Social Media Whac-A-Mole

Is social media just an electronic version of Whac-A-Mole?  It can certainly feel that way at times. New functionality seems to pop up on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter with all the regularity of the moles in the classic arcade game. New sites frequently emerge with social media users joining the conversation every second. It seems like a choice must be made between holding down a day job and trying to under-stand social media.

Can a company and its employees keep informed of the changes, and is it worth the effort?

Research says yes. Social media has become the leading communication phenomenon of this generation. Sixty percent of financial advisors use social media for business purposes and, of those, nearly 50 percent have been able to identify new referrals that resulted from their social networking presence. The use of social media by financial professionals will continue to increase and is expected to grow to more than 70 percent by the end of this year.

Although use of these tools is clearly advantageous to advisors, a company without oversight could be put in danger of being out of compliance with FINRA regulations that guide communications with the public. Recent regulatory changes have required companies to provide social media training to their producers to avoid these risks. Through training, companies can help producers take complex topics and present the information in a readily accessible format.

How should a company address its social media training needs?

LIMRA research indicates a company is best served when it aligns its train-ing with the firm’s business model, policies and procedures. Companies don’t change business models merely by adopting social media. They seek to access the markets and sales opportunities appropriate to their business through social media. Understanding this first point helps narrow the breadth of social media sites a firm might choose to use and therefore narrows the training focus.

Next, from the list of social media sites that a company might choose to use, tactical decisions are made regarding the actual sites and the specific functionality within those sites that will be used. It is not necessary to use all available social media tools, only those that fit social media marketing campaigns or tactics appropriate for the intended message, and which will help reach intended targets. Once a financial services firm has created models for specific social media tactics, it can then assess those models against the realities of laws and regulations and the ability of the firm to meet such obligations.

What should a company consider when designing a training program?

For all of the discussion about social media, it is still a new way of communicating. Training programs should not assume in-depth knowledge of social media sites. In fact, social media training should assume little or no knowledge of these sites for one simple reason: use of these sites in a business setting is largely prohibited in the financial ser-vices industry. Companies need to provide training to help employees use the social media sites appropriately, complying with the companies’ policies and procedures, regardless of the employees’ perceived knowledge and personal use. Social media training should not only include established professionals, but also new recruits just out of college. It cannot be assumed that Gen Y and millennial users of social media will understand the potential for problems in business settings. Consider pictures. Students will share pictures of friends and family on Facebook regularly, by and large without repercussions. What would happen if that same person, now an employee of your firm, shared pictures of co-workers or clients on a social site without authorization? What are the consequences of posting pictures of a speaker at a conference if that speaker did not provide such authorization? Proper business use of social media cannot be assumed even for those demo-graphic cohorts most immersed in the technology. The simple fact is that personal use and business use are two different things.

An effective training program needs to provide employees with information about the sites and functions allowed by company policies and procedures. It is important to offer a brief description of each site’s functionality, along with detailed information about the particular risks associated with the social media sites and functions described.

The last high-level requirement is that social media training is not a once-and-done proposition. It should change as rapidly as the social media sites themselves. This is a tall order, requiring time and dedication. To alleviate the pressure for companies to develop their own training, LIMRA, partnering with Socialware, has developed a practical, easy-to-use program.  Insights: Advisor Series offers customized social media training for financial services companies.

Stephen Selby , LIMRA director of regulatory services, is deploying social media training jointly developed by LIMRA and Socialware.  

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