Welcome to the blog of inTAXicating.ca! Since 2008 we've been writing posts to help Canadians solve their tax issues with the Canada Revenue Agency. If you have any questions, or if you need assistance with any CRA matters including, but not limited to; Collections, Enforcement, Audits, Liens, Back-Filing, Assessments, Director's Liability, s160/325, Taxpayer Relief or the Voluntary Disclosure Program. If you have debt and are considering Bankruptcy or a Consumer Proposal, speak with us first. With over 10-years of CRA experience in the Collections division, our expertise is in the diagnosing and solving of the most complex tax problems.
The Canada Revenue Agency have announced that they have charged a member of Nova Scotia’s Millbrook First Nation with evading $2.2 million in GST/HST.
The CRA charged Lisa L. Marshall who was the operator of the Traditional Trading Post, a convenience store, located on the Cole Harbour reserve of the Millbrook First Nation using the Excise Tax Act with wilfully evading or attempting to evade compliance with that Act.
The CRA alleges that between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2015, the store failed to collect or remit $2,284,144.72 in Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) related to the sale of tobacco products to non-Aboriginals.
The agency says people who fail to remit tax owing are liable not only for the full amount, but also to penalties and interest, and if convicted, the court can levy a fine of up to 200% of the tax evaded and also impose a prison term of up to 5 years.
The moral of the story here, is that if you are required to charge, collect and remit GST or HST, you should. The CRA treats Trust Funds – money taken by registrants and held in trust until they are remitted to the Crown – very seriously, and those who misuse Trust Funds are dealt with swiftly and to the full extent of the law allowed to be used by the CRA.
Do you have tax debt to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)? Tax arrears causes stress each and every day on you, your business and your family? Even if you are in an arrangement with the CRA, they can change their mind on a moments notice and want more. Knowing that the CRA can take all your money, or close your business at any time for your Tax Debt cannot help you sleep at night…
Everybody has answers for you which best suits themselves or their business.
We have a solution that best suits you and your business.
It’s called the Debt Diagnosis, and it’s a service we provide that no other tax solution / tax resolution / tax negotiator can provide.
Our Debt Diagnosis Program looks at the specifics of your CRA debt, your other debts, your current compliance situation, your assets, liabilities, ability to pay, and a whole bunch of other factors and we provide you with your options, suggestions and recommendations regarding how to proceed with your CRA debt(s).
We’ll advise you about options – options you know about already, like the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program, and the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosures Program – and we will tell you about options you don’t know about, and you won’t find in writing, because the CRA doesn’t want you to know about them.
As a former CRA Collections Senior Officer – who spent almost 11-years collecting primarily business taxes – GST/HST, Payroll, Corporate Tax, and Personal tax – and managing CRA Collections staff – I understand Director’s Liability, Non-Arms Length Assessments, Write-Off’s, Payment Arrangements, Taxpayer Relief, and everything else to do with collections better than anyone!
I created the Write-Off checklist that many CRA office’s use to write off their accounts.
I have resolved files that the CRA never thought they would collect on, while I was working at the CRA, and working outside the CRA.
Knowing the ins and outs of the CRA’s Collections division helps you!
Remember this: Getting in to Tax Debt takes time. Getting out of Tax Debt also takes time!
If someone is offering you a quick solution, then they are trying to get you into Bankruptcy, or filing a Consumer Proposal. Insolvency firms are creating “tax” centres to “help” you with your tax debts. They offer prompt resolution of CRA Collection actions, such as; Requirements to Pay and Wage Garnishments because if you go bankrupt the CRA cannot collect their debts… Most of the time.
Learn what options you have, which are specific to your Tax Debt / Tax Compliance matters.
The CRA has options available for Taxpayers who cannot pay their debts.
Use those, instead of trading Tax Debt for Credit Problems.
You can register for the CRA’s direct deposit, and receive your income tax refunds and benefits quickly and securely, however, if you provide the CRA with your bank information AND fall into tax troubles, the CRA can, and will, use that bank account to freeze or seize the money in it to pay off the debt.
Additionally, there are some new changes which can impact your tax return, some of which include;
Medical Expense Tax Credit for Reproductive Expenses
The medical expense tax credit provides relief for individuals who have paid significant medical expenses for themselves or certain dependants. This credit is non-refundable credit and is intended to reduce taxes owing.
Effective for 2017, amounts paid for reproductive technologies for the purpose of conceiving a child can be claimed as a medical expense tax credit, even if the individual does not have a medical condition preventing them from conceiving a child. Previously, the medical expense tax credit was available if the use of the reproductive technologies directly related to a medical infertility condition.
A request can be made to the Canada Revenue Agency to claim reproductive technologies expenses unclaimed in the last 10 calendar years.
Certification of Disability Tax Credit Certificate
The Disability Tax Credit program provides relief for individuals who have a severe and prolonged impairment in physical and mental functions by providing a non-refundable tax credit that can reduce taxes owing.
As of March 2017, nurse practitioners and medical doctors are allowed to certify Form T2201, Disability Tax Credit Certificate.
Federal Public Transit Credit
After June 30, 2017, amounts paid for eligible transit passes no longer qualify for a non-refundable tax credit, however, you can claim a non-refundable tax credit in your 2017 income tax and benefit return for eligible transit passes paid from January 1, 2017 to June 30, 2017.
As a result of the changes made to the Federal Public Transit Credit, the Ontario government introduced a new refundable tax credit effective July 1, 2017, and to be eligible to claim this credit, you must meet the following criteria:
Be 65 years of age at the beginning of the year;
Reside in Ontario at the end of the year; and
Paid for eligible transit service from July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017 (receipts should be retained).
The maximum refundable credit that can be claimed for 2017 is $225. For subsequent years, the maximum refundable credit is $450. Visit the Canada.ca site here, for additional information.
Tuition, Education and Textbook Credit
Effective January 1, 2017, the Federal, education and textbook credits were eliminated, however, any unused credits from previous years can be carried-forward.
As a result of the 2016 Ontario Budget, changes were made to the Ontario tuition and education non-refundable tax credits. Credit is available for eligible tuition fees paid for studies before September 5, 2017. In addition, credit for the education amount is available for months of study before September 2017. Unused credits from previous years can be carried forward.
Of most importance is that you must file that tax return on time to the CRA. If you have a habit of being late, the CRA will increase the amount of the Late Filing Penalty (LFP) year-over-year, and they multiply that percentage against the amount of taxes owing. There is not limit to the amount of penalties which can be charged, and the most I have seen is 93%. That is a LOT, and it’s in addition to the taxes owing!
If you need assistance with anything discussed above, or if you require more details, or have CRA debts, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your coast-to-coast CRA Collections expertise.
Not for me, but worried for you. I’m worried that you have forgotten to prepare the T4 for your employee, or nanny, and that you will not be able to submit the T4 with the T4 summary to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) by the February 28th deadline.
If you have not completed the T4 or T4 summary yet and are weighing your options, I have some information you need to consider.
First, provided you have been making regular remittances to the CRA, you already have the information you need to submit to the CRA.
Secondly, if you have been making regular remittances the CRA will have sent you a code which allows you to complete the T4 and T4 summary online and which allows you to file online.
Third, if you let the deadline slide by, you are going to pay a penalty.
Say what you will about the Canada Revenue Agency, but they ask and they listen. If you have had the opportunity to attend a CRA information session (or be on a panel as I have) you know that the CRA wants to know what bothers people and how they can improve things. They really do.
In the good old days, when I worked at the CRA, late filing of a T4 was a minimum $100 penalty (plus interest) and late filing of a T4 summary was a minimum $400 penalty to a maximum of $2500.
The CRA has instituted a new administrative policy that applies to certain information returns to ensure that late-filing penalties are charged in a manner that is both fair and reasonable for small businesses. The penalty is the greater of $100 or a penalty determined as follows:
Relieving administrative policy – penalties
Number of information
Penalty (per day)
1 – 5
$100 flat penalty
6 – 10
11 – 50
51 – 500
501 – 2,500
2,501 – 10,000
10,001 or more
Of course, if you have to get it done by the 28th and you are close on figures, you can always send them your best estimation and amend the return at a later date. You won’t get hit with the late filing penalties unless your figures are WAY off from the real figures and the CRA feels you sent these numbers to in some way circumvent the rules. Interest will continue to apply.
Ever since I caught wind of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, back in 2010, FATCA has been near the top of my radar. For those of you who are unaware what FATCA is, The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requires citizens of the United States (present, past, those with citizenship who do not live there, those who worked there a specific number of day, and those who received “accidental” citizenship through birth), to report their financial assets held outside of the United States to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If providing that information means that the IRS would be taxing you and you have been trying to hide these assets, FATCA requires foreign financial institutions to report your information to the IRS. The intent of FATCA was to combat offshore tax evasion and to recoup federal tax revenues. FATCA is a portion of the 2010 Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act.
As the tax manager at Computershare Investor Services and the Assistant Vice President of Tax for CitiGroup (CitiFund Services) I got to know FATCA very intimately and at one point or another became the Canadian lead on information dissemination and compliance. After almost 11-years of interpreting legislation at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) deciphering this text came second nature and thus taking the FATCA regulations and translating them into English was not a difficult task, but more something that I had to do in order to teach myself the requirements so I could pass along that knowledge to my employers and to my clients.
The interesting thing about FATCA from a Canadian side was that with over a million “US Persons” here in Canada (probably much more now) I don’t believe the IRS understood that the majority of them were paying taxes in Canada and since the Canadian tax rate is higher than the US rate, there was some hesitation on the Canadian side to provide all this data to the IRS for no net gain. Other countries rushed to sign intergovernmental agreements with the IRS to meet deadlines which have now been pushed out again as a result of the July 2014 start date for FATCA, but Canada did not.
The Canadian government was hesitant to force Canadian financial institutions to provide the very detailed information on Canadian citizens for fear that they would be double taxed, something the Canada-US Treaty strove to avoid. In addition, the Canadian side wanted the Canada Revenue Agency included so that information could pass through secure channels and potential breaches of security and privacy could be avoided. There was even talk that Canada refused to sign an agreement with the IRS, instead forcing the IRS to seek their own tax cheats from their own side of the border.
Then something changed.
The IRS began ramping up their search for US Persons via every mean possible – whether it was checking Facebook accounts to see where people are born, cross-checking it with school records – or by allowing people who had no previous knowledge of FATCA some amnesty when catching up on their delinquent tax returns, but then hammering them on their filing of the Report of Foreign and Financial Assets to the tune of $10,000 per late return – with no maximum.
People became scared, and when scared you have two choices to make. Either flee or fight. In this case it’s either comply or pray.
Those who chose to file had to wade through unclear rules and regulations and a lot of unclear information floating around on the Internet. Is there penalty, is there not? Will I be charges criminally, or will the IRS understand that I was not aware of my obligations. Do I have to file 3-years of past-due returns or 10 years? When are FBAR’s due? Should this cost me $10,000 or $100,000?
Many questioned the over-reach on the US side while others commented that as an US citizen, the requirements were there and you should have known.
But with all that being said, on February 5th, 2014, Canada and United States announced that they have reach an agreement on Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).
The intergovernmental agreement lays out the details of how the US will be using FATCA to track down the Canadian financial activities of US persons to make sure they are paying required taxes to the IRS.
Under the terms of the agreement Canadian financial institutions will send some of the information they collect on their US clientele to the Canada Revenue Agency and the CRA will transmit the information to the IRS.
My take from reading the release is that the Canadian government realized their hands were tied, however they were not going to allow the IRS to demand information which violates Canadian privacy laws and thus allowed the IRS to pursue their legitimate tax-base with the assistance of the CRA much in the same way the CRA and IRS work together to collect tax debts – through information sharing and not the actual collecting of debts for the other country.
Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, the Minister of National Revenue said; “This is strictly a tax information-sharing agreement. This agreement will not impose any U.S. taxes or penalties on U.S. citizens or U.S. residents holding accounts in Canada. The CRA does not collect the U.S. tax liability of a Canadian citizen if the individual was a Canadian citizen at the time the liability arose. This includes dual Canada-U.S. citizens. That will not change under this agreement.”
Changes to the FATCA legislation under this agreement include, but are not limited to;
Certain accounts are exempt from FATCA and will not be reportable, including Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP), Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIF), Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSP), Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), and others yet to be released.
Smaller deposit-taking institutions, such as credit unions, with assets of less than $175 million will be exempt from FATCA compliance.
The 30 percent FATCA withholding tax will not apply to clients of Canadian financial institutions, and can apply to a Canadian financial institution only if the financial institution is in significant and long-term non-compliance with its obligations under the agreement.
This intergovernmental agreement is only the beginning. Recent G-8 and G-20 commitments agreed upon in September 2013, intended to fight tax evasion globally and to improve tax fairness, provide for an automatic exchange of tax information as the new global standard. This agreement signaled an intention to begin exchanging information automatically on tax matters among G-20 members by the end of 2015.
So like it or not, FATCA is just the beginning of a world-wide crack down on tax evasion.
Still on the fence?
inTAXicating Tax Services works with several Canadian tax-preparation firms who specialize in US taxes, and FATCA compliance. If you wish to get caught up, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com. If, you have further questions and wish to discuss your requirements, you can email, or call us at 416.833.1581. If you wish to comment, you may do so below.
Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you wealth, happiness, prosperity and great health. May it also bring you debt-free (should you need to be) and also allow you to be one step ahead of the taxing authorities.
With the changing of the calendar, many are already working on their new years’ resolutions, but you should also review the list below to see if there are any actions you can do now to reduce your 2013 taxes owing or to increase the amount of refund you will get this year, or in future years. It’s never the wrong time to thing about tax savings – we do it all the time here at Intaxicating, and want to pass along some tips for you.
Here are 14 easy strategies you can still take advantage of which impact your 2013 taxation year;
1. Make your installment payments as required, or if you have fallen behind, catch up with one lump sum payment right away.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) charges interest on missed installment payments, but if you catch up in one fell swoop, then they begin to reduce the amount of interest they charge you. Ssshhh. It’s a secret.
2. Make sure you file on time and pay in full while doing so.
So how does this impact the 2013 taxation year, you might be asking and why is it so high up the list? It is because many Canadians are shocked with the amount of money they owe at year-end and it’s the worst time of the year to discuss ways to reduce taxes with your accountant or tax preparer because they are so unbelievably overwhelmed they cannot spare 2 minutes to talk to you, let alone review your return for possible deductions you failed to mention to them. You are not the accountant! Nor the tax professional. So take time now to speak to someone who knows about what you do for a living and see if there are areas where you may be entitled to a deduction or credit and then go get that supporting documentation. Also use the time to run your year-end situation through a free tax program to see how much you owe and what it will take to reduce that, or make it go away completely.
If, however, you are stuck owing a balance to the CRA or MRQ, make sure to set aside the funds to pay it in full with the filing of your tax return. Heck, you could even send in the money now if you have it, but do not wait until even a day later than the deadline or interest starts accumulating. The CRA charges 10% interest compounding daily, so it can add up rather quickly.
3. Contribute to your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).
The deadline to contribute to your RRSP for 2013 is March 3rd, 2014. If you need to know how much you are eligible to contribute to your RRSP. check your 2012 CRA Notice of Assessment. Or, check online using the CRA’s “My Account” service. Your contribution limit for 2013 is going to be 18% of your 2012 earned income (to a maximum of $23,820) less your 2012 pension adjustment, if any, plus any RRSP room carried forward from prior years.
4. Contribute to a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).
The Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) program was initiated by the federal government to assist families saving for their children’s post-secondary education. As an added bonus, the government tops up your annual contribution by 20%, up to a maximum of $500 ($2,500 contributions x 20%) per beneficiary per calendar year, to a lifetime maximum of $7,200.
5. If you turned 71-years-old, you must collapse your RRSP.
If you turned 71-years-old by December 31, 2013, you must collapse your RRSP by the end of the year. At that time, you have 3 choices to make; either pay tax on the fair market value of the plan’s assets, transfer your RRSP into a Registered Retirement Fund Income Fund (RRIF), or purchase an annuity with the proceeds. No tax is paid at the time of the purchase of the annuity or at the time of conversion into a RRIF. You may still be able to contribute to your spouse’s RRSP under certain conditions.
6. Make your Home Buyers’ Plan repayment before it is included in your income for the year.
The Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) is a program that allows you to withdraw funds from your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to buy or build a qualifying home for yourself or for a related person with a disability. You can withdraw up to $25,000 in a calendar year.
Generally, you have to repay all withdrawals to your RRSPs within a period of no more than 15 years. You will have to repay an amount to your RRSPs each year until your HBP balance is zero. If you do not repay the amount to your RRSP, for 2012, it will have to be included in your income for that year. The deadline is
March 3rd, 2014.
7. Pay the interest on low-interest loans related to income-splitting.
If you have entered into an income-splitting arrangement with family members and have loaned funds to either a spouse or a child at the interest rate set (quarterly) by the CRA, make sure that the interest on these loans are paid before January 30, 2014, or the loans will be subject to the attribution rules which taxes the income earned by your spouse or child in your hands.
8. Pay the interest on an employer-loan to avoid it becoming a taxable benefit.
If in 2012, you received a low-interest loan from your employer you will want to ensure that interest is paid on that loan before January 30, 2014 in order to avoid a deemed taxable employment benefit. This benefit will be calculated at the CRA’s prescribed rate for the period that the loan was outstanding (which increased from 1% to 2%, effective October 1, 2013) less any interest actually paid. This is not to be confused with a loan taken out as a result of shares owned.
9. Reduce your business income by paying your family members who work for you.
As a business owner, it is beneficial to pay your family members a wage consistent with a wage you would pay to a complete stranger in order to reducing the amount of income in your business. Also ensure that you are remitting to the CRA the CPP, EI and tax amounts on these payments. You will need to issue them a T4, and file a T4 summary with the CRA by February 28th, 2014.
10. File any T4’s and the T4 summary before the CRA deadline of February 28th, 2014 in order to avoid any penalties and interest.
If you are short on remitting for any employees, take advantage of the January 15th remittance – the last one for 2013 – and also consider the Payment on Filing (POF) option to top up amounts with the filing of the T4 summary. Keep in mind, if you use the POF option to catch up on a considerable amount of funds, the CRA will still charge you maximum penalties.
11. Pay back any personal operating costs on employer-provided cars.
If your employer provides you with a company car, you already know that it is a taxable benefit and it will be included on your T4. Did you know that the actual benefit is made up of two parts; The first part is a standby charge based on a percentage of the original cost or the monthly lease payments for the car, and the second part applies if your employer pays the automobile’s operating expenses. In 2013, this benefit is equal to 27¢ per personal kilometre driven. The standby charge and the operating benefit are reduced by the amounts you pay to your employer. For a standby charge reduction, your payment must have been made during 2013. For an operating benefit reduction, your payment must be made by February 14, 2014.
12. Has the tax burden from previous years got you considering bankruptcy?
You are not alone! In Canada 55% of bankruptcies are CRA related. Before you speak with a trustee, speak with your trusted tax professionals at Intaxicating Tax Services, who can tell you whether or not the debt is fully collectible, and if there are other options available to you which will not ruin your credit for 7 years. Even if the CRA is breathing down your neck, they are not allowed to tell you to file for bankruptcy and they like to think they understand when someone is insolvent, but we have the expertise, and the network to help you out of debt or, if you decide to proceed with a bankruptcy, or proposal, get you the best deal possible.
13. Google your tax problem!
You might have heard that it can be dangerous to Google that you have a tax problem, however nothing can be further from the truth. The CRA has all their tax information online and there are a plethora of tax-related resources available to help you determine if you should go it alone or if additional help is needed. Make sure when you are doing your research that the information you are reading matches with the CRA website, does not sound too good to be true or is written in such a way to scare you into thinking you need to pay for a service you may not. Most reputable firms will offer a free consultation, or a nominal fee for an hour meeting followed up with a written report to help you decide what to do. Don’t rush into something until you have all the facts.
14. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Speak with your accountant / tax professional about any deductions that you may be entitled to such as the public transit tax credit or for working at home. If your accountant has not already asked you about what you do in detail then it’s up to you to determine if you need to brush up on the tax act yourself, or find a new tax team to help you pay the least amount of tax possible, like the tax professionals at Intaxicating Tax Services. If, on the other hand, you are having issues with collections, then we are the only place to go based on our hands-on experience on both sides of the negotiating table.
As a user of the Internet, for work or for play, it is extremely important to know and understand what the consequences can be when you use social media.
Many do not.
I am constantly amazed that people get caught doing, saying or showing things online which they later regret and the consequences of their actions can be very severe. It certainly changes the way people see them, and can change the way people treat them, with bullying, job loss, or lack of promotion some of the worse case scenarios.
I learned this the hard way. In the almost nine years since I started blogging I did so with the mistaken assumption that no one read my it and that the 5-10 hits a day were complete strangers who arrived there by error. Not having any comments, and being able to see the search engine terms used to get there it was easy for me to write whatever I wanted in complete anonymity. My blog was my forum to bitch, moan and complain about whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it. Getting it all off my chest made me feel great.
Then it all came crashing down. I can recall this as if it were yesterday, when I hit send on one particular post from 2005 in which I complained about my employer and also lambasted some colleagues for their lack of work ethic. I never thought for a moment that there was a remote possibility that anyone from my company was reading my blog and that the information I wrote in that post, or in any of my previous posts were going to be spread around the office and used against me, like they were.
My hits over the next couple days went from 5-10 to 150 on that post and I started to receive anonymous ominous comments on that post. Stuff started to disappear from my desk, and I would get hang-ups in the middle of the night. Then some of my colleagues would start random conversations with me and include information from my blog that they would not have known if they did not read it there, like “how was the movie you saw Saturday with your wife at Yorkdale.” I was perplexed.
It was soon thereafter when I realized that I had made a really stupid mistake and if I wanted to continue to work there without having my stuff disappear, I would need to go into damage control and implement my own social media policy.
Some of the key points are below;
1) No mention of work. Ever. I’m a blogger building my brand first and foremost.
2) No mention of names of my family or friends unless they give me permission.
3) No posting of pictures on any form of social media except for family pictures on Facebook that I would be comfortable sharing with the world or a future employer.
4) I would never say anything online that I do not believe in or would not say face-to-face to someone.
5) If I am going to be critical of something or someone it had to be fact based and that required sources and a ton of research. No gossip or hearsay.
6) I am my own brand. I want my brand to be respected and taken seriously so I will have to treat others that way – good and bad.
The next thing I had to do was take a step back and see how this new social media policy worked for. I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress and kept it hidden until I was sure that I could play by these rules. Once I came out from hiding, I not only started to play fairly, but I started to informally educate others about the consequences of using social media for I realized that whatever you post that can be traced back to you, or your brand, can and will be used against you at some point in your life.
I have seen people tagged in photos where they are with friends and drinking, and the picture is most unflattering – maybe they are winking but look drunk – or the comments to a photo are unflattering or rude, or a photo taken in an inappropriate position – like on the toilet, and even an innocent comment like “I’m bored” which shows up next to a mention about your place of employment. All these examples can have long-lasting consequences far from the original intent. Ignoring them is not an option and just removing them usually does not suffice either. Not being in that situation is the best choice a person can make, and letting others know if equally as important.
I’m being tough on myself, but it’s nothing compared to the tolerance that certain industries have for themselves and when tracking their massive employee base.
Financial services, for example, can be especially tough due to the high regulation and as an employer they must ensure that their employees are clear about the organizations expectations and the social media policy.
I, for example, when hiring for my tax units always spends a few minutes to check out the candidates Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and then I Googled them to see if there are any warning flags. To not do so, would be not be responsible on my behalf. If they post anything and their profiles are not neat and tidy it means either they are going to be social media nightmares for the company or I am going to have to do a lot of coaching and mentoring them to ensure they don’t get caught online harming the company’s image of their own brand.
One of the first discussions I would have with staff is to caution them about what they say when using certain social media outlets, like LinkedIn. If they are choosing to comment on posts and join discussions they have to remember that they are not just individuals commenting there but they are also employees so they have to be cautious to keep their comments on topic and away from anything which could get them fired or the company sued.
I treat all my online activities, whether blogged, tweeted, liked or commented on, which relate to any external business as being monitored and recorded by someone if the company is not doing it themselves. I expect the same from my staff, my colleagues and my peers. I know when I talk to staff who are not practicing safe, social media that it is just a matter of time before it catches up to them.
Implementing an effective social media compliance process isn’t rocket science especially when the company has a clear social media policy and everyone abides by it and that policy has to be more than reactionary and punitive. Effective companies outline how they interact with the world via social media and how they expect their employees to do so as well. Leading organizations empower employees to build the corporate brand but it is certainly a team effort every step of the way.
Almost every other department has a key role in shaping the message. Marketing defines the scope of the message, the IT group outlines which social technologies will be used and provides the devices to be used while the legal and social media compliance groups are critical to ensure that the messages meet the necessary regulatory criteria. Once all that is in order it is absolutely critical for the training and learning group to be engaged so that the organization be trained to understand the pros and cons of using the various forms of social media, the most common being Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
What most employees in large organizations do not know unless they are trained is that any output on a social media platform goes through a series of serious checks and balances before someone hits send. Static content, for example – such as Facebook and LinkedIn profiles – require documented pre-approval before being posted online, while interactive content such as updates to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks do not need to be vetted, however, regularly monitoring the content is extremely critical to ensure that there are no compliance violations or negative comments.
What most employees fail to understand is that these tight rules not only apply to business-related items posted by the organization but also if it comes from the employees personal social media accounts. It pays to think twice before speaking about your organization, their practices, clients or earnings.
Organizations keeping a close eye on their social media content in order to control the public message and ensure it is compliant with the organization’s policies and procedures. It also allows organizations to control their message and that makes sense from a brand perspective as quick accurate responses to comments shows a proactive organization while quick responses to, or removal of, derogatory or inappropriate messages displays a proactive social media policy. Keeping negative comments unanswered in a thread is a message to the general public that it is okay to pile on with more negative comments and spam the site. If these comments are removed and/or responded to quickly than others will think twice before hitting send.
Even prior to the monitoring the output, employees usually are not aware that many organizations prefer to control the message by utilizing tools to prevent rogue posts from ever hitting the web. Organizations assign limited permissions to certain employees and once that employee is finished creating a tweet, comment or update it is them moved into a queue to be edited or for managerial review before it moves to the compliance group, then on to marketing before it is approved and posted.
The best of these systems even come with their own archiving tools already built-in as financial services are heavily regulated and keeping all outgoing messages for a certain period of time, are a requirement of regulators.
Banning social communications altogether and hoping for the best, is no longer a viable alternative. Restricting communication, access to information and people networking is a practice which many organizations have been moving away from since smartphones have become commonplace on the hips of many employees. There is also the opinion that if organizations continue to resist, that their competitors and customers are moving ahead and talking about them to their current customers and to their potential customers.
To further that point, many organizations who are already heavy in social media are forging ahead with new social media positions, such as the social media compliance officer who among other things, lines up tweets for management’s approval and works closely with legal, marketing and training to ensure the right message is getting out and that all staff have been trained in a meaningful manner on the risk of non-compliance to these policies both for their personal brand and for their company.
Banks in particular, are moving forward quickly in all areas of social media, and with great reason. These customers tend to be more affluent and faster adopters of new, expense-cutting technology such as online and mobile banking, which makes them particularly valuable at a time when revenues are low and expense cutting makes the most sense. Getting them on the bank’s side also helps on the public relations front as these tech savvy folks are just as likely to comment online about good experiences, as they are to complain about bad ones.
So next time you fire up the computer, smartphone or tablet, make sure that before you press send that you are doing so responsibly. You don’t want to ruin your brand in a manner of seconds (or a few words) considering how long it took you to build it up.