Social networking in the workplace is becoming a very hot issue in business. Here is the challenge that I am starting to see for businesses with social networking in the workplace. I have a number of clients in the financial, legal, and other regulatory heavy industries who want to use social networking to build their business, but have been prevented from doing so for fear that their company will not allow them or fire them if they make a misstep.

That is why I want to tackle this dilemma immediately. This article is intended for salespeople and their managers who are looking to start a social networking campaign for their business, but are uncertain of how to do so in the current regulatory climate(aka the government penalizes you for having your shoelace tied wrong while talking to a client). There has to be a guide for the bankers, lawyers, sales people, and other professionals so they can use social networking as an extension of their branding and marketing efforts.

First, I am not a lawyer, and have not seen your company’s social networking policy. Refer to one of those two items before you even start saying, “Well, Andy said we could do it.” You need to know the law for your industry, and then you have to be prepared when talking to your boss, hr, quality control, or whoever is in charge of these policies. Do some research and you will find that the SEC, FINRA, and other governing bodies are not as strict as you would expect them to be with social networking. Essentially, if you could do something in traditional marketing, and you can provide the same or similar disclosures online you are in the clear 8 times out of 10.  Still, I do not want you to be on the wrong side of 10, so check up on these laws and regulations with appropriate channels.

Second, research why your company has developed these procedures. Are they stopping people from playing Farmville? Or, are they afraid that the SEC will come down with their almighty hammer to smash your company to smithereens, because you made a post on Facebook about the rates going down last week? Maybe, it is pure fear of the unknown that is preventing them from moving forward. Either way, do some research on your companies policies before you go into meet with your compliance department.

Third, have some examples ready of what you want to do. Are you looking to create a blog about personal finance? Then write your first blog post and let that be the example of what you intend to do in the future for your social networking efforts. Can you use Twitter? Write 10 tweets. Instead of just putting out a vague idea of what you want to do, give them examples.

Fourth, set up ground rules. Some companies will allow you to use social networking as long as you show them the content first, others will want to take part in the content creation. Make sure that you understand exactly what your company is expecting from you up front. Get it in writing. Create some scripts for contacting people on Linkedin and Facebook, so you have a company approved message for creating friends ahead of time. Make sure that if you want to have a blog post a week out that you have it ready a week in advance for review.

In the end, social networking in the workplace will come down to a compromise between what you want to do, and what the company does not want you to do. If you need help with social networking in the workplace please feel free to ask me a question in the comments section.