The Internet is an endless repository of all things, wonderful and meaningless, incredible and absurd. But even the most meaningless and silly of information will exist . . . forever. For this reason we must be mindful of our own social media updates, posts, and conversations, both in our personal and professional lives.

Recently a friend and fellow financial services geek related a simple, everyday conversation with her niece she thought was harmless. Her young relative was debating which of two movies she should go see and my friend suggested a tactic she had used in her youth: paying for one and then sneaking into both. While the advice itself was questionable, what clearly was a mis-step was conducting this exchange on a very public social media network: Facebook.

Often we are blinded by the novelty and the ‘community’ aspect of Facebook and other social networks. In this bubble we can perceive a false sense of security and post whatever is on our mind. Yet, these platforms are, after all, networks. They are built to pass information through digital osmosis.

What if my friend’s customers had seen her admission of theft? It troubled me so I asked her how she would feel if a customer had paid for one thing from her, but stolen a second. She was somewhat perplexed: the conversation with her niece was on her personal Facebook account, so what did it matter?

Unfortunately, today it matters a lot. Clearly, the best rule of thumb given the transparent and long-lived nature of the Internet, is only post comments you would be comfortable seeing the next day on the cover of The New York Times.

As an entrepreneur, financial advisor, and individual, you must find the right balance of professionalism and authenticity on social networks. This social media tightrope is possible, and it’s not hard if you consider this advice before pressing “update” or “share.”

1. Be personable and respectful. So much of business today is about relationship building and being authentic. It’s okay to post photos of your dog (my Newfoundland, Aboo, is a regular star on my Facebook site) and comment on great restaurants, pubs, and local events. Feel free to share news items and your insights as well—just make sure your views are respectful and won’t offend your clients or prospects.

2. Tailor voice and approach to each network. Each social media platform has a unique vibe, so vary your posts accordingly.

• Facebook is casual and friendly, and a good site for sharing stories and pictures of your office or company picnic.

• LinkedIn is your place for providing thought-leadership commentary and more professional conversations.

• Twitter lets you combine both approaches by injecting some fun observations along with professional notes of interest.

3. Make wise photos choices. Before you post a photo of yourself on Facebook, consider the following: Who else is in the photo? What are the circumstances? How would it look to others who don’t know you well? Often an innocent picture captured at a networking mixer can be misconstrued as a “party” picture.

4. Update carefully. With mobile apps for updating your status, it’s easy to let your professionalism take a back seat. However, even when updating from your smartphone you must be cognizant of your word choices. In addition, be careful about posting constant stream-of-consciousness updates. I’ve known of a few advisors whose observations have gone awry and been misconstrued.

5. Check-in when appropriate. Are you at the right place at the wrong time? Wrong place at the wrong time? Either way, before you get too excited about checking in to a locale, make sure it’s somewhere you are a) proud to be b) would admit to your mother and c) would be client-appropriate.

6. Use social graces. Remember, your words will live on for many years; so make sure you consider tone and word choice with your postings. Emoticon winks to indicate you are ‘kidding’ are not enough to ensure your light-hearted intention will be taken the right way.

7. Consider compliance and regulatory rules. Many companies and broker/dealer firms have social media policies you must follow when engaging online. Even if there isn’t a stated policy, be careful with recommendations and casual product-based discussions.


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