6 Social Media Tips for Highly Regulated Verticals

Social media requires that brands give up some control over their brand messaging, and put it in the hands of consumers. This can be a frightening endeavor for all brands, but none more so than those that operate in highly regulated industries, such as health care, finance, alcohol and, one that’s becoming more prominent in my home state of Colorado, marijuana.

However, strict rules and regulations shouldn’t, and really can’t, prevent these brands from getting involved with social media. With some strategic planning and well-defined processes, every brand can take advantage of the benefits that social media provides. Here are six ways that businesses in highly regulated industries can start to get involved.

1. Know the Regulations

Every industry is different as to what rules and guidelines they must follow when marketing their brand online or off. Health care has HIPAA, requiring companies to provide disclosures about side effects and report adverse effects of drugs within 72 hours. Financial institutions also have specific guidelines for social media, as set by the SEC.

Also, make sure you know the guidelines for each social media channel. Typically, owned media activities are a bit more flexible than paid media campaigns, where the networks have strict marketing guidelines. For example, neither Facebook nor Twitter allow brands to run paid ads for recreational marijuana (medical marijuana is not explicitly prohibited, though). Yet, some channels have set boundaries for organic posts, too, like Instagram’s banning of #weed and other drug-related hashtags in 2013.

We’d be here all day if I was to list out every regulation for every industry and every social media network. So just be sure to study up on the regulations for your specific industry and the channels you intend to use. Know the rules and regulations backward and forward to ensure compliance and prevent complications, or worse, lawsuits.

2. Set Realistic Goals

Before publishing even one post or tweet, identify objectives for using social media for your organization, ones that are realistic considering the regulations and nature of social media usage. Meaning: social media doesn’t have to be used for direct-response. Selling more medicine or driving new credit card applications doesn’t have to be your main goal.

Instead, increasing your email list or simply learning consumer perspective by listening to conversations about your product or service are valid and useful ways to leverage social media channels.

3. Listen and Learn

Speaking of listening, take advantage of the fact that social media provides genuine, self-reported, no-holds-barred feedback about your brand, products or services, competitors, and industry. In the past, this feedback was difficult or expensive to come by. Now, it’s available at your fingertips for minimal monetary investment. You just need to put in the time and effort to listen and learn from it.

Use monitoring tools to gather insights, and share throughout your organization for improved marketing efforts, product research and development, continued compliance, and operational enhancements.

4. Create Processes and Checklists

Use decision trees to help keep your entire organization in sync and compliant. Define how you will respond to common questions or complaints, and determine who the responsible party is in every instance.

Create checklists for every social media channel and/or content format. For example, list out every step that must occur before publishing a blog post – sourcing an expert writer, finding a licensed image, adding a disclosure statement, getting legal approval – and ensure that each item is checked off before proceeding to the next.

5. Create Prohibited Messaging Guidelines

List out every word, phrase, or concept that is unequivocally prohibited in your marketing messaging – those items that are disapproved by legal time and time again. Share this list with anyone and everyone that touches your social media efforts as a way to reduce the time it takes to get a piece of content through the legal review process. Continue to build this list as new words or concepts come up.

6. Build Review Time Into the Marketing Plan

Every brand needs to incorporate review time in their marketing plans, but highly regulated industries typically take longer due to the numerous levels of approval. I’ve worked with some brands that require up to a full month of lead time for a single blog post. This is never ideal, but having it be a known challenge and one that’s built into every marketing campaign will help things to run more smoothly.

There’s no doubt that managing social media for highly regulated industries is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Being well-informed and prepared about the specific nuances and limitations in your vertical, and consistent in your marketing efforts will help to make the endeavor more efficient and more effective.

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