World's Largest Brokerage OKs Social Networking by Financial Advisors

Photo: Wikipedia

Memo heralds new media breakthrough

New York-based financial services powerhouse, Morgan Stanley, the world’s largest brokerage firm, announced, not in a tweet or a blog, but in an old-fashioned, internal memo, plans to “begin a staged, roll-out for Advisors to use Social Media.” 

Mincing no words about the implications of the announcement, the memo’s author, Andy Saperstein, who heads the brokerage’s U.S. operations, observed:

"This will be a significant competitive advantage."

Morgan Stanley’s decision to invest in social media by allowing, initially, a select group of about 600 of its financial advisors to use social media, will undoubtedly leave others in the highly-regulated financial services sector scrambling to follow the leader.

Regulatory Authority Guidelines Met with Industry Social Media Paralysis

Although the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) had provided the financial services industry with social media guidelines in January of 2010, the highly-regulated financial services sector largely greeted the Authority's invitation to participate in social media with paralysis.  Responding, nonetheless, to a keen, continued interest in social media by brokerages, FINRA even provided a session on social media compliance at its 2011 annual conference.

Technology Aids Compliance, Spurs Social Media Participation

A requirement of FINRA's guidelines is the archiving of social media communications, a particularly challenging compliance mandate.  To this requirement, Saperstein noted in his memo that:

In the coming weeks, Morgan Stanley will implement a technology solution that will capture and retain all communications on approved social networking sites to comply with regulatory requirements.

Although various archiving vendors exist, Saperstein's memo suggests a "technological solution" that may well be proprietary in nature.  Whatever it is, it will be closely scrutinized as an industry standard.

Limited Launch in Late June; Full Roll Out Within 6 Month

Announcing a tight timeline, Saperstein explained that the first 600 advisors would begin their social media participation in late June, "with access to LinkedIn and partial use of Twitter", with "the rest of the field" having access within six months.  (It is worth noting that Morgan Stanley reportedly reaped huge fees from recently underwriting LinkedIn's IPO.)

Firm to Provide Content for Sharing; Participation Preceded by Training and Profile Approval

Saperstein informed employees in his memo that the firm would provide "a tool for Advisors to distribute Firm approved research and content, providing you with a powerful way to share our unique intellectual content with clients and prospects."  Providing employees with content to share through social networks to clients and prospects could have a two-fold benefit:  it could ensure that the content shared was branded as well as scrutinized for regulatory compliance.

The lucky 600, who will become Morgan Stanley's social media pioneers, were also told that they would receive an e-mail "with more details on training and how to get started by getting your profiles approved."

No Mention of Facebook and Only "partial use of Twitter"

Interestingly, the memo makes no mention of the largest social network, Facebook, while stating that the financial advisors "will have access to LinkedIn and partial use of Twitter."

The glaring absence of any mention of Facebook may suggest that that particular social may not be part of the brokerage's initial social media roll out.  Like the risk-adverse pharmaceutical sector, another highly-regulated industry, wealth management may yet find too many unresolved compliance issues with Facebook.

Morgan Stanley An Early Student of "Significant Share Gains of Internet Traffic" by Social Networks

In 2008, Morgan Stanley noted the fast-growing role of social media in online communications, outlining "significant share gains of online traffic".

What are your thoughts?  Is social media a smart investment for the financial services?

Please make one small investment in social media - join me on Twitter!  GlenGilmore

For the text of the Morgan Stanley memo, see:  Tweet on the Street

5 steps docs can take to avoid 'social media missteps' - HIPPA

May 19, 2011 | Molly Merrill, Associate Editor
NEW JERSEY – While it is "critical that doctors, who have the best healthcare information to share, be part of the online healthcare conversation," says social media advisor Glen Gilmore, "there are definite precautions that should be taken to lessen the risk of social media missteps."  PLEASE FOLLOW LINK.

How To Use Facebook's Comment Moderation

Facebook's moderation tool helps page administrators keep the conversation clean

"Your first mission as our page administrator is to make sure that nothing on the page embarrasses us," clients often warn their community managers.  That task is a bit easier thanks to Facebook's moderation tool which allows administrators to create a list of words that are automatically blocked from appearing in the comments of the page.  This tool is particularly helpful to those in regulated industries, such as pharmaceuticals, who may even wish to not have certain products mentioned to avoid having to respond to a myriad of regulatory obligations.

How does the moderation tool (blocking words) work?

Facebook explains:

You can enter blacklisted terms from the settings section of the comments box. The content of new comments is checked against the blacklist of terms to see if this comment should have limited visibility. The comment is checked via substring matching. This means if you blacklist the word 'at', if the comment contains the sequence 'a' 't' anywhere it will be marked with limited visibility; e.g. if the comment contained the words 'bat', 'hat', 'attend', etc it would be caught.

So how do you create your list of blocked words?

1.  Once signed into your facebook page, click on the edit box you'll see on the right:

2.  Enter words in the "Moderation Blocklist" block, separated by commas, that you would like to have automatically marked as spam and not permitted to appear in the comments or posts on your page.

3.  To block the most commonly used profanities, select the level of blocking from the selections offered by the "Profanity Blocklist" tab.

4.  Don't forget to click, "Save Changes".

Your comments?  :)

Related Reading:

For more social media tips, please join me on Twitter at:  GlenGilmore and @SocialMediaLaw1

Feds: Employee Facebook Discussions of Working Conditions = Protected Speech

For employers who missed the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) action last year against the Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee for remarks she posted on Facebook about her supervisor, the NLRB has initiated another complaint against another employer, Hispanics United of Buffalo, a nonprofit, for similar grounds. 

In a press release about its latest complaint, the NLRB explained:

The complaint alleges that the Facebook discussion was protected concerted activity within the meaning of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, because it involved a conversation among coworkers about their terms and conditions of employment, including their job performance and staffing levels.

Five employees were fired by the company after posting comments on Facebook about work load and staffing issues. The company, in its defense, contends that the five employees were fired because their online comments constituted harassment of another employee who had also posted a Facebook comment.

Unless the case is settled, the NLRB, an independent federal agency vested by Congress with the authority to safeguard employees’ rights to organize, will hold a hearing on the matter on June 22, 2011.  The case, however, is likely to settle and serve as another warning to employers that employees have a broad right to discuss conditions of their employment with coworkers on the social network of their choice:  as the NLRB has made amply clear, it is protected speech.

The complaint the NLRB had filed against the Connecticut company rested on similar grounds:  the company had fired an ambulance service worker after she had posted a series of negative comments about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page. Although the company contended that the firing was performance based, and there was also a dispute concerning the employee’s access to union representation during disciplinary proceedings, the NLRB focused on its determination that the employee was engaged in a protected activity when she posted the comments about her supervisor and responded to further comments from her coworkers.  The NLRB also cited the company’s social media policy as being unduly restrictive and violative of the right of employees to discuss workplace conditions.

The case was settled in February of this year and the NLRB used the occasion to give employers some clear guidance concerning the rights of employees to use social networks:

Under the NLRA, an employer cannot unduly restrict its employees’ ability to discuss terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether a union exists, for fear that such restriction will impede employees’ ability to fairly unionize. At the same time, the NLRA does not provide carte blanche for employees to criticize or disparage their employers.

Simply stated, “employees may discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with coworkers,” on social networks.

In settling the case, the company “agreed to revise its overly-broad rules to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.”

Employers who have not revised their social media policies to make it clear that any restrictions stated within their guidelines in no way limit an employee’s right to discuss “the terms and conditions of employment” with coworkers are putting themselves at risk of action by the NLRB or setting themselves up for failure in the event that a dispute arises with an employee concerning their social network comments.  Even where other grounds for employee disciplinary action may exist, they are likely to be given little weight if a violation of an employee's right to "concerted activity" is found.

6 Things Pharma Can Do While Waiting For FDA Social Media Guidelines #socpharm

Although the FDA has its own Facebook page, Twitter account (actually, it maintains, at last count, nine Twitter accounts)a blog, a YouTube account, and Flickr account, it has once again disappointed the pharmaceutical industry by announcing another study that will further delay desperately-desired social media guidelines for the pharmaceutical industry.  While many pharmaceuticals have already waded deeply into to the waters of social media, just as many are concerned about the implications of not having clear FDA guidance. 

What can be done by pharmaceuticals as they await FDA social media guidelines?

  1.  Strengthen Your Social Media Team

Every pharmaceutical company needs to have an in-house social media marketing team, a group of individuals who are passionate about the digital and social space.  In addition to marketing leaders, the team should include representatives from human relations, customer relations, IT, and legal.  They should focus on further educating themselves in new media, its techniques, strategies, and tools, through ongoing training and conference participation.  They should be setting goals, establishing policies, and eventually providing the in-house training that will help the larger organization understand the integration of digital and social marketing.

2.    Know the Social Media Guidelines that Do Exist
Alhough pharma always thinks of the FDA when it considers social media guidelines, companies are also well advised to understand that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is charged by Congress with stopping “unfair and deceptive acts or practices.”  The FTC wasted little time in updating, in 2009, its revised Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, found in 16 C.F.R. Part 255, to address marketing within social networks.  Since revising its Guidelines, the Commission has been vigilant in pursuing perceived violations of the updated rules.  Nonetheless, many marketers remain oblivious to the guidelines, risking sanctions that can cause serious damage to their brands.
In announcing the guidelines, the FTC offered a detailed summary of the provisions relating to social media: 

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.

     3.    Review and Update Your
            Social Media Guidelines

Many companies, in the rush to restrict employee social media participation, adopted social media policies that prohibit virtually any discussion of workplace matters online.  Such policies may run afoul of the National Relations Labor Board (NLRB), which has initiated actions against companies where their social media policies were deemed to be too restrictive of employee conversations relevant to workplace conditions.  The NLRB objection to such restrictive social media policies transcends the issue of whether a workplace is unionized or not:  the dispositive question is whether the social media policy prohibits workers from discussing their "terms and conditions of employment."

With over 640 million Facebook accounts, 300 million Twitter accounts, 100 million LinkedIn accounts, and over 7.4 million people on Foursquare, your employees need clear guidelines.  Social media policies should be crafted to give real guidance to employees, without interfering with an employee's protected right of discussing working conditions.  
    4.  Develop A Social Media Decision Tree

Where companies are engaging in social media, employees need clear guidance and a streamlined process on how to engage in social media.  The U.S. Air Force wrestled with this issue and created a decision tree, which Pfizer Canada modified for its employees.  It’s a model every company should strive to perfect.  

     5.  Make Sure Every Employee Understands
         “Adverse Events” Responsibilities

Pharma’s biggest fear.  With employees listening on social media everyday, throughout the day, policies must be updated to ensure that all employees have a clear understanding of what they are to do should they become aware of such an event.

  1. Listen, Respond, Share and Community Build
A.  Use Social Media to Educate and Share Wellness Tips

B.  Use Social Media to Let Brand Advocates Share Their Stories

C.  Use Social Media to Share the Social Good You're Doing

For more suggestions, please join me on Twitter at @HealthcareSMM  Your thoughts?