One consensus that appears to be emerging among those who have read the new FINRA guidance is that Twitter may become more attractive because the guidelines say that dynamic content such as Twitter postings (a.k.a. tweets), posts on Facebook walls and posts on LinkedIn discussion boards do not need to be pre-approved by a compliance officer. By contrast, static content (LinkedIn profiles, blog posts and the like) must be pre-approved.

There are other regulatory issues for social media beyond the scope of this article. Our goal in bringing up compliance is simply to point out that you need to know the rules and understand the risks before diving into Facebook or Twitter. Fully understanding the regulatory implications of a social media campaign will require some commitment of time and money. At this point, the commitment may not be justified for everybody.

Another risk of using these sites is that they might do some harm to your reputation. If you mix your business and personal life on a social networking site (and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two) you run the risk of creating an online persona that is not appealing to prospective clients or business associates. An unflattering picture or an off-color remark can damage your image among business associates. While some would argue that adding a bit of your personality to your tweets is a good thing, you have to be careful not to turn people off. Do your vendors, clients and prospects really want to read that you are now in the supermarket, or taking a walk with your toddler? I think not, but judging by the tweets I've read, some advisors apparently disagree with me.

It will also take a lot of time and planning to develop a strong presence for yourself online, at least an hour a day, and more likely longer than that. Constance Stone, a CFP and ATP licensee at Stepping Stone Financial, says she understands the usefulness of social networking, but some of these problems concern her.

"I get it," she says, "I just don't know where others find the time! I also don't feel comfortable sharing personal daily thoughts and experiences and/or have the time to write often enough to make it a viable tool for me. That is a reflection of my personality and values, not a judgment on others that do engage in the use of social media."

If you are an employee, even if you try to keep your business and private online personas separate, your employer may be watching you. According to the National Workrights Institute (, some employers monitor their employees' blogs. Employers may even monitor a worker's home computer when he or she logs on to the corporate network, when the home computer temporarily becomes a part of it. Under some circumstances, that might open the door for an IT person within the firm to access all of the employee's personal data.

The institute's Web site offers numerous examples of data that employees thought was private being used against them by an employer.

What you don't know can hurt you. Some Twitter users try to automate their tweets. This results in a fair number of messages, which can raise your Twitter profile, but also result in gaffes if your automated feeds generate unexpected results (for example, when tweets designed to capture news about Schwab's PortfolioCenter application also generate unintended tweets about a design school by the same name in Atlanta).

We don't want to be too negative about social media. If used right, it can produce positive results. Our point is that you must do your due diligence first, and most advisors to date are having trouble getting the proper guidance.

"We'd like to use social media, but we've yet to discover reliable how-to advice," says Amy Thomsen, of Sharkey, Howes and Javer, a planning firm in Denver. Thomsen recently participated in a Webinar on the topic, but she did not feel it provided her with the information she needed.