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Social Media & Advertising Compliance

Social Media and Advertising Compliance

Ah, social media – a topic that continues to grow and draw interest year after year for marketing professionals, compliance professionals, and the insurance industry as a whole. The NAIC published their Social Media Whitepaper in 2012, and while it’s certainly a great starting place for contemplating advertising compliance issues, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. There’s also the fact that, between 2012 and 2017, how we consume social media and what tools are offered has changed tremendously – and continued change, at faster rates, should be expected.

Let’s look at videos, for example. YouTube was around back in 2012, but Vine (a short-form video hosting service, acquired by Twitter) was just getting started. Vine’s popularity soared and was considered to be the most-downloaded free iOS app from the App Store in April of 2013. I will note that Twitter has now made it so that Vine users (via the app, now called “Vine Camera”) can only share their videos on Twitter, or save them to their camera. But the point isn’t how long these services last – it’s about their monumental impact on how people are consuming information today.

The thing to take away here is that the whole purpose of this service is to create very short (six seconds) videos. These videos are then played on a loop for the world’s viewing pleasure. The attention span of the social media consuming audience is not 30 minutes, it’s not even 30 seconds. That alone can translate into a huge advertising compliance issue.

This hyper-shortened viewing style is also a huge part of another apps’ success – Snapchat. With Snapchat, you take a picture (of yourself, your dog, your food, your crazy neighbor howling at the moon) add some comment to it (preferably witty) and send it to your buddies. The thing is, the image only displays for a matter of seconds, and it can only be viewed by the recipient twice, then it’s gone. Can you say record retention issue?

Or how about the live streaming of videos – content broadcast to the world, in real-time. Live streaming options can be found on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Periscope (owned by Twitter), and many, many other apps and services. Consumers want authenticity. They want to “talk” to people in ways that are comfortable (i.e., not on the phone). They want to see the real people behind brands and companies. Get their questions answered in real-time. But putting yourself, your company, and/or your products out there unscripted, and more importantly, with such ease (we’re literally talking press a button and go – no recording studios, no TV sets or radio stations – click button and you’re on air) can lead to a host of advertising compliance issues.

And there are other compliance issues for social media to keep in mind as well – privacy and data security, for example.

There are lots of things that insurers and agents can do to stay on top of advertising compliance on social media. First, have a written policy in place even if the policy is that your company and/or agents cannot engage in social media on behalf of your company – put it in writing.  Some things to consider include the scope of the policy, the purpose, definition of social media, best practices, restrictions, monitoring, and failure to comply.

As a general rule, do not use social media to sell products. Remember, you only get seconds of someone’s time. It’s just not enough to ensure full and complete information is being presented. And finally, do not underestimate the need to have exceptional record-keeping. You must be able to easily demonstrate that ads are in compliance with state insurance advertising laws. If you have agents, or you are an agent that is also a securities licensed individual, there are additional rules outside of state insurance laws that must be followed. 

Want to talk more about social media? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below or send them directly to education@currincompliance.com. Be sure to check out our upcoming symposium in May!