You bet financial advisors should register at Google Places! But beware of the risks.
If you register for Google Places, it helps validate that you’re a real business.
Registering makes it more likely you will get found on the Web. Specifically, registering at Google Places makes it possible for you to appear in Google Maps.
You don’t control the reviews and ratings about you, and you don't control the names of other firms in your local area that will be displayed as “related places.”
In addition, you could get a bad review. In fact, one “black hat” search engine optimization technique (SEO) is to hire someone to post good reviews about you and write negative reviews about your competition. Needless to say, this is incredibly unethical, causes bad karma, and could expose you to legal actions and other very negative consequences, the least of which is being blacklisted by Google. (Beware of unethical search vendors, as reported recently in The Haggler, a great column by David Segal in The New York Times.)
Anyone in business for a few years is likely to have some disagreements with clients. While the old adage that “the client is always right” is a good credo to run your business by, clients can be unreasonable. Sometimes anything you do to fix a problem with a client is not enough, and these unhappy clients could post a negative review on your Google Place page.
However, consumers know that sometimes in business you will have a negative review. So having some small percentage of negative reviews is not a disaster. But you do want to have as many positive reviews as possible.
Telling clients that you have had good relationships with that you are listed on Google for them to review and rate your firm is not a bad idea. However, it does raise some compliance questions.
Keep in mind that listing your firm in Google Maps is advertising. The compliance issues surrounding Google Places listing have not even beguin to be addressed by regulators because it is a new emerging area, but the compliance risk posed by creating a Google Places listing seems low at this point.
Thousands of RIAs already have Google Places listings, and neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor state regulators have filed any disciplinary actions against RIAs with Google Places listings. That’s no guarantee that they won’t but it is a good indication that getting reviewed on Google does not constitute a testimonial. So the compliance risk posed by having a Google Places listing would seem to be pretty low.
While I would love to hear from any compliance consultants on this issue, having a Google Places page would not seem to be a violation of rules prohibiting RIAs from using client testimonials in their advertising.
Since you do not control the reviews and rating, it is not advertising. An RIA who creates a Google Places page does not control what is posted and I don’t believe it could be judged as advertising.