I met my new friend Jeff Reed through a LinkedIn group. Jeff works as a wealth adviser for a large national company but has been hamstrung in his attempts to use social media.

“I am forbidden to use it,” he said. “The company is trying to figure out what to do, but in the mean time I feel like the world is passing me by.”

This is not an unusual situation. Regulated industries like banks and healthcare have to pay attention to the legal ramifications of how they share information.  Still, I think they are missing a bigger opportunity by not exploring how social media can be used on a very personal and human level.

I asked Jeff: “Does your company forbid you from attending a business networking meeting?”

“No.”

“Do they keep you away from going to a chamber of commerce function?”

“No.”

“Then what’s the difference? This is just another business networking opportunity. You don’t have to sell, you don’t have to advise. You don’t even have to identify your employer. Why not just be yourself and meet cool people and learn from them. Who knows … they just might turn into clients some day.”

This got Jeff’s attention. He was interested enough to enroll in one of my college classes and from that point on he has been on fire with this stuff, exploring several strategies to connect with people in meaningful new ways. And it’s working!

This is what most businesses — even regulated ones — miss. Social networking is not about B2B or B2C marketing.  It’s P2P — person to person. And isn’t that what personal services is all about?

If you are expected to grow your business through time-consuming live networking meetings or expensive advertising programs, doesn’t it make sense to unleash the powerful, cost-effective potential of the social web … before your competitors do?

In addition to the networking opportunities, there are several ways businesses like financial services and healthcare can employ social media within their industry regulations:

Social as a PR initiative. There are many ways to use social that avoids privacy issues. Why not apply social to your PR efforts? JPMorganChase has been able to help over two million Facebook fans focus on the good the organization is doing by engaging users its Chase Community Giving page. A Knoxville medical practice effectively used an eBook and video contests to build awareness for their services … and eventually get clients in the door.

Connection through education. A big part of marketing for financial and medical practices is education. Why not use social as an extensions of current efforts?  Vanguard took a leap this year by launching a Twitter handle and a Facebook program that embraces engagement within regulatory limits.  Morningstar is appealing to investors by providing a series of blogs (“Real Life Finance”) and forums where investors can learn and compare their portfolios right on the Morningstar website.

Mobile on the rise — Forget about social. What about the next wave — mobile?  Mobile is going to have a huge impact on banking, and it’s almost impossible to watch TV or Hulu without seeing a commercial for the latest mobile banking offering.  In a recent survey financial services is dominating other industries in term of iPad use (36.8%). While some financial services professionals take tablets into the field as a sales tool, Google and Bloomberg have developed apps for professional or individual investors to keep track of the market.

Customer service – Neither banking nor medical are known for their efficient processes or paperless service features. There must be some ways to copy what other industries are doing to use social to cut waste, reduce paperwork and streamline service. Chase Bank in New York is allowing customers to deposit checks by uploading a snapshot of the check on their cellphone.

Geo-location — I am the Foursquare “mayor” of my local bank branch. When I walk through the door, the tellers announce “Hello Mr. Mayor,” or “The Mayor is in the Building.” I must say, I enjoy walking into that bank.  As mayor I’m still waiting for my free money, but in the mean time, the bank is creating an emotional connection with me. Isn’t that remarkable?

Many customers, patients, and investors expect you to be there. Not participating sends a strong message and leaves a practice vulnerable to competitors. It’s becoming expected and preferred method of communication by many constituents.  Ignoring physician review sites such as Vitals.com, HealthGrades.com and RateMDs.com won’t make the comments go away.

Those are a few ideas but I’m sure there are many more.  How are you seeing regulated industries such as banking and healthcare use social media effectively?

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