Compliance: FINRA Bounces Social Media Ball To Your Court

The following was also posted at our

At about mid-day today, FINRA released its 10-page Guidance on Blogs and Social Networking Web Sites. (A tip of the hat to @BillWinterberg who was first among our tweeps to spot the regulatory notice.)

Others might disagree or read something in between the lines, but to us the guidance seems reasonable. Of course, FINRA will insist on record-keeping and supervision. And specific investment product recommendations are obviously trouble--in fact, FINRA says a prohibition would be a best practice unless the content posted was previously approved by a registered principal.

But we think that the door to the marketing potential of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for financial advisors and firms swings open with FINRA's distinction between "static content" requiring the prior approval of a registered principal and "non-static content," which does not require prior approval.

FINRA acknowledges that Twitter and Facebook provide for non-static, real-time communications, such as interactive posts. "The portion of a social networking site that provides for these interactive communications constitutes an interactive electronic forum, and firms are not required to have a registered principal approve these communications prior to use," FINRA says.

This could have been the deal-breaker. What FINRA describes as static content on social networking sites--profile, background or wall information--must be approved by a registered principal prior to posting. It's more work for a Compliance review group but it's manageable. If, on the other hand, all tweets by everybody needed to be approved prior to posting, social networking would be dead on arrival for FINRA-regulated entities in the investment industry.

Please read FINRA's press release and the regulatory notice for all of the details.

There will be much more to come on this, including at the February 3 FINRA Webinar. (FINRA announced its rescheduling from March 17 via email this afternoon.)

From our perspective, the topic of social media participation today moved from "FINRA won't let us" to "How long will it take for Compliance to prepare our policies and procedures?"

This announcement is great timing for tomorrow's Investment News Webinar on Advisors and LinkedIn. See you there?

And, of course, we're interested in what you think of the FINRA guidance--as always, we welcome your comments below.