Social Media’s Great, Says Abbie Tanner, But It Can Bite Your Firm If You’re Not Equipped For Contingencies
I recently read that 58% of financial advisers are actively using social media, and that 30% say they have seen a ‘measurable or positive effect’ on their business. As an early adopter and advocate of social media, I was heartened by these figures. I’ve seen the positive impact of social media first hand – in my own business, and for the advisers I work with. I even am aware of the fact that many people nowadays buy likes on Facebook and Instagram so as to publicize their content.
Yet, while social media can benefit your marketing and brand – from improved client engagement to opening up new opportunities with prospects, partners and the media – it can also have its drawbacks. And, for a tightly regulated business, these negative consequences can be amplified.
Social media opens up conversations, in a very public forum, between you, your employees, clients, prospects, even your competitors. Unfortunately minor mistakes or inappropriate posts can quickly spread and damage the image of your firm.
Social networking also provides a window into how people live their lives. As an employer, should you be looking through that window? The lines often blur between personal and professional personas, and cases of people being fired over social media posts are on rise.
One notable case is that of ‘Cisco Fatty’, the University of California student who posted a tweet about an internship with the software giant: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”
I’m sure you can guess how the story ends. The tweet was discovered by Cisco and the offer was withdrawn, amid a firestorm of publicity.
So how can you police social media? The very nature of this communications channel is to facilitate open and honest conversations held ‘in the moment’ – not pre-written, screened and compliance approved, published days after an event with the intended impact severely diluted. (Sound familiar to those of you who are butting heads with your compliance officer?).
This issue is something that advisers, providers and the regulator alike are grappling with. A firm I worked with several years ago simply elected to ‘turn off’ social media sites through company mobile devices and networked computers. I don’t think this solves the problem, because employees will simply get around the ban outside of working hours.
In my opinion, the solution lies in a robust Social Media Policy (interestingly, recent research from Intelliflo estimates that just one in four advisory firms operate a social media policy). Your policy needs to be a fluid document, given the fast pace of change in the social media landscape, and it should sit alongside your email and internet usage policy.
In addition to your Social Media Policy, some advocates suggest you should monitor social media usage, keeping an eye on employees’ tweets and updates around the clock. In my opinion this is impractical and unnecessary. I believe in ‘spot checks’ and only looking into a team member’s social media usage if there is a clear reason to suspect wrongdoing.
What Your Policy Should Include
Your Social Media Policy needs to provide clear guidance to your team regarding how they use social networking websites, to ensure they use sites responsibly and are careful about what they say online. Your policy should:
- Address personal and professional use
- Prohibit the sharing of confidential information
- Advise employees that the reputation of the firm, and profession, needs to be upheld
- Ensure that any complaints about cyberbullying or discrimination are dealt with seriously
- Outline any monitoring that will take place by the employer (and when)
- Stipulate how long and when employees can use social media
- Include guidance on social media account ownership
- Stipulate any disclosures to be included on account profiles (i.e. to identify opinions as those of the account owner, not the firm, as appropriate)
- Advise of any disciplinary action a breach of the policies could result in
- Provide awareness and training on the impact of social media activities
I recently came across Tesco’s Social Media Guidelines . Short and sweet, they provide specific direction for employees speaking ‘on behalf of’ and ‘about’ Tesco. Definitely worth a read if you are compiling a policy for your firm.
At the end of the day I believe common sense should prevail. Social Media is a very public forum and should be used responsibly. Don’t ever post anything you wouldn’t be happy for your parents or children to read, and make sure there is a clear distinction between your personal and professional lives.
As an employer, you might not be able to stop a disgruntled employee from posting negative comments online, but you can have a clear procedure for dealing with issues such as this. A robust Social Media Policy will set a strong foundation for your firm and ensure matters are dealt with swiftly and professionally.
Abbie Tanner is CEO of the consultancy A Business Innovation