8 ways to beat social media skepticism in regulated industries

June 13, 2011

In-depth, Social media


Companies in regulated industries can't tape their employees hands and keep them from social media. Educate those who regulate and you'll come out a winner. (Image credit: marketingprofs.com)










This is the sixth in an in-depth series of posts recapping the Blogworld NYC experience. What I learned, who I met, how I’m planning to apply it all to my day job.

It’s easy to condemn the skeptics and say companies should be doing this or that when it comes to social media. But what happens when you’re working with a regulated industry where you’re facing stronger skepticism because of greater potential penalty?

The “what-ifs” that hover around healthcare, pharma and finance companies these days remind me of what I used to hear from B2C companies about five years ago. Except these “what-ifs” have some more legitimate legal concerns behind them.

  • What if somebody reveals information about a patient?
  • What if somebody asks about a treatment?
  • What if somebody shares inaccurate financial information?

One of the best panels I saw at BlogWorld had three communicators I respect — Zena Weist, Jamie Punishill and Michel Savoie — who have spent significant time introducing social media to the financial industry. Despite the fact that they all worked at banks (Citibank for Jamie, Royal Bank of Canada for Michel) or tax companies (HR Block for Zena), I think the tips they shared can be applied to any company shooting for social media buy-in that keeps running into a Roberto Luongo of regulatory red tape.

  1. Don’t talk about social media when trying to sell social media. This is one Michel shared and I thought it was super smart. The point he was making is that a regulated company is a cautious company. They want 100 percent assurance that nothing will go wrong. So talk in terms they understand. How can you relate social media to something that worked well? Something they’ve already approved?
  2. Spend a lot of time with a social media show and tell. This one that Jamie suggested is almost so simple, most companies probably aren’t doing it. In a big regulated industry, the hardest part of doing a social media show and tell can be getting access to all the people you need to show. Even if it seems repetitive, the point was to make the effort. Nothing works better than a little education. Just ask Jessie Spano.
  3. Have a response protocol in place. Zena shared this advice and I can attest that it is absolutely a key element in gaining social media buy-in…especially for a regulated company. Think about it this way. You know a regulated organization wants security. Developing a response protocol where you can hash out who is in charge of what and how they will respond is crucial. It’s like a security blanket. If your boss is like Linus from Peanuts fame. You know?
  4. Talk about social media as a tool and bring it back to business goals. This one works for any industry, regulated or not. Jamie’s and Zena’s POV was similar to Michel’s on No. 1 — your colleagues understand business goals, but they may not understand social media. If you talk in tech terms, you might lose them. If you talk in “this technology can help us achieve our business goals” terms, there’s a better chance they will listen. They have KPIs on their performance plans too, you know.
  5. Pilots first, then campaigns. Even if they don’t like to fly, pilots are a good way to ease skeptics into the social media skies. The logic here is pretty simple really. As Michel pointed out, leadership in regulated industries is often hesitant to do something they believe has never been done before. But a pilot is a test. If it fails, no worries. If it works, there’s your proof. Don’t forget you’re working in an industry where risk taking is frowned upon. Pilots can be positioned as calculated risks, a toe in the deep end of the pool if you like. And they put people at ease.
  6. Please, for the love of God, create a social media policy. In addition to the tips the panelists suggested, I’ve seen a few tricks work — and some others not work — in my experience with regulated industries. The first trick doesn’t take a magician and again applies to every company out there. I feel like the need for a social media policy is basic 101. But I keep running into companies that don’t have one, so I’ll keep bringing it up. If you have rules, it’s easy to point to them, along with your response protocol, when things get tricky. If you don’t have a policy, people start to think you don’t believe in rules. Then they make up scenarios that would never happen and because you don’t have rules in place, the scenarios are hard to rebut.
  7. Scenario-building at your own risk. Sometimes scenario drills are part of a a response protocol, but not always. It’s one thing to put on paper what you plan to do if an issue occurs. But like any communicator who’s managed a crisis knows, it’s quite another thing to actually take the steps and perform the actions when an issue arises. Don’t just talk the talk with when it comes to risk mitigation. Walk the walk, too. And walk your clients through the “what-ifs” you’ve identified. They’ll feel more at ease and you’ll get points for being proactive and addressing those “what-ifs” before they do.
  8. Find a friend in legal and regulatory. At some companies, you might be able to push social media through by just getting your boss’ approval. Or maybe you try social now, ask for forgiveness later and hope you could prove the value by just doing it. Not gonna happen with a company in a regulated industry. Be prepared to walk legal and regulatory through your plans with social media. Embrace it as another education opportunity.

So eight is enough for me. What else would you add? One of the eight ways above stand out more? Have any stories to share about implementing social media in a regulated industry?

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One Response to “8 ways to beat social media skepticism in regulated industries”

  1. chrisct Says:

    Great post, Justin. It’s only the beginning. Regulatory entities for various industries are starting to provide guidance around the definition of “acceptable use” of social media in regulated industries.  
    You can read more about it, here: http://goo.gl/D903c


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