Social Media Policy: Getting Clear on the Rules

We’ve heard stories of disgruntled employees who are pink-slipped after committing some social media sin deemed unacceptable by their powers that be. To avoid a similar fate, take a close look at the principles and standards that govern your employees’ or firm’s use of Facebook and other social media channels. Are they clear and accessible, undefined, or vague?

There’s no room for ambiguity here, particularly given the question of financial advisor compliance. Social media policies are akin to the investment policy statements you draft to define and confirm financial objectives. A social media policy ensures your firm’s management and staff have a clear understanding on how social media activity needs to work in relationship to the business. The policy eliminates any confusion and helps protect the best interests of your firm, brand, and its employees.

Here are a few tips to help educate yourself on a social media policy and also to get you started on establishing a policy to serve your own company:

1. Understand the Playing Field. Advisory firms must be aware of all compliance-related issues associated with social media activity and participation. This information needs to be clearly outlined in your social media policy.

2. Common Sense=Common Use. Despite disclosures and disclaimers, the public may still form opinions about your firm based on employee statements or actions. Anyone on the payroll who is allowed to speak about the company must write knowledgeably, accurately, and display top-notch professionalism.

3. The Internet Never Forgets. Courtesy of search engines, screen grabs, cached files, archiving, and way back machines, every shred of content put forth on the Internet lives, forevermore. Advise employees they shouldn’t publish any statement, photo, or comment they’ll be embarrassed to see five, 10 or 20 years from now.

4. Confidentiality. Company information that’s not available to the public cannot ever be shared or discussed on the Internet. This includes information regarding personnel. A confidentiality breach can expose your firm to liability.

5. Privacy is an Illusion. The opposite concept to confidentiality is that privacy is a myth where Internet activity is concerned. Behave as if any update, direct message, or communication will be posted on the front page of the New York Times. If it’s not suitable for the newsstand, don’t hit the publish button.

6. Inform Management. Any employee who intends to create personal, non-company content (such as a blog) and reference their company or its current or potential products, employees, partners, customers, or industry competitors must inform management prior to posting, to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations. (The term “getting dooced” didn’t materialize out of thin air, after all.)

7. It Never Hurts to Ask; It Sometimes Hurts When You Don’t. Err on the side of caution. If an employee is ever doubtful of the appropriateness of a potential comment or post, ask them to consult with human resources prior to publishing.

These guidelines will get you started on the road to realizing the importance of putting a social media policy in place. As always, consult with a legal professional to assist in the development of your official social media protocol for financial services online marketing.

There’s peace in knowing your social media outreach will be protected by a staff that has full understanding of the boundaries you’ve built around social media use.

To read more on this topic, click here to read a similar, unabridged blog post I wrote on AdvisorTweets.com, titled Social Media: What’s Your Policy? .

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