Social media compliance is a subject that elicits a range of reactions from planners, from groans to cautious, curious questions. But Leia Farmer, the deputy chief compliance officer at Securities America, is excited about it. Last year, the independent broker-dealer launched a social media program for its advisors that has picked up 65 active users since May, and saw a brisk rise in participation after its sale to Ladenburg Thalmann closed Nov. 4.
The program has brought with it the usual tricky compliance issues, but Farmer isn't fazed - far from it. "I love rules and regulations. I like things in black and white," she says. Farmer also likes figuring out how to "mesh what the advisor wants to do with the regulations. It is in many senses a puzzle."
The firm provides services to its advisory clients and brokerage clients, and "It is really important that [clients] feel there is a level of trust in what we do," she says. "We have very specific guidelines in terms of how advisors can operate in this space. These rules are designed to protect our industry and the level of trust clients have. Without those rules and without that structure, I think there would be a lack of trust in the industry."
The SEC has no specific social media rules. Industry professionals generally adhere to the regulator's guidelines on advertising and public appearances, though, which frown on touting specific stocks or client comments that might be deemed testimonials.
Farmer's enthusiasm appears to be contagious. "There are advisors in the organization who are really excited about the fact that we now have a social media technology solution that allows advisors to leverage Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They are really excited about being able to use additional tools to reach clients," she says.
Nonetheless, some advisors still "do not understand how to use social media to grow and promote their businesses," she says. To get more of them comfortable with social media, "What we've tried to do is leverage early adopters to have discussions and share their experiences," Farmer says.
The firm has also enlisted advisors' assistants to help. "We want to make sure the assistants are educated so that they can be the champions for using social media in their respective practices."
Donna Mitchell writes for Financial Planning.