Cut the Red Tape: Online Marketing for Highly Regulated Industries

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For highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, health care, insurance, and financial services, a company’s desire to reap the benefits of online marketing must be tempered with the demands of regulation.

Trade secrets, disclosures, patient privacy, and even insider trading are among some of the sensitive areas be considered when communicating through social media and other nurturing activities such as ad retargeting. But social media and ad retargeting have numerous benefits, including improved communication with prospects and clients as well as prospect and client education.

So, what’s a highly regulated industry to do?

Be the Master of Your Domain

Every company, and not just those in highly regulated industries, should nail down their domain name, its variants and all of the variations on the theme of ‘fill in the blank’ sucks. Companies should also reserve domain names as usernames for every single social media platform that springs up. Usernames for platforms where the typical user does not fit the company’s buyer persona should also get snapped up by these companies because even if none of these platforms or domains are used, they should still be locked up and secured against misuse.

For example, a fictional financial company called Consolidated Financial of Saskatchewan would need to take ownership of and squat on consolidatedfinancialofsaskatchewan.com and any other top level domains. For usernames, any variations of a Twitter handle such as @ConFinSask or a Facebook group named ‘Consolidated Financial of Saskatchewan Sucks’ would be a smart move.

The Regulators

Before Consolidated Financial of Saskatchewan does anything else with their social media plan, they will need to investigate the industry regulations that define what is and is not possible with their prospects and clients in their online community. To ensure financial firms can’t promise anything through social media that they can’t promise via more traditional media and advertising, regulatory bodies such as the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) provide guidelines for suitability responsibilities for all types of interactive electronic forums. For example, active conversations don’t require principal approval, but static pages such as those used for profiles do require approval.

The SEC regulates record keeping, usage guidelines, content standards, monitoring and frequency of monitoring, content approval, criteria for approving participation as well as training and certification. All of the supervision on social media sites and third-party posts are guided by the SEC.

The social media and advertising practices for regulated industries are generally good ideas that more loosely regulated companies and industries would do well to emulate. Establishing a clear and consistent, easy to understand policy, educating employees about social media policy, maintaining good records, monitoring and knowing when to take conversations offline are key components of any good social media strategy or practice.

Put it into Practice

An organization like Consolidated will do well to make its social media policy easy for people to access. This means posting it prominently on their Facebook page, adding the verbiage to their Twitter background, adding it to the company blog and placing it anywhere else for the public to find it without having to hunt. Fidelity Investments, for example, does a great job with this on their Facebook page. Their policy is denoted in a tab which is unmistakably titled. It isn’t buried past a number of other tabs or apps. The language is easy to understand, too. Just like Fidelity, Consolidated should ensure their contact information is a part of their policy so investors and potential investors can find where to go if they’ve have more private questions such as the status of an account.

As with many companies that are active on social media, the policy for Consolidated should include the specifics about the types of posts that are and aren’t allowed so users know what to expect and understand when they’ve crossed a line. This makes for a better overall experience for everyone on the page, plus it saves Consolidated time – no one can honestly say that they didn’t know what to expect, assuming Consolidated makes their policy transparent.

A clear advertising policy should remain internal to Consolidated but it still needs to be made known to stakeholders. This generally means the public relations, investor relations and marketing departments as well as the many layers of management. If the organization uses an outside advertising agency, then they’ll need to know about this too.

But Consolidated will need to be careful. They’ll need to watch what they post. They may be subject to more than one regulatory agency and should err on the side of caution in their dealings with the public via social media. This means they will need to exercise a higher degree of care than companies in non-regulated industries. A company like Consolidated’s foray into social media can be productive and can provide a greater level of service to its investors and possible future investors by simply following the regulatory guidelines.

What About Retargeting?

Here’s where it gets tricky. What do the regulators say? Despite the fact that ad retargeting is all about promotion to visitors who have already been to your website, any organization within a highly regulated industry still needs to tread lightly. Consolidated would do well to determine any precedent for retargeted advertising. Regulatory agencies have most likely already ruled on this issue.

For industries that do not permit client solicitations or regulate them stringently, ad retargeting might fall under a strict regulatory umbrella. Consider your targeted ad frequency. Too much, too soon might raise regulator awareness and not in a good way. You may need to make a case to a regulatory agency to demonstrate that you are carefully targeting your more qualified prospects without being too aggressive.

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Photo Source: Craig Sunter CC