Social media is rife with sound bytes and holds great allure for those who use it in their personal lives, but can Facebook and twitter be practically applied in the world of registered investment advisers (RIAs)?

Absolutely, says media futurist and author Gerd Leonhart. In fact, he insists it’s not an option.

“Get ready. Business is going social," he said. "That’s the elephant in the room. It’s not business as usual."

Social media requires a new way of thinking. The catchy bytes begin:

“Engage or die. It’s no longer about talking down. It’s about listening up. You have to trade control for reach,” Leonhard said during presentation at the Charles Schwab & Co. IMPACT 2010 conference Thursday in Boston.

He was the warm-up act to a chat between moderater and CNBC TV journalist Tyler Mathisen and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Leonhard was also on this socially powerful panel.

While Leonhard didn’t directly address how RIAs can employ social media, he certainly gave them something to think about. His main message was about relinquishing some level of customer control in exchange for “reach” and “creating demand.”

He also debunked the notion that social media is “kids’ stuff” given that it’s growing fastest among 30-64 year-olds. He urged the audience to think about “return on engagement, a fuzzy notion about how sharing on social media platforms can lead to “getting people to buy...or try something.”

At the same time, there’s value in some of social media’s intangibles.

“It’s about using the platforms (like Twitter and Facebook) to generate trust,” he said. “For the first time ever, it’s more important to collaborate with partners than to compete and keep people out,” he said.

Can strict rules about compliance, regulation, privacy and disclosure be reconciled with social media? Asked how she would implement social media, one RIA responded, “ya know, we have compliance.”

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