Investors and financial services professionals alike are increasingly using social media for a variety of business purposes. Social Media may be a new medium, but FINRA's rules on communicating with the public are still applicable. The rules protect investors from false, misleading claims, exaggerated statements, and material omissions. Below we identify key areas and concepts when using social media.
Books and Records
Firms and their registered representatives must retain records of communications related to their "business as such." The "business as such" requirement is based on the content of the communication not the type of device or technology used to receive or send the communication. These records must be preserved for a period of not less than three years.
FINRA's advertising rules and guidance do not apply to an associated person's personal use of social media. However, firms must educate their personnel on the difference between personal and business uses of social media. If firm personnel use a personal site for business, then this may result in a situation where the firm is unable to retain records of business-related communications as required.
Firms must have the ability to supervise the business-related content associated persons are communicating on these sites, including possible suitability determinations if recommendations are made. A registered principal must review prior to use any social media site that an associated person intends to use for business. The principal may only approve a social media site if the principal has determined the associated person can and will comply with applicable rules. Firms must also understand the difference between static content and interactive communications.
- Static content is typically posted for the longer term and lacks the immediacy of a real time conversation. Most static material must be approved by a registered principal prior to use, and sometimes may be required to be filed with FINRA.
- Interactive communications are typically real-time and involve a dialog with third parties. Interactive material does not require principal approval prior to use if it is supervised in a manner similar to the way firms supervise correspondence and institutional communications. Under the rules, if a firm allows associated persons to use interactive communications prior to principal approval, then the firm’s written supervisory procedures must provide for:
- Training of associated persons on the procedures and the content standards of the communications rules;
- How the firm will surveil these communications to test for compliance;
- What actions will be taken if problems are detected; and
- Documentation of any findings and the corrective actions taken.
The recordkeeping requirements apply to third-party content posted in a firm's interactive electronic forum. In addition, firms must ensure that they are reviewing third-party posts to properly identify and handle in accordance with firm procedures, any customer complaints, instructions, funds and securities, and communications that are of a subject matter that require review under FINRA rules and federal securities laws.
However, third-party posts generally are not subject to FINRA's advertising rules unless the firm has adopted or becomes entangled with the content of an interactive post. Adoption occurs when a firm endorses or approves third-party content and entanglement occurs when the firm involves itself with the preparation of the third-party post.
Linking to Third-Party Websites
Firms may not link to any third-party site that the firm knows or has reason to know contains false or misleading content. A firm should not include a link on its website if there are any red flags that indicate the linked site contains false or misleading content.
Additionally, a firm is responsible under FINRA's communications rules for content on a linked third party site if the firm has adopted or has become entangled with its content. For example, a firm may be deemed to have "adopted" third-party content if it indicates on its site that it endorses the content on the third-party site. A firm could be deemed to have become "entangled" with a third-party site if, for example, it participates in the development of the content on the third-party site.
Suitability rules apply to recommendations made through social media websites. Firms should:
- Develop procedures to supervise interactive electronic communications that recommend specific products.
- Prohibit interactive electronic communications that recommend specific products unless:
- a registered principal has previously approved the content, or
- the recommendation conforms to a previously approved template.
Fair and Balanced Communications
Firms must comply with FINRA's communication rule notwithstanding the medium – social media, email, or print.
- All communications must be fair, balanced and complete and not omit material information.
- False, misleading, promissory, exaggerated or unwarranted statements or claims are prohibited.
- Communications may not predict or project performance (with certain exceptions).
- Material information in a communication may not be buried in footnotes.
- Statements must be clear and provide a balanced treatment of risks and potential benefits.
- Communications must be appropriate for the audience.
FINRA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) staff provides broker-dealers, attorneys, registered representatives, investors and other interested parties with interpretative guidance relating to FINRA’s rules. Please see FINRA OGC Interpretative Guidance for more information.
OGC staff contact:
1735 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
- Disclosure Innovations in Advertising and Other Communications with the Public09/19/2019
- Guidance on Social Networking Websites and Business Communications04/25/2017
- Guidance on Rules Governing Communications With the Public05/22/2015
- Guidance on Social Networking Websites and Business Communications08/18/2011
- Guidance on Blogs and Social Networking Web Sites01/25/2010
- FINRA Provides Guidance Regarding the Review and Supervision of Electronic Communications12/07/2007
- NASD and NYSE Request Comment on Proposed Joint Guidance Regarding the Review and Supervision of Electronic Communications06/14/2007
- Clarification for Members Regarding Supervisory Obligations and Recordkeeping Requirements for Instant Messaging06/18/2003
- Electronic Delivery Of Information Between Members And Their Customers01/01/1998
- Supervisory And Other Obligations Related To Use Of Electronic Media07/01/1996
- GuidanceFINRA Provides Update on Sweep: Social Media Influencers, Customer Acquisition and Related Information ProtectionThis follow-up to the September 2021 targeted exam (sweep) of firms’ practices related to their acquisition of customers through social media channels and their sharing of customers’ usage information with affiliates and non-affiliated third parties summarizes selected practices FINRA has observed firms implement to this point in the sweep.February 28, 2023
- 2023 Report on FINRAs Examination and Risk Monitoring ProgramThe Communications with the Public section of the 2023 Report on FINRA’s Examination and Risk Monitoring Program (the Report) informs member firms’ compliance programs by providing annual insights from FINRA’s ongoing regulatory operations, including (1) regulatory obligations and related considerations, (2) findings and effective practices, and (3) additional resources.January 10, 2023
- 2022 Report on FINRAs Examination and Risk Monitoring ProgramThe Communications with the Public section of the 2022 Report on FINRA’s Risk Monitoring and Examination Activities (the Report) informs member firms’ compliance programs by providing annual insights from FINRA’s ongoing regulatory operations, including (1) relevant regulatory obligations and related considerations, (2) exam findings and effective practices, and (3) additional resources.February 09, 2022
- 2021 Report on FINRAs Examination and Risk Monitoring ProgramThe Communications with the Public section of the 2021 Report on FINRA’s Risk Monitoring and Examination Activities (the Report) informs member firms’ compliance programs by providing annual insights from FINRA’s ongoing regulatory operations, including (1) relevant regulatory obligations and related considerations, (2) exam findings and effective practices, and (3) additional resources.February 01, 2021
- 2019 Exam Findings ReportThe Digital Communication section of the 2019 Report on Exam Findings informs member firms’ compliance programs by describing recent findings and observations from FINRA’s examinations, and, in certain cases, also providing a summary of effective practices.October 16, 2019
- June 12, 2013
- March 15, 2011
- July 15, 2010
- FINRA Issues Guidance to Firms, Brokers on Communications with Public Through Social Networking Web SitesJanuary 25, 2010
- Investor EducationAlong with an increase in the number of investors has come growth in the variety of sources available to assist in making investment decisions. Use of online resources, such as social media, is prevalent. If you’re among those using social media as an investment tool, here are some tips to consider.
- Investor EducationInvestor Bulletin: Social Sentiment Investing Tools—Think Twice Before Trading Based on Social MediaFINRA and the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy are issuing this Investor Bulletin to inform investors about social sentiment investing tools and highlight their risks. This Bulletin provides tips to consider before using tools that analyze or aggregate information from social media sources to make investment decisions or attempt to predict changes in the stock market's direction or in the price of a security.