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“Helping Firms Manage the Risk out of Social Media Communications”

By Mike Pagani, senior marketing director, Smarsh

There’s no doubt that using social media communications can offer firms in  financial services tremendous business advantage in terms of reaching potential new customers and staying in good touch with existing ones  . In fact, the number of firms now actively using social media as one of their standard outbound forms of communications is on the rise.

That said, some social media channels are more popular than others amongst regulated financial firms, and staying compliant is the driver. For example, according to data contained in the Smarsh annual compliance survey for 2015, the use of Twitter and LinkedIn over the span of the last four years has grown considerably where the use of Facebook has not.

At the heart of the compliance focus with social media channels lies  the balance between personal and business use for each of the various channels. LinkedIn is clearly a more “professional” oriented networking channel.  Twitter is a primarily business-focused means of getting news  out in real-time. Whereas,  Facebook is largely geared towards promoting personal updates and activities – usually with pictures and third-party comments added by others.

But this potential blend  of personal and business content as a result of using the same social media channel and profile for both raises some interesting issues. It also mirrors a prior technology adoption cycle that we have now solved for – BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where the same dilemma presented itself almost immediately.

When looking at the BYOD phenomenon, the similarities to using personal social media channels and the same persona for business communications are very real. We can even argue that we are now evolving to BYOP or “Bring Your Own Persona” as the next step beyond BYOD.

There are two key reasons  BYOD did not disappear and, in fact, became mainstream  – personal devices offered a lot more capability than the typical corporate issued devices, and, secondly,  IT eventually found a way to effectively “manage” their use for business in a responsible way.

Let’s consider that … the Blackberry was the device of choice for financial services firms to issue new employees because they were reliable and provided  secure access to email with instant messaging capabilities too. However, unlike the iPhone, which most employees personally purchased, Blackberry was not geared towards being an agile format to support new apps for social media channels.. In reality, the iPhone is more of an “app launching device” than a phone when you get right down to it and it gave people mobile, anytime, anywhere access to their social media accounts – something they simply could no longer live without.

For a while  it was customary to carry two phones; one business and one personal  to keep those two lives  separate. Although we still see this in the financial services sector, management technologies have evolved now that make it safe for the two worlds to co-exist on the same device and personally owned devices used for both purposes is more commonplace.

Just like consolidating personal and business usage down to the one device with the right management solution, there are now reliable and secure ways to eliminate the risk of using the one social media channel persona for both purposes as well. Managing the use of a single persona for business and personal communications eliminates the need to create and maintain two.

Comprehensive archiving platform technologies now feature support for the capture of social media communications through automated application programming interfaces (API). Through these,  content can be policy-checked, flagged for compliance review, indexed and held centrally for immediate access at a later date. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the European Commission have issued guidance on social media communications compliance and are starting to consider  issuing  fines for violations with the frequency and size of both growing.

Leveraging the use of a Comprehensive Archive Platform allows firms to create specific policies around the compliant use of social media channels. This in turn means,  employees can utilise  one  social media persona for both business and personal communications knowing that it is all being supervised by the firm they work for. When improper, non-compliant use is automatically detected by the archiving system’s policy-checking engine as the communication is issued, the individual messages are flagged for review. The compliance team can then take remedial action with the individual(s) involved to correct the behavior going forward and have a built in audit trail within the system to show the regulator should they be audited or examined.  Firms can easily demonstrate that they are being responsible with their use of social media and taking corrective action to enforce compliance policies when improper use is encountered, which is exactly what regulators want to see.

It is no longer an option to simply outlaw the use of social media altogether within a firm and hope to stay competitive with those that allow it. Yes, an interim step is to allow the use of a select few channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, but eventually there will be other channels that will grow in popularity and reach the tipping point as well where their use will become a necessity. We saw this happen with BYOD, where the interim support phase was to allow the use of only a select few types of personal devices, but the pace of innovation and emergence of newer and more capable devices quickly made that an impossible edict to maintain.

Having an effective way to manage all popular social media channels with a single Comprehensive Archive Platform versus separate systems should be a key goal for any firm today. It delivers tremendous business value beyond simply avoiding compliance violation-related fines. A firm’s policies for the use of social media communications do not have to be purely for compliance purposes and the stored content can also be leveraged for e-discovery purposes and analytics for business insights over the course of time as well.

The compliant use of social media communications and utilising a single persona for both personal and business purposes is possible today, provided firms create the right policies for it and have the right technology in place to automate reliable enforcement to manage the risk out of the equation and reap the benefits.

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