Protect Your Clients: Social-Media Tips for the Heavily Regulated

Real-Time Engagement Is Appealing -- and Also Complex

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Companies in heavily regulated industries, such as financial services and pharmaceuticals, are looking for safer social-media options. While the promise of real-time engagement with customers is appealing, social presents regulatory challenges. Ad agencies must arm themselves with the proper information to help clients find the right balance between the creative use of social platforms and the security and controls required to meet complex compliance demands.

How can you best support even your most regulated clients and reduce the risks associated with social-media activities? Let's explore the two most critical steps.

Understand the Regulations
Knowledge is power. Ad agencies must grasp what implications a rule has for a client's social-media program. Here are three examples from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Securities and Exchange Commission and Food and Drug Administration.

Finra: The banking industry has adopted social media cautiously because of stringent regulatory requirements. A retail-banking survey conducted by Accenture found that 60% of retail banks consider themselves social-media novices. Finra provides comprehensive guidance for how banks can maintain compliance while engaging in social media. Regulatory Notice 10-06 details the recordkeeping, suitability, supervision and content requirements for such communications, while RN 11-39 does the same for social networking website usage and communication.

SEC: In January the agency released the first set of guidelines to help investment advisers comply with strict antifraud and recordkeeping mandates. The National Examination Risk Alert: Investment Adviser Use of Social Media stresses the importance of paying close attention to third-party content.

FDA: The agency's strict communications rules and contrasting silence on social-media parameters led to an abrupt shutdown of many pharmaceutical Facebook pages when it eliminated the option to turn off public comments in August 2011. While most risk-averse pharma marketers have not even experimenting with social, some big brands have recently been testing the waters.

At the end of last year, the FDA issued its first draft guidance (accepting feedback/commentary through the end of March) for drugmakers on interacting with consumers on social. The guidelines recommended that companies respond to public social commentary by providing a means of direct, private feedback.

Pharmaceutical companies aren't satisfied, however, according to American Medical News. They want more clarity on whether they are liable for information posted by third parties and how to handle reporting of an adverse drug event via social media. Pharma's use of social may remain scant until those questions are resolved.

Ad firms must keep a pulse on emerging FDA guidelines and proactively create a comprehensive control framework to help clients safely dip their toes in the industry's murky social-media waters.

Offer Protection
Agencies must help clients ensure adherence to both internal policy and regulatory guidelines by building security and control into accounts' social programs.

Firms should make sure policies include parameters for tracking and recording all social-media activity, as well as for managing and responding to third-party posts; standards for communication; and controls for content approvals and workflow.

In addition, a brand's social-media policy must ensure that all employees know how to maintain compliance with key industry regulations. Ad agencies should clearly define employee roles and implement a system that lets certain users to be authors, certain users to be reviewers and a designated user or users to approve final content for posting.

Don't let clients miss out on social-media success because of compliance concerns. It can be complicated to manage social initiatives for accounts in heavily regulated businesses, but it can be done. Armed with regulatory knowledge and compliance protections, any client can safely engage in and reap the rewards of social media.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Oppliger is CEO of SocialVolt.
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