Category: Compliance · 4 min read
Advertising in the Social Media Space
on September 3, 2019
on September 3, 2019
Are you currently using social media? It can be a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to connect with your current and potential clients. With its continued popularity as a means of communication, it’s likely that you are among the approximately 3.5 billion people that use social media.1 It allows potential clients to get to know you on their own terms and their own timing. It’s also a way for you to provide generic information to your current clients, without having to devote an entire day to phone calls and emails trying to connect with each client individually.
The Rules Still Apply
Whether you’re microblogging (Twitter), video sharing (YouTube, Periscope, etc.), or social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) you’re advertising yourself and your business. It’s important to remember that regardless of the medium, if you’re talking shop, it’s considered advertising. You have a responsibility to comply with the regulations set forth by the insurance industry relating to advertising. What is the regulation? The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) model regulation for insurance advertisement contains in the definition of an advertisement that it includes “printed and published materials” and also includes “the Internet or any other mass communication media.”
While all advertising regulations are important to know and abide by, there are several that consistently come up during regulatory reviews:
- You need to be transparent. Make it clear who you are and what you do. It must be obvious that you are a licensed insurance and financial professional. You should identify yourself appropriately as a financial professional. You shouldn’t hold yourself out to be an “advisor” if you are not properly licensed.
- Watch your wording. The red flag words in printed advertising also apply to social media. State insurance departments provide listings of the words that are not acceptable within their regulations. Make sure you’re familiar with what those words and phrases are. Examples of red flag words include: “Free,” “Guaranteed,” “Safe,” “Secure,” and “Risk Free.”
- Avoid scare tactics. This includes wording, images, and the overall feel of a post, comment, or any other form of advertisement. Posts or comments shouldn’t deliberately make customers feel a sense of urgency or that they need to quickly make decisions in order to “save” their retirement or financial future. Scaring a customer into meeting with you or purchasing a product is unethical, and regulators are watching for this type of advertising across all mediums.
- You must be able to substantiate everything you post or comment on. In other words, if you say it, you need to be able to prove it.
- Disclosures are required. Using social media doesn’t change the requirement for disclosing necessary information. Limited space doesn’t negate the requirement for clear and conspicuous disclosures. Like printed pieces, their placement must be near the information they pertain to and they must be easy to understand.
- Don’t disparage anyone or anything. Many states consider making disparaging comments about financial professionals, carriers, or products an unethical sales practice, and it can result in fines or other regulatory action.
It’s important to remember that regardless of the medium, if you’re talking shop, it’s considered advertising.
Keep it Generic
Like sending out a direct mailer, being online means you’re reaching out to many people using the same message. Any posting or commenting you do will likely have a larger audience than you might intend. Our recommendation is to keep your content static and keep your interaction and responses on social media to a minimum. Limit your posts to industry information, interesting articles, or original content. You shouldn’t assume you’re having a private conversation, so don’t answer product or situation-specific questions on your social media platforms. Take these conversations offline and request to meet with that client personally.
The line between making a recommendation and providing information can be blurry. Take the necessary steps to alleviate any confusion and possible regulatory violations.
Document Retention Required
Don’t undervalue the need to maintain documentation of all your advertising, regardless of the medium. The same document retention regulations apply for social media as they do for any printed pieces you produce. You need to ensure that you keep copies of all online activity properly maintained, and can produce copies if a regulator were to request them.
Check with your state insurance department for state specific guidelines on document retention.
Being online also means you need to make sure you stay up-to-date with cybersecurity rules and regulations. Take any necessary steps to make sure you’re keeping your online presence as secure as possible.
Lastly, check with your state insurance department for any particular regulations they may have regarding online advertising. We’ve hit on a few of the basics for being active on social media, but state requirements vary, so you need to be familiar with the requirements that are specific to you.
1. Newberry, Christina. “130+ Social Media Statistics that Matter to Marketers in 2019.” Hootsuite. Mar. 5, 2019. https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-statistics-for-social-media-managers/#general
For financial professional use only, not for use with the general public.
This information is intended for Financial Professionals who are insurance licensed only. If you are securities licensed, please contact your Broker Dealer for their requirements.
These educational pieces are intended to be informative and provide generalized guidance. They should not be construed as legal advice or provide protection against compliance violations brought on by a consumer or state insurance commission. It is the sole responsibility of the financial professional to seek compliance or legal direction specific to their individual situation. These pieces should be used to raise awareness and evaluate business practices.
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