SEC Marketing Rule

SEC Marketing Rule: Promoting Testimonials and Endorsements to Attract New Clients

By  Brian Thorp

Disclaimer: In order to make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers including financial professionals who pay to be featured on our platform. This creates a natural conflict of interest when we favor promotion of our clients over other professionals not featured on Wealthtender. Learn how we operate with integrity to earn your trust.

Once you’ve begun collecting testimonials and endorsements online, you’re all set to turn your reviews into a powerful source of new referrals. And without lifting a finger, the positive reviews you’re collecting online are already sending signals to search engines like Google that you’re trustworthy and deserving of increased visibility in search results.

In this article, we’ll show you how you can promote your testimonials and endorsements both online and offline to attract new clients while maintaining compliance with the SEC Marketing rule [Rule 206(4)-1].

And since it’s expected the most popular way to collect, display and promote testimonials and endorsements will be online reviews, we focus our discussion on promoting your testimonials and endorsements in the context of reviews published on the internet.

Why Promoting Your Testimonials and Endorsements is Important to Grow Your Business

Consumers looking to hire professionals in trust-based industries want to know they’re making the right decision. Your online reviews offer the social proof they need to choose you over another financial advisor. In fact, a popular online review platform for lawyers found that those with at least five reviews on their platform achieved four times the engagement compared to lawyers with just one review.

If you decide to not make online reviews part of your marketing strategy, another financial advisor nearby or in your niche who has several positive reviews is more likely to get the call. But not to worry! With the tips in this article and our Guide to Growing Your Advisory Business with Online Reviews Playbook, you’re well ahead of the curve and ready to turn your digital referrals into new clients. And remember, even a single online review can turn a prospect into a client.

Keep reading for suggestions to help you promote your online reviews compliantly and learn several ways your reviews can be republished and repurposed to magnify their client-attracting power.

Promoting Your Testimonials and Endorsements Compliantly

When you encourage prospects to read your reviews online, you trigger the SEC Marketing rule prohibitions and disclosure requirements described throughout this playbook. Specifically, the rule states that once you have ‘explicitly or implicitly endorsed or approved the information [e.g. an online review] after its publication’, you have adopted the review, thus making it an advertisement subject to the rule’s conditions.

Keep these requirements and tips in mind to compliantly promote your testimonials and endorsements:

  • Only provide prospects with links to your online reviews where accompanying SEC required disclosures are present (e.g. your website, your profile page on Wealthtender)
  • Be sure each review includes all necessary clear and prominent and additional disclosures
  • It’s ok to direct prospects to websites where your reviews can be sorted in different ways, (e.g. sorting reviews from most to least favorable), as long as you don’t control the sorting

Unlocking Testimonials and Endorsements Trapped on Google and Yelp

While any positive reviews you receive on Google and Yelp offer SEO benefits and increased visibility among consumers who find them, you’ll unlock substantially greater value by employing the review aggregation strategy discussed in our article about your policies and procedures for testimonials and endorsements.

By aggregating reviews onto platforms compatible with the SEC Marketing rule, your reviews otherwise off-limits become powerful testimonials to proactively attract new clients. And you’re also increasing the likelihood of reaching prospects who are closer to making a hiring decision when they read your reviews on your own website or an industry-specific platform like Wealthtender. 

Learn Our Concerns with Review Platforms like Google and Yelp

Why We Include Comparisons to Google and Yelp

If Google and Yelp are not compatible with the SEC Marketing rule, you may rightly be wondering why we’re discussing these platforms at all. 

Here’s What We Know with Certainty:

Google and Yelp are well-known review platforms popular with consumers. And financial advisors may already have unsolicited reviews written about them visible on these sites. If these are favorable reviews and are truly unsolicited, that’s terrific as advisors are gaining SEO benefits and visibility among consumers visiting these sites.

But because reviews on Google and Yelp lack the required SEC disclosures to be considered advertisements (e.g. testimonials and endorsements you can promote to grow your business), advisors can’t direct prospects to check out their reviews on these platforms. 

Here’s What We Don’t (Yet) Know:

Unlike unsolicited reviews published on Google or Yelp, the SEC has not formally offered guidance to clarify if solicited reviews on Google and Yelp are deemed an advertisement, and therefore subject to the prohibitions and disclosure requirements discussed throughout the SEC Marketing rule. So the question we need the SEC to answer is: Does the act of a financial advisor simply asking for a review to be written on specific platforms like Google or Yelp entangle an advisor in its creation and trigger the prohibitions and disclosure requirements?

While industry opinions are mixed on the guidance the SEC will ultimately provide, we believe it’s highly likely the SEC will take issue with advisors proactively soliciting reviews on platforms known to be incompatible with the Marketing rule. With its principles-based rule intended to ensure consumers gain important information to make more informed decisions, we don’t expect the SEC to look favorably upon a rampant proliferation of advisor reviews on platforms incapable of addressing the Marketing rule’s prohibitions and disclosure expectations.

Further, we believe the SEC could point to FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-18 that addresses this topic covering testimonials of registered representatives. In the notice, FINRA states: “FINRA does not regard unsolicited third-party opinions or comments posted on a social network to be communications of the broker-dealer or the representative for purposes of Rule 2210, including the requirements related to testimonials in paragraph (d)(6).”  

Wealthtender has submitted written requests for clarification on this matter to the SEC (likely along with many other industry participants) and we monitor the SEC’s Marketing rule FAQ page daily. We’ll update our Guide to Growing Your Advisory Business Playbook as additional SEC guidance becomes known.

Ideas to Promote Your Testimonials and Endorsements Selectively (and Compliantly)

While the SEC permits you to create advertisements featuring only a subset of your reviews, you must not cause ‘any misleading implication or inference’. Fortunately, the SEC suggests this concern can be addressed by including a disclaimer that the excerpted review(s) are not representative and including a link to ‘all or a representative sample’ of your testimonials.

What this means is you’ll have opportunities to promote your reviews in a variety of ways, both online and offline. Below are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. As always, be sure to discuss your specific circumstances with your compliance team first.

Promoting Testimonials and Endorsements on Social Media

When it comes to popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you’ll have opportunities to promote your reviews, but doing so compliantly within the character count limitations and other constraints means it’s important to proceed with caution. 

You’ll need to ensure you’re incorporating the required clear and prominent disclosures alongside the review, along with a link to a representative sample of your testimonials (e.g. reviews on your own website or Wealthtender profile page).

Illustration showing what a compliant review on a social media platform like Facebook could look like.

Twitter may prove to be the most challenging social media platform for promoting your reviews due to their character count constraints, but you’ll find Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to be much more accommodating. 

Since Instagram doesn’t allow links in its posts, be sure to type out the link to your full list of reviews, and consider including your QR code within the post image to satisfy compliance requirements. 

Promoting Your Online Reviews Offline 

Just because your reviews are written online, doesn’t mean they have to stay there. 

Consider creating a printed flyer or brochure with a curated selection of testimonials and endorsements with appropriate disclosures; Include the QR code provided by Wealthtender linking to your profile page with all of your reviews, or type out the link to all reviews on your website. Insert this resource into your prospect kit.

The above approach also works for full-page magazine ads, mailed postcards, and if you want to go big, perhaps even a billboard? Of course, it’s best to walk before we run, but you get the idea. 

While a business card may lack sufficient space to achieve compliance with the above approach, consider adding a QR code prospects can scan with their mobile phone to quickly pull up your profile and read all your reviews online. This can turbocharge your business card’s effectiveness.

Repurposing Your Testimonials and Endorsements to be Both Seen and Heard

Your written reviews aren’t limited to just being read. The SEC permits oral testimonials and endorsements as long as you verbally include the required disclosures concurrently (including mention of the website address people can visit to read a representative sample of your reviews and their accompanying disclosures). This means if you host your own podcast, for example, you can include verbal testimonials at the start, middle, or end of your show.

Another idea is to create a YouTube ‘video’ where the audio version of the review can be listened to while the video concurrently displays the required clear and prominent and additional disclosures. You can then post this ‘video’ on your social media accounts.

It’s important to note the SEC expects you to maintain records of any audio reviews to demonstrate your compliance with the Marketing rule upon request. While it may be easy to pull up an older podcast episode featuring audio reviews and disclosures, social media posts may prove more difficult. Either way, the SEC suggests maintaining a script of the recording and disclosures can demonstrate your compliance.

Seminar Marketing: Use Your Testimonials to Increase Conversions of Prospects into Clients

If you conduct educational seminars online or in your community to attract new clients, your reviews can significantly increase your conversion rate of cold prospects who become warm leads and your future clients. 

Many people who attend online or in-person seminars have little or no relationship with you prior to the event. Your online reviews overcome this headwind by creating an emotional connection that builds trust and offers the social proof consumers need to hire you with confidence.

Use the ideas discussed throughout this article and within our Guide to Growing Your Advisory Business Playbook to incorporate your testimonials and endorsements into your seminar marketing activities before, during, and after the seminar. For example, a link to your reviews included with the seminar invitation; A flyer shared at the event showcasing reviews relevant to the seminar topic with a QR code linked to your reviews online; A post-event email linking to your reviews (which could also serve as a timely opportunity to ask for reviews from seminar attendees).

Turning Your Biggest Fans into Powerful Lead Magnets

As the number of testimonials and endorsements you collect grows, you’ll discover who among your clients and other reviewers are most enthusiastic about telling the world the value you deliver and the impact you’ve made in their lives. This is the pond you’ll want to fish in to identify clients and non-clients who may be happy to play an even larger role in helping you grow your practice.

For example, if you host a podcast, consider inviting a passionate client onto the show as a guest to elaborate on their experience working with you. Or ask if they would be willing to record a video discussing their experience in a Q&A format you can use on your website and social media.

You’ll of course need to pay extra attention to compliance requirements given the likelihood an extended discussion may cover a lot of ground, but with thoughtful planning ahead of time, you can steer clear of topics like investment performance that could lead to a heightened risk of prohibited content and increased regulatory scrutiny.

Getting Started with Testimonials and Endorsements

We hope you found this article useful and we encourage you to read each of the articles in our SEC Marketing Rule Education Series for more ideas to compliantly attract new clients and grow your business with testimonials and endorsements.

Financial advisors embracing online reviews will lead the industry in attracting new clients throughout the historic transfer of wealth from Baby Boomers to Millennials over the next decade.

Online reviews establish a human connection with prospects, demonstrating your trustworthiness and increasing their confidence in contacting and hiring you. But online reviews are just one important part of an effective marketing plan to strengthen your online reputation and attract new clients in today’s world.

At Wealthtender, we’re dedicated to helping you grow your business with our Modern Advisor Marketing™ platform that provides the knowledge and reassurance your future clients are looking for online to hire you with confidence and conviction.

Beyond our industry-first Certified Advisor Reviews™ designed for compliance with the SEC Marketing rule, financial advisors and wealth management firms that join Wealthtender gain recognition for their areas of specialization and SEO benefits to rank higher in Google search results.

Whether you choose to join our growing community of financial advisors and advisory firms on Wealthtender or prefer to grow on your own, we hope these articles help you achieve exceptional results with your online reviews for years to come.

If you have questions, feedback, or would like to discuss the SEC Marketing rule with us, please email yourfriends@wealthtender.com or call Wealthtender Founder and CEO Brian Thorp directly at (512) 856-5406.

About the Author
Brian Thorp, Founder and CEO of Wealthtender profile picture

About the Author

Brian Thorp

Brian is CEO and founder of Wealthtender. He and his wife live in Texas, enjoying the diversity of Houston and the vibrancy of Austin.

With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn

Disclaimer: In order to make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers including financial professionals who pay to be featured on our platform. This creates a natural conflict of interest when we favor promotion of our clients over other professionals not featured on Wealthtender. Learn how we operate with integrity to earn your trust.

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