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What’s in a Like? | A story of Facebook woe

September 14, 2011

What’s in a Like? What does it mean when a Facebook user becomes a fan of an organization by clicking the Like button on their page?

The Facebook FAQs say that choosing to Like something is “making a connection.” So a Like would seem to be a natural fit for NICSA, since we’re all about connections. For fifty years, we’ve been in the business of connecting individuals and firms across the industry with each other — and with the information they need to excel at their jobs.

But – and it’s a big “but” — financial industry regulator FINRA views a Like as an “adoption,” which is much more significant than a mere connection. Under the FINRA interpretation, securities industry representatives who become fans of a page adopt it as their own and become “entangled” in its content – and that could mean trouble for them and their employers if they knowingly adopt a page that contains false or misleading information. In other words, in FINRA’s eyes, a Like is pretty close to a recommendation.

Our story of Facebook woe

From FINRA’s position stems our story of Facebook woe. NICSA established a Facebook presence in April and, since then, we’ve gathered a grand total of 28 Likes. Even BP’s Tony Hayward is doing better than that!

We don’t think it’s our marketing. We promote our Facebook presence in the usual ways, with icons and links on our website, blog, marketing material and email signatures.

We don’t think it’s our content, either — which is full of snappy headlines, eye-grabbing visuals, penetrating insights and timely updates. (Or, at least, we try hard to make sure it’s filled with those things!)

No, the problem is that our members are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they become fans. They generally work for firms that are subject to FINRA rules – which apply to all business-related communication by the firm and its associates. To avoid any violations of the regulations, most of the firms have policies that completely preclude staff from using social media for business in any way – policies which have been very effective in making our members reluctant to Like us.

Why FINRA should care

If our members don’t Like us, our posts don’t automatically appear in the news feed on their home page, which means that they have to actively seek out our Facebook page in order to read what we have to say – not something that most people will do often.

They’re also less likely to spread the word about us to the colleagues. A recent study shows that Facebook users are more likely to recommend something that they’ve become a fan of.

We’ll put ourselves on the side of the angels and say that’s a loss for the financial industry – since NICSA’s mission is to provide investment industry professionals with the information they need to do their jobs well. It’s even something that FINRA should worry about – since so much of that information is related to regulatory compliance.

At the same time, if we should ever say something false and misleading (not that we ever would), there are fewer industry experts watching to call us on it and stop misinformation from spreading.

What do Facebook users mean by a Like?

It’s a particular shame because there’s not a lot of evidence that Facebook users take Likes as seriously as FINRA does. A survey by Exact Target shows that consumers become fans mainly to receive something: discounts, freebies and information. This word cloud provides a quick look at the survey responses.

Yes, “show my support” appears in the list – but Facebook users cast many more votes overall for updates, entertainment, exclusive content, further information or education as reasons to Like an organization. Interestingly, users seem to come to their own conclusions about whether a Like is warranted; fewer than 1 in 4 became a fan on the basis of a recommendation.

A Like by any other name – or, are you listening Mark Zuckerberg?

Which raises an interesting question: If the button were a “Get More Information” button, rather than a Like button, would FINRA be more comfortable with it? I’m extremely glad that Facebook didn’t name it the “Awesome” button, as they originally planned to do.

I suppose it’s too much to hope that Facebook will take a lesson from Twitter and use “Follow” or from LinkedIn and use “Connect” or “Join”. . . I can dream, can’t I?

If you like this blog post – and if your company’s policies permit – please Like our Facebook page.

We’d feel a lot less lonely.

  1. September 14, 2011 3:15 pm

    Theresa, I LIKE the stand you’re taking here (and I liked your Facebook, too). Then again, I’m an ex-regulated fund company employee.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that the current restrictions keeping FINRA-regulated employees from participating on Facebook and online are a loss for the industry. This will threaten competitiveness, I fear, as I see others using online information resources to sharpen their instincts and deepen their knowledge. Inside your members’ companies are people who are banned from accessing a wide range of sites let alone understanding how and why investors are increasingly relying on them to shape decisions. What good can possibly come from keeping people in the dark?

    By the way, my Rock The Boat Marketing blog has the same issue you do, although on a much smaller scale. The content I publish is expressly for marketers at asset managers, I can hear them breathing because I see their visits in my analytics but in the blog’s three-year history, very few have dared to comment. As with your Facebook story, the effect of FINRA’s rulings is to assure that my readers remain faceless, nameless, community-less.

    You’re fighting a good fight. And, since I can say it, awesome.

  2. September 15, 2011 2:24 pm

    Thanks so much for your support.

    It seems to me that this is a case of unintended consequences. FINRA wants to safeguard investors, and financial firms want to ensure that their businesses aren’t damaged by compliance problems — both worthy ends. But in protecting against a small group of bad actors, they’re effectively imposing an information blackout on much of the industry — and in the long run, that can’t be good for either investors or businesses.

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