only financial services, but also healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, which need to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Our compliance tools make it easy for these companies to utilize social media while remaining within the bounds of regulatory compliance.
Team and Message Supervision
Gremln’s Team Management tools make it easy for a communications supervisor to organize the company’s social media efforts around a group of people, whether that group is a small, dedicated social media team or the sum total of every broker in the office. The Team Management tools allow various users to post to the same social networks while automatically keeping tabs on which user posted which messages. It also includes a message assignment feature, so any member of the team can assign incoming messages to the most appropriate social media respondent.
Sometimes, in order to remain compliant with regulations, supervisors will need to edit, or altogether delete, messages before they make it to Facebook or Twitter. Gremln’s keyword compliance tool makes this process a snap. Just enter a list of non-compliant keywords and phrases that should either rarely or never occur in your company’s tweets, and Gremln will alert you any time a team member tries to send a social message containing this keyword. If your company is not allowed to guarantee return on investment in its outgoing communications, simply add the word “guarantee” to your list of compliance keywords; Gremln will flag any messages that contain the word “guarantee” and pull them aside so that you can edit or delete them before they hit the public forum. This tool even has a profanity filter that blocks those delicate words and phrases that should never appear in corporate messages.
Gremln keeps all of your outgoing messages on file in your account. You can access them at any time, and you can sort them quickly and easy by date, by network, or by the name of the team member who sent the message. If you’d rather compile your archive on your own computer’s hard drive, Gremln provides a quick and easy export tool that will convert all of your messages into an Excel file or a flat file.
We’re extremely excited about how these new compliance tools will open new doors for highly regulated industries. These companies will no longer have to shy away from the vast potential of the social media marketplace, and we at Gremln are proud to be a part of that important transition. If you’d like more information on Gremln’s compliance tools, contact us here, or leave a comment below!