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Highly regulated companies tiptoe into social media

Linda Melone | Feb. 15, 2013
healthcare providers, financial services firms and other companies in highly regulated industries are taking full advantage of social media, even though they're awash in rules. Here's how they do it.

Best Practices

Tips for Going Social in a Regulated Industry

1. Work with the legal department, human resources and other groups to understand regulatory and legal requirements and create policies and procedures that work for all constituencies: regulators, employees and customers.

2. When in doubt about whether you're in compliance, take a public conversation into a more private venue, like email or the telephone.

3. Educate anyone in your company who's involved in social media about your policies. Explain why those policies exist, and discuss the best ways to use social media while remaining in compliance with regulations.

4. Like a company in a less regulated industry, develop a social media voice that's true to your brand, respond quickly to negative comments, and provide lots of relevant and updated content -- so people have a reason to come back.

5. Always disclose your connection to your company (including your title and the department you work in) when you comment or ask a question on social media.

- Linda Melone

Similar Rules

Insurance industry regulations also require due diligence regarding social media interactions. Generally speaking, these are "the same rules that apply to advertising," says Michele Wingate, social media manager at American Family Insurance in Madison, Wis.

Conversations or interactions posted by agents -- or anything on a social network -- must be archived in case they are needed for a response to any future legal challenge, Wingate says. To do that, American Family uses social media management software from Shoutlet, a provider of cloud-based social marketing tools.

Wingate admits it can be a challenge. "Our agents are eager to tap into other networks, but in order to comply with regulations, we can only use those for which we're able to archive content," she explains. Currently that list includes Facebook and Twitter, and it may be possible to archive LinkedIn content later this year.

Interestingly, the largest response to an American Family corporate Facebook stream had nothing to do with insurance. Instead, it was tied to the company's "Celebrating and Protecting" social media messaging effort, says Wingate. Conversations about National Chili Dog Day in July garnered more than 1,000 engagements (likes, shares and comments) -- a record number, says Wingate. "It was a happy thing, and those interactions kept us top-of-mind," she says.

The Need for Speed

Social media has changed not only the way people interact, but also the speed at which customers expect problems to be solved. "Prior to social media, people wrote snail-mail letters if they had a problem," says Leslie Youngdahl, social media analyst at Consumers Energy's digital care team in Lansing, Mich. "Now, through social media, they expect an immediate response."


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