As our social world matures, many organizations are turning to employees to amplify brand messaging. Employee advocacy or “employee social sharing” can serve as powerful means of reaching new and trusted networks.
Tapping into employee social networks poses an exciting prospect for organizations looking to leverage word of mouth influence to generate leads and source candidate referrals; however, it can also pose a risk for regulatory review and repercussions.
While certain industries are prone to more regulatory oversight than others, each organization must take appropriate steps to mitigate compliance risk.
Thankfully, this can be achieved with a strategic combination of proper education, control and record keeping.
Educate your employees
With an increasingly connected and vocal society, it’s likely that employees are already active on social networks. In fact, it’s estimated that 47% of employees are already using social networks to connect with customers. This can pose an incredible opportunity to foster more brand awareness if appropriately used.
To ensure that employees generate a positive and compliant experience, it’s essential they are informed of social media guidelines and policies. In addition to potential harmful status updates, regulatory bodies can review social activity and penalize associates and firms such as:
- FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
- FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority)
- Office for Civil Rights (via HIPAA)
- SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)
Advising on appropriate posting behavior can help mitigate risk for an organization and can help boost effective employee social activity.
Control is of the utmost importance
If all employees could be trusted, we wouldn’t have measures to limit theft, accidents or misconduct in the workplace. While education is a necessary first step, it’s unrealistic to believe that all employees will abide by social guidelines. To further alleviate risk, firms should focus their efforts on the type of messages that are subject to penalty through social media compliance efforts.
With the exception of patient information (HIPAA), nearly all regulation is targeted on product/service communication. Applicable to organizations across all industries, The FTC mandates that sponsored messages must be transparent. Their disclosure policy requires that any endorsing party acknowledge a relationship with the product or producing firm.
FINRA; the largest independent regulator for all security firms in the US, lists several requirements for product communications from its financial constituents. Most notable amongst these demands:
- Associates must have a reasonable basis to believe a recommended strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for a customer (this would require knowledge of recipients investment profile–nearly impossible over an individual’s entire network)
- Firms should have the ability to separate business and personal communications, such as by requiring that persons use a separately identifiable application
- Representatives cannot establish links to a third-party site that the firm knows or has reason to know contains false or misleading content
An advocacy platform like Bambu can enable a marketing, communication or sales team to provide representatives with pre-approved content and status updates to avoid non-compliant messaging. This controlling measure can ensure that product marketing material is approved, comes from a trusted source and is consistent with suitability and disclosure regulations.
As you’ll notice, Bambu provides an opportunity for a program administrator to establish a status update for communication to an employee’s social network. An advocacy application would also fulfill the need to separate business and personal communications to monitor social activity.
Record keeping is key with social media compliance
Education and control measures function as proactive means of mitigating risk, the final piece of our puzzle comes in the form of reactive record keeping. The FTC, FINRA and the SEC all require that firms take measures to monitor and document associate or endorsed partner social media activities.
- FTC–Organizations must make a reasonable effort to know what member or endorsed partners are saying about their brand
- SEC–Registered Investment Advisor’s must maintain social communication records
- FINRA–Content must be approved by a broker-dealer and must provide an overview of the approval process. Firms must set up and maintain a system to supervise associate activities (received or sent) if they constitute a “business communication” for a period of up to three years.
Proper documentation of social communications can fulfill record keeping guidelines. This can be a very challenging process as there are several social media networks available today and several introduced each year. It will be an administrative nightmare to document employee social communications unless you can concentrate these efforts through a select few channels.
Which networks should you focus on?
Most marketers will tell you to “go where your audience is.” According to a eBIZMBA study, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have the most monthly visitors and should be a good place to concentrate sharing activities.
Concentrating employee sharing efforts to select networks is a great way to reduce record keeping burdens. However, manual monitoring of the posting behavior of associates and endorsed parties may be overwhelming, requiring significant time and resources.
Aligning with a controlling strategy, an advocacy tool like Bambu not only informs participants of what they can share and how, it can also serve to archive employee sharing activity and the process for message approval satisfying FTC, SEC and FINRA record keeping requirements.
It’s hard to deny the impact that social media has on our lives today. Our society becomes increasingly connected and social media serves as an effective way to communicate and influence. While the regulatory landscape might pose substantial risk for content sharing through personal networks, organizations can take measures to mitigate this risk and reach new and trusted audiences.
Developing a strategy that educates participants of mandates and best practices, asserts control and maintains records will help both firms and associates maximize awareness and establish credibility on social networks.
Andrew Weber is an Advocacy Service Specialist at Sprout Social. When not supporting subscriber relationships, he can be found with his wife, dog, and craft beer while aspiring to become the perfect couch coach.
Navigating the Social Media Compliance Landscape
Written by Andrew Weber on March 09, 2016