Sales & Marketing

Learn your firm’s policy and discuss your social media plans

By Beatrice Paez |

Imagine having to print out an email and get approval from compliance before sending it to a client. As absurd as that might sound, many financial advisors recall the days when that process was standard practice, says Amy McIlwain, global industry principal at Hootsuite in New York. 

A similar story can be told about the way the financial services sector first dealt with social media.

But as more advisors get on board with social media, McIlwain anticipates a shift from a "pre-review" to a "post-review" system, in which advisors will have greater freedom to be responsive in real time.

Still, as it stands at most firms, compliance retains a tight grip on social media standards. And while you may be limited by the parameters set by your firm, you can still have some individuality in shaping your social media profile.

By working with your firm's compliance department, you can develop a social media strategy that works for you and expresses your unique identity without violating your firm's standards:

> Learn your firm's rules
Every firm has its own policy regarding what types of content can be shared on social media, says Meagan Herfkens Hency, vice president of marketing at Hearsay Social in San Francisco.

That's why it's important to contact your resident social media resource to learn the best practices prescribed by your firm for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

If you anticipate that a post will push the regulatory limits, talk to compliance, says Keri Bush, chief compliance officer at BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto.

Nurturing that relationship from the start can help you learn to determine what's appropriate, particularly if you plan to share content outside the firm's library of pre-approved articles.

> Seek approval in advance
While the turnaround to get compliance's approval to share information can take longer than a day, it's still possible to offer a timely take on issues you're qualified to speak on.

If you're intent on posting your own insights, Bush says, get in touch with compliance ahead of time to discuss how you plan to post content on a particular subject and why it's relevant to your practice.

For example, you may want to write and share a blog post about the impact a given tax policy might have on the real estate market. To make the approval process as smooth as possible, Bush recommends you stick to reporting the facts rather than inserting your own analysis.

> Choose your words carefully
Compliance often conducts a "contextual analysis" of a post, says Bush. That involves assessing the implications of a message and gauging whether it can be open to interpretation.

"We're focused on the tone and the context," says Bush, adding that this type of assessment can be particularly tricky for tweets because of the character limit. Her firm's approach is to edit for clarity when needed, working with advisors to refine their message, so that the intended audience can understand it.

As for the place for humour on social media, Bush says, there is room to make lighthearted commentary, as long as it's appropriate, relevant and tasteful: "[The message] has to be accessible and straightforward."

This is the second part in a two-part series on social media and compliance.

Click here for part one.

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