Use Common Sense and Heed Your Industry’s Respective Rules and Regulations When Communicating Through Social Media Forums

by David Cosgrove

It seems like every week I read an article that offers tips about how business professionals should use (or not use) social media. In fact, I posted one myself last year on our Securities and Investing blog. Some articles are specific to certain industries or professions, like mine, and some are general, but they all could be summed up in three little words…..use common sense. So why is this post different from other blog posts out there? I’m a lawyer, not a provider of statistics or a marketing guru. I’m also a lawyer who believes that while social media is good, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) do it all.

What you would do (or not do) in person can offer a lot of insight into how you should use social media. Would it be appropriate to ask a particular individual out for a non-business dinner? If the answer is “no” because of business conflicts or the perception it would give, then don’t “friend” them. Common sense. Are your tweets clear enough so as not to be misconstrued? In just 140 characters, it is not always easy to be clear, and once people start re-tweeting it, it takes on a life of it’s own. Use common sense.

If you are in a profession, such as in the legal profession, that has very specific rules and regulations governing the actions of the professionals, take those rules and regulations to heart. In another context would this social media action be compliant with those rules and regulations? For example, profile fields limiting the number of characters and the inability to effectively control the number of people you are communicating with (and still use the big voice of social media) may conflict with some industry’s regulations regarding communication.

One example is the securities industry. Individuals in the securities industry actually have a wealth of guidance already available with regulations and some official Notices provided to offer specific guidance to industry professionals on social media. FINRA‘s Regulatory Notice 10-06 offers insightful Q&A’s regarding social media. FINRA also has a Guide to the Internet for Registered Representatives and podcasts available that offer guidance in this area.

Back to the idea that social media doesn’t do it all. While it may be efficient and helpful to be completely linked to all forms of social media (such as this handy blog here), a face to face meeting and publishing articles in journals and industry related magazines is still an excellent way to be involved. And the pitfalls of sending an erroneous tweet or starting a blog that doesn’t sufficiently comply with your industry’s communications regulations can be avoided, preventing you from falling short of compliance requirements. Using each outlet wisely is key. And most importantly…use common sense!