When it comes to using social media, it’s fair to say that the marketing field is and has been overrun with smarm ever since #brands began to descend onto Twitter and Facebook to “join” conversations they were never invited into in the first place.
Which is precisely why a frank and honest assessment of leading social media practices for professionals who work in highly regulated industries is needed today. Social media spending isn’t expected to slow down much in the foreseeable future. As the latest release of The CMO Survey illustrates, companies now dedicate 12% of marketing budgets to social media, up from 10.5% a year ago and 3.5% in 2009 when this metric was first measured.
Tip one: Get everyone on the same page.
The particulars of doing business in highly regulated industries vary from one industry to the next, but the common theme is about reducing risk exposure while still having the space to say interesting things. Social media activity can easily run afoul of industry-specific regulations if experts on those regulations do not have a seat at the proverbial table.
Fortunately, this is not a content problem. It’s a matter of setting up a repeatable internal process and following it.
Most social media content that marketers or communications teams at regulated companies aim to put out is probably going to be fine from a compliance standpoint. To make certain the content is compliant, other people have to have access to it, and they need to have an easy, immediate way to pump the brakes on any content that might have compliance issues. There are social media management platforms that facilitate this kind of internal collaboration, or it can be done with shared, centralized documents.
Tip two: Put somebody in charge.
One person should be singularly responsible for overseeing content review and scheduling, or else the process above can devolve into a bunch of in-house stakeholders asking each other questions.
Ideally, the caretaker of this process will have the leverage and internal capital necessary to get their busy colleagues to spend time signing off on social content. Social-platform content that sits in an approval queue can decay quickly, and individually chasing those with approval authority defeats the purpose of defining and centralizing the process.
Companies in highly regulated industries that cannot fully commit resources to this process should not be looking to use social media to say meaningful things.
Tip three: Ensure content truly matches the brand.
Most companies that operate in highly regulated industries are in a business-to-business environment, either providing business services or selling products to other businesses.
Whereas most lightly regulated consumer-facing companies centralize the branding and marketing communications function, many B2B firms feature sales forces that operate with relative autonomy. It’s common, in the B2B space, for salespeople to develop collateral independent of the company’s marketing department, and to use their own experience and judgment to close sales instead of relying only on marketing’s guidance.
There should be a firewall between the assets that salespeople use and the content destined for social media platforms. Putting sales content on social media dilutes the overall brand and decreases the entire company’s credibility. Social media managers need to approach their social channels like an op-ed editor approaches the opinion pages.
Tip four: Put social near the foundation of the marketing stack.
In highly regulated industries, there is no replacement for approaching the right people at the right time with smart, credible, truthful content that means something real. Conventional social media activity is a tiny piece of this crucial process. But social platforms hold unlocked potential for many companies.
It all has to do with where social media is in the company’s marketing stack. Social media, at most companies, occupies a position near the end of the stack – so, as a method of distributing content to an audience.
The biggest upside of social platforms, however, is their collective ability to granularly target individuals. Consumer-facing companies have learned how to effectively hypertarget their desired audiences on social platforms, which is why CMOs at consumer companies have an easier time using social for customer acquisition than do B2B CMOs. This technique, obviously, is huge in electoral politics today.
Meanwhile, the upside for well-targeted social campaigns tends to be greater for B2B companies because B2B services tend to produce more revenue.
Companies in highly regulated industries should look at social media as a way to build out their first-party data at or near the foundation of the marketing stack instead of as a way to merely distribute content. This approach means the content itself needs to be objective, relevant, truthful, and memorable – not an extension of the static marketing messages companies tend to cling to.
This is the way to get the most mileage out of an investment in social media.