“For highly regulated sectors like finance, social media can be a legal minefield”
– Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, 2013
Of course, it’s not just finance. Companies in a range of regulated industries, such as pharma, have entered the social media playing field only with extreme care, aware falling foul of their regulator is only too easy.
Increasingly, though, it’s difficult even for the most conservative of companies to stay off social media, because clients expect you to be there and a social media presence has become the norm. Going on social media may carry a risk – but nowadays, so does staying off it.
So – if you are in a regulated industry and need to be on social media anyway, how do you minimise the risk?
In our experience, it is possible to ensure that a company’s social media presence is tightly controlled and that even companies which are extremely nervous about what they say in public can feel satisfied that enough safeguards are in place.
Here are some tips:
- This might sound obvious, but you must ensure that whoever is in charge of, and is updating, your social media must know the relevant regulations and guidelines.Sometimes these can be very complex so it helps if you have a social media policy that lays out everything clearly. This means: simple language – nothing too jargon-filled or complicated; not too long; and a section with the most important take-aways highlighted.You should also consider giving anyone involved in your social media programme additional training to ensure that they know what they are allowed, and what they are not allowed, to say.
- In many companies, social media updating is the job of a relatively junior member of staff. If you are in a highly sensitive industry, don’t give the social media password to your intern.
- Planning is key. Make sure you know what the main messages are going to be online several weeks ahead, so that everything you say is well thought-out and deliberate – and most importantly, can be approved and signed off by a senior member of staff.Record your upcoming social media activity on a social media schedule, so there are no surprises and so that everything is documented.You can use social media management software like Hootsuite to upload your social media messages ahead of time, again ensuring that there are no last-minute mistakes.
- Understand what social media is really about. In many regulated industries – let’s take pharma as an example again – the fear of social media stems partially from the misconception that social media is all about ‘selling’, and that they are going to get tripped up if they talk about their own products.In fact, companies that sell hard on social media don’t do very well. Social media is about building up relationships with potential clients, and the best way to do this is usually not to talk too much about yourself or your company at all – but about the potential clients’ interests.This means talking about clients’ health concerns and the impact on their daily life (B2C) or their business worries and potential solutions (B2B), rather than your own products.
It means facilitating discussions – encouraging others to talk – rather than doing the bulk of the talking yourself.
Educate and inform your followers about broad developments in your industry and demonstrate thought leadership, instead of getting into nitty-gritty details about your own work.
In fact, it is possible and you are even more likely to run a highly successful social media campaign without directly discussing your products much at all – if only you are in tune with your clients’ thoughts and feelings.
- The other great fear is inappropriate off-the-cuff comments by your social media team, particularly in response to something someone else has said on social media. (In fact, this fear goes way beyond regulated industries; every company should be worried about libel, inappropriate tone etc. online.)The greatest risk of such mistakes happening occurs when your team feels under pressure to respond quickly, to be timely or relevant (perhaps even an annoyed customer is pressuring them for a quick reply).If your social media policy allows for staff to respond to comments on their own volition, you need to make it clear that nothing will happen if they wait an hour or two to receive permission to post a particular line.
Make sure that someone more senior is always available to consult with, and that if you expect customers to interact with your company through social media, the lines of communication are always open between your social media and customer service teams.
Again, this is where it helps to have responsible people in charge; clear guidelines; and a clear understanding that your social media team’s role is to facilitate discussion, not to aggressively promote the company.
If you are in a regulated industry, what other safeguards have you put in place? Let us know in the comments!
Danny Bermant is director of Brainstorm Digital