For months now those of us in the tech blogosphere have batted around ideas about how to formulate social media guidelines for the workplace. I've done two or three interviews and who knows how many posts on the subject, and I'm just one person. I've written about whether lawyers should use social media, instances in which it has gotten law enforcement into trouble, and a few in which employers had to backpedal and change their policies to avoid severe backlash from the social-networking sites themselves.
This week, however, I came across something new, or if not new, something I haven't seen others write about up to now. InvestmentWeek editor Jim Pavia suggests even investment advisers should avail themselves of the advantages social media tools provide . He says:
Financial advisers should be able to take part in the new medium as anyone else does - to share ideas, educate, respond, and expand financial and investment knowledge. But like others, advisers shouldn't use social media to promote themselves or do anything for which they would be fined in any other medium.
It makes sense. But, as Pavia also notes, in an industry as highly regulated as financial services, nothing is ever that simple. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has the final say regarding what registered advisers can and cannot say in public, regardless which medium they choose, so the regulator has put together a task force to determine how and when investment advisers should make use of social-networking tools. He says:
Although specific social-networking guidelines are pending, Finra is very clear that all communication used by way of the Internet, including social networks, must be held to the same standard as any personal or written communication. For compliance purposes, therefore, electronic communication should be considered the equivalent of correspondence, a public appearance, an advertisement or sales literature.
The biggest sticking point for many firms that have prohibited social media completely is that the impromptu and real-time nature of most social media prevents management from preapproving or disapproving individual communications.
Surely an innovative software shop has something in the works -- or already on the shelves, even -- that would allow some kind of moderation before messages are published to the world. Blogging platforms usually offer the option, after all. Like Pavia, I will be interested to see what FINRA decision-makers come up with once the guidelines are published.