WASHINGTON-Credit unions are calling foul on proposed federal guidelines that would, among other requirements, force credit unions to put proper consumer disclosures on all social media messages, cutting deeply into the allowable 140-character limit on Twitter, for example.

"Requiring us to include the words 'Federally insured by NCUA' or 'Member FDIC' or 'Equal Housing Opportunity Lender' will make it difficult to convey our messaging, especially on Twitter," Jenny Huschka, marketing manager for Wings Financial CU, said in a comment letter to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, which has proposed the social media guidelines. Instead, the Wings marketing director proposed a "one-click" rule for credit unions and banks engaging in Facebook, Twitter and other social media messaging that will require a link to the promo/information and that page will include the above information. "I see no reason to include it in tweets," she wrote.

Mark Rapp, SVP-strategic marketing at SchoolsFirst FCU, noted that NCUA's own advertising guidance exempts messages "that because of their type or character would be impractical to include the official advertising statements," including such promotional items as calendars, matchbooks, pens, pencils and key chains.

"The thought that the disclosure is the first piece that should be seen when linking from a Facebook or Twitter post to the financial institution website is not a viable option," commented Jennifer Kennedy of CEFCU in Peoria, Ill. "It should be acceptable that the disclosure be visible on the first page clicked or linked to, but it would be frustrating to the credit union member to have to click from Facebook to a disclosure page, and then have to click through that disclosure before being able to read any information on an offer they are interested in. As long as the disclosure is on the same web page as the promotion information, that format should be acceptable."

Added Greg Barnes of One Nevada CU, "Including 'Federally insured by NCUA' in every tweet on Twitter, for example, uses 25 characters out of a possible 140. That's 20% of the message!"

The FFIEC's proposed social media guidelines would require CUs to ensure all promotions sent via Twitter or Facebook adhere to proper disclosures and disclaimers under new guidelines issued by the FTC. The new guidelines would update the agency's 2000 guidance and state that advertisers should post all social media promotions "so that any necessary disclosures are clear and conspicuous, regardless of the device on which they are displayed."

Consumer Protection Laws

FFIEC guidance, which is followed by NCUA and bank regulators, does not have the legal authority of a regulation or law, but is used by examiners as part of a total review of a financial institution. The new guidance points out that advertisers using space-constrained ads, such as on some social media platforms, must still provide disclosures necessary to prevent an ad from being deceptive, and it advises marketers to avoid conveying such disclosures through pop-ups, as they are often blocked.

The updated guidance also emphasizes that consumer protection laws apply equally to marketers across all media, whether delivered on a desktop computer, a mobile device, or more traditional media. The new guidance takes into account the expanding use of smart phones with small screens and the rise of social media marketing.

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