You don’t want to send out 140-character “tweets” to the entire world. You don’t see the need for a Facebook page. You don’t care what’s being said about your company on blogs.

You have serious business to do and sophisticated customers to deal with, every second of the day. You don’t have time or interest in “social networking.” If you need to get social, you take a client out to a Knicks game and hope you get to see professional basketball.

But that would be a short-sighted view of social networking. If you listen to Allan T. Hackney, senior vice president and chief information officer at John Hancock Financial Services, social networking is relevant “here and now.” And critical to your future.

"Social media," he told operations and technology executives at the 28th annual conference of the National Investment Company Service Association last Wednesday in Miami, “is all about conversations and conversations are going to occur whether you participate or not."

His prime example: Wikipedia, the “social encyclopedia of the world.”

Most companies have some sort of coverage on Wikipedia. Just type “your company name Wikipedia” into a Google search box and see what comes up.

But, Hackney asks, "can you say with certainty that it was one of your employees who wrote the material? I think you'd be shocked. In most cases, your employees did not write the material.”

His company manages more than $50.5 billion in open-end funds, closed-end funds, private accounts, retirement plans and related assets for individual and institutional investors. It sells a few insurance policies, too.

In January, John Hancock Financial launched a Twitter page to take in and provoke conversation about the Boston Marathon.

The “tweets” are designed to provide information about both pro and amateur participants. In so doing, it highlights its 25 years of sponsoring the event. Along the way, the effort should raise some money for charity, as well.

Which gets to one of the critical points about social networking that stymies financial services companies about getting involved. Where’s the return?

If what Hancock is doing is a marketing campaign, it’ll be hard to calculate the results, says Jennifer J. Bolt, executive vice president of Franklin Resources, which operates the Franklin Templeton funds. "You can't measure it today and say, hey, the ROI on this campaign is X," she told NICSA attendees about marketing through Twitter, Facebook and similar Web sites and services.

Fidelity Investments, whose vice chairman Abigail Johnson also spoke at the conference, has been doing a “great campaign” on YouTube, Bolt notes. The mutual fund behemoth is running a contest called “Be the Green Line” that solicits videos from any Web site visitor to tie into its well-known TV ad campaign. That campaign, seen in the Super Bowl, shows how the company creates a clear line to the most green for any individual.

The winner will get $5,000 (Pssst: The contest ends Wednesday, February 24.) Fidelity, Bolt notes, gets a lot creative ideas, at low cost.

But Fidelity’s experience shows the downsides of social networks as well. For instance, as earlier this year reported, there is a Facebook page for Fidelity Investments that has nothing to do, officially, with Fidelity.

The page claims to be for current and former Fidelity employees. At the site, more than 1,000 members network, discuss job opportunities, talk about working conditions—even promote insurance products and ask for investment advice.

But “that page is not affiliated with Fidelity,” according to vice president of media relations Adam Banker.

Nonetheless, the page is branded with the Fidelity logo, and contains posts from people claiming to be current Fidelity employees.

There, people who identify themselves as Fidelity employees may be posting business-related information, including investment advice. That could cause confusion with present or potential customers. Or land Fidelity in deep stuff with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Fidelity would be considered responsible for dealing with these issues, although someone misappropriating a trademark or copyrighted work is also culpable,” said Michael Osterman, an analyst with messaging consultancy Osterman Research Inc.

You can send all the cease-and-desist letters you want. You can ignore the networks and social sites at your pleasure—if you think they’re not going to discuss or reveal any secrets about your operations.

But you do so at your own peril.

You have to face up to facts: Social networks are here to stay. Not just the next generation will be involved in them. And you better know how your name is being used, in what context and for what purpose. To protect yourself.

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