Staying Social in Regulated Fields: 7 Habits of Highly Successful Companies

One of the more encouraging trends we’ve seen at Spredfast is a surge in regulated companies embracing social media. Fields like finance, pharma, insurance, healthcare, alcohol and tobacco are successfully navigating all the red tape for a few reasons — primarily because they see business value in social media, and secondarily, because they have better policies, tools, and systems to be both successful and compliant.

Related: 6 Big Opportunities for Financial Services

The conversation has shifted from “can we do it?” to “how we can we show real business impact?” — which is a far more exciting dialogue in this writer’s opinion. Investors are looking at social data to make financial predictions, alcohol companies have been able to connect social to point of sale, and pharma companies are coming closer to connecting social activity to brand and prescription lift.

These advances might pale in comparison to, for example, an online retailer who can definitively connect social to point of sale or easily quantify the costs of customer acquisition — but these are major feats for regulated companies to clear, who have to deal with the daily looming threat of SEC spot checks, FDA fines, or state fines for alcohol marketing violations.

But to get to the sexy, exciting, and sometimes elusive ROI-of-Social business, regulated companies first have to ensure they an operational framework in place to manage the basic business of social.

We’ve observed that the most successful companies in regulated fields consistently do these 7 things:

1.  Train employees on social media policy compliance. 

In some industries, like finance and pharma, employees personal social media communications may be interpreted as official company communications. For this reason alone, it’s important to establish a corporate social media policy that also includes guidelines for employees.

2.  Build advocacy from within.

Some of the more innovative companies are going one step further than training employees on policy compliance — they are not just telling employees what not to say, they are also finding interesting ways that employees can act as advocates on behalf of the company and use their social media networks to publish pre-approved, shareworthy items like philanthropic updates or new product launches.

3.  Build a communications escalation workflow. 

Create a simple system for triaging inbound community conversations.  A simple color “Green, Yellow, Red” color system can do the trick: Green for "Go" items — comments that are positive and can be responded to without approval; "Yellow" for "Proceed with Caution" — items that may need to be routed to support or another department to address; and "Red" for "Stop" — items that need to be routed to legal or PR for crisis or risk management. This helps ensure that sensitive issues are properly addressed, but it also helps ensure that your community management teams have leeway to quickly respond to comments in their wheelhouse.

4.  Have a risk management communications plan.

Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Have the teams trained and at the ready should (goodness forbid) a crisis hit. Some of our most innovative customers are going a step further and using social media crisis simulation environments for experiential training, helping ensure their teams will be expertly-equipped by the time an issue occurs.  

Related: Bad News Travels Fast: A Framework for Social Issues Management

5.  Listen first, then plan content.  

Looking at events and using planning tools like Intelligence, get ahead of conversations that are likely to surface and become popular. This will help plan content that's relevant to your specific audience and leaves enough time for internal approvals. 

6.  Stay abreast of regulatory changes.

Keep yourself informed of industry regulation changes by following industry publications or simply by setting up Google Alerts for policy related news items in your field. Don't spend a ton of time writing white papers but keep a "living, breathing" internal document of regulatory updates with the basic bullets and link to the new law or regulation. Recruit others to be involved and stay accountable by signing their names and dates so you have a record. 

7.  Make legal your best friend.

One of the smartest practices I’ve recently observed was a CPG social media manager who made their in-house counsel her strategic ally, pulling him in early to annual strategy-building meetings, campaign planning calls, and partner and vendor meetings. As a result, the lawyer was more invested in the outcome, and therefore more willing to find ways to “yes, and…” as opposed to “no, but…” This woman deserves a medal for her sheer brilliance.

What are some of practices you’ve seen get great results at regulated companies?


Kelly Ferraro's picture

Kelly Ferraro

Kelly Ferraro is a Strategy Director for Spredfast, where she leads social strategy for global customers. Kelly is a social media and running addict. She is an east coast transplant currently living in Austin, TX.