Social media use is at risk of being stifled in finance

What’s in a word?  A lot if you’re a marketer for a financial services brand. 

Russell Parsons

Study the two enticements: “To see our current mortgage offers, go to www.wharfmortgages.co.uk” and “To see our great mortgage offers, go to www.wharfmortgages.co.uk. The word “great” is the difference between being considered a financial promotion or not. 

According to the banking regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, the former “simply encourages the recipient” to find out more, while the latter’s use of the adjective  “great” means it is considered a promotion and therefore enters a world of statutory compliance that would frighten marketers in most sectors. 

The advice was given as part of a consultation on use of social media in the sector. Regulation states that the latter has to be accompanied by a health warning that if accompanying a call to action on a tweet would leave the tweeting brand little to nothing left to entice a prospective or existing customer to buy.

The FCA, which formally took on regulation of the sector from the Financial Services Authority in April, has recognised that such restrictions are worthy of further discussion in launching the consultation where it offers plenty of clues as to where its thinking is.

Key to where the wind is blowing is the FCA’s insistence that brands must adopt a “media neutral approach” to ensure their customers are “presented with certain minimum information”. To decode this, if you don’t want to give equal or greater billing to jarring risk warnings then social media isn’t for you.

The FCA does not want to prevent the use of “powerful channels” such as Twitter that can be of “significant value” to the brands it regulates. It does, however, want to ensure social media channels remain “fair, clear and not misleading” hence promotions being subject to the same rules as TV, outdoor and radio.

The fear is unless there is some leeway the rules will continue to do exactly that – prevent use of the channel.  Many marketers of investment and other products that are required to couple promotions with complex T&Cs have steered clear of using social media because of the space constraints. 

Standards and health warnings are absolutely necessary but do they have to be included in text form? The FCA says marketers should consider inserting images into tweets to convey risk warnings or other required statements but this also carries the risk of imbalance.

Financial services brands have huge and engaged audiences on Twitter. It would be a shame if a solution that offers marketers the opportunity for their messages to breathe isn’t found. 

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