The Ultimate Guide for Navigating Social Media Compliance Across Regulated Industries


Introduction

Approximately half of the world (3.03 billion people) has made its way onto social media, further confirming much of what we already knew—that any business, regardless of the industry, benefits from maintaining a strong social presence.

That said, some will have more challenges than others operating in this social space, and this almost always includes organizations in highly regulated or compliant verticals.

When you’re working in an industry that’s driven by strict regulations and legislation, a single wayward tweet could be enough to get you into irreversible financial and legal trouble—in the medical space, one HIPAA violation can result in fines as much as $1.5 million.

It’s no wonder social media hasn’t historically been a top priority for companies in regulated spaces, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

With a proactive and detailed strategy in place, you can take advantage of all of the benefits social media has to offer without compromising compliance status. So, how can you get started?

Laying the Groundwork

Establishing a strong social media presence for any company isn’t easy. It takes a great deal of time and effort to establish credibility, develop content and attract (not to mention, engage) an audience online. From there, it takes even more dedication to sustain that forward momentum over time.

Now let’s add in the compliance layer.

The result is a much more complex scenario with way more to consider, both internally and externally. Compliance means rules and guidelines—guidelines that can’t be ignored, causing employers to take a polarizing approach to anything associated with potential infraction exposure.

But business processes should never be driven by fear, in fact, this usually ends up having the opposite effect than was intended. The compliance component needs to be proactively addressed. It should be at the core of your social media policy and fueling your growth, instead of being something that stifles it.

In other words, all that comes from ignoring social media is a lack of transparency and control.

Given that social media can be a main contributor to company success, it’s important for employers to find ways to proactively integrate it into their processes. This usually means more effort and strategy required behind the scenes than normal.

Basically, stay as far away from the “spray-and-pray” approach on social media as possible.

Systemized content creation simultaneously amplifies your digital reach, while ensuring your advocates always say the right thing. Looking at the rules of your specific industry, create a set of guidelines highlighting what people can safely share online. Some of the regulatory bodies you may need to consider include:

  • FTC (the Federal Trade Commission)
  • FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority)
  • The Office for Civil Rights (HIPAA)
  • SEC (the Securities and Exchange Commission)

Curate Content for Advocates

Your employee advocates are there to help grow your organization and strengthen your digital presence. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the latest details on industry regulation. The best way to make sure they’re always sharing the right content is to create a rich hub of resources for them.

Content curation simplifies employee advocacy by ensuring that your staff doesn’t have to be creatively-minded to support your brand. The more guidance your advocates have, the more likely they are to stay compliant.

Control & Focus are Key

In an ideal world, business owners would be able to trust their employees to use and manage information safely. However, in a space where data has emerged as the world’s most valuable resource, you can’t afford to take any risk. Not all employees will abide by your social guidelines, and even if they do, mistakes can happen.

To reduce the threat of non-compliance as far as possible, centralize your employee advocacy program on one piece of technology, and proactively provide a social media policy for employees to follow. Monitoring your social channels can also help strategically restrict conversations while allowing you to stay on top of what’s happening in your industry—both of which are critical for success on social media.

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In addition to control is the need for focus. While many companies still believe that the best way to get ahead on social media, is to connect on every channel, a narrower focus is often more beneficial. The fewer profiles you have to monitor and manage, the less you’ll need to worry about compliance.

Focusing your advocacy efforts on the right networks reduces your record keeping burdens, and your monitoring requirements, too.

Maintain Records with Care

While most industries need to maintain records for legal and customer service purposes, regulations all the way from FINRA, to the recently-published GDPR means that firms must store communications with care.

Not only do you need to make sure that you have permission to keep patient details on file, but you’ll also need to regularly assess and audit the information you gather on social media.

  • FTC: Make all reasonable efforts to know what endorsed partners and advocates are saying about your brand
  • GDPR: Get informed consent to gather patient information and provide customers with the right to be forgotten
  • SEC: Maintain all social communication records
  • FINRA: Set up and maintain a system that supervises associated activity

Government & Municipalities

Government bodies live and die by the sway of public opinion.

Without the support of the people, governments are nothing, and as we’ve seen already, the “people” are building relationships, engaging in discussions and voicing their concerns on social media.

If governments want to influence public opinion – particularly among young voters (92% of American teens use the internet each day)—they need a social presence.

The question is, how can governments use social media safely?

Benefits of Employee Advocacy in Government

As in most industries, employee advocacy is the key to success in a governmental social media strategy. As trust in the government continues to dwindle, today’s consumers are looking for credibility in people just like them. An advocacy program has the potential to:

  • Increase the visibility of your office
  • Reach recruits for your campaign
  • Show your human side and get people engaged
  • Improve trust and credibility
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The general public considers employees to be the most-trusted source of information, and that makes them a valuable resource for any government agency. However, it’s important to make sure you make the most of your employees—after all, governments can face a host of unique challenges on social media.

Defining the Advocate: Employee or Spokesperson

If you’ve followed government bodies or politicians on social media before, you might have noticed disclaimers like “My Tweets are my Own” on an individual’s profile. However, in an industry followed as closely as the government is, it’s difficult to draw the line between an employee and someone speaking on behalf of the politician they represent.

The Office of Government Ethics offers a “Standards of Conduct” document to clarify ethical policies in the social media space. Giving your employees a copy of your office’s standards of conducts could help to keep you safe during your advocacy campaigns.

Additionally, it’s important to provide staff with proper training on how to use their position in your office, and when they should disclose their relationship with your agency as they share content on social media. The more guidelines your employees have, the easier it will be for them to share their expertise on social channels without crossing the line.

Protecting Private Information

As valuable as employee advocacy can be in the government landscape, it requires an elevated level of trust—confidence in employees to represent your voice and your movement appropriately when they’re online.

One data report found that there’s often a deep disconnect between employees and their leaders.

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To make sure that the line between public and private information is clear, implement a strategy. For instance, a clear social media policy that offers guidelines for the right kind of content to post is a great way to start. A content curation and sharing platform allows governments to:

  • Demonstrate which information is appropriate to share with the public
  • Train employees on how and when to handle social media questions
  • Let staff know when to hand issues over to leadership
  • Curate the correct content for employees to share

Scaling Strategies with Care

Government groups can use social media and employee advocacy across various areas within their organization. However, each goal your government body targets needs to come with its own specific selection of guidelines and supportive strategies.

Communications & Public Relations

As mentioned above, government social media can be ideal for distributing important information about your office and helping you to build your online presence. However, to position your organization correctly, you’ll need to know what to share, and how to make the right impact. For communication and PR:

  • What to share: Focus on providing information about news, events, press releases, and important information about public initiatives. You can also look at employee stories and spotlights, content relevant to your latest campaign, and positive media coverage.
  • How to position: Share your content through an advocacy program to demonstrate your employees as the experts in their field. Curating content will position staff as leaders in their field and protect them from sharing private information.

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Human Resources

Government agencies can also turn to employee advocacy and social media as a way of attracting new expertise to their efforts. Success stories about rising stars in your staff and tales about company culture can be a great way to attract the people who could be crucial to your campaign’s success.

  • What to share: Highlight things from positive employee stories and interviews, pictures, videos or industry news. Look at award ceremonies, highlight job postings, and ensure you have a healthy mix of both culture and thought leadership content.
  • How to position: Offer incentives to employees that motivate them to refer candidates onto your team, and provide them with guidelines for creating content that will help your employer brand to grow.

Programs and Public Works

Finally, empowering the employees who deliver your programs to the public every day helps you to reach more people, improve your impact on the marketplace, and ensure a better understanding of what you can offer among citizens.

  • What to share: Look at media coverage of programs, public events, and initiatives. Highlight important information related to current events, and changes to public services.
  • How to position: Provide employees with ready-to-share content that enables them to highlight the best aspects of their work and on behalf of your brand.

The Healthcare Landscape

The number of people starting their health care journey online increases daily.

One study shows that more than 40% of people use the information they find about healthcare online to make decisions about their health. Google also suggests that around 77% of all patients use online search before they book an appointment with their healthcare provider.

As regulated industries go, healthcare is one of the most complex. HIPAA and many other government guidelines provide very strict rules on how health-based companies should operate in the digital world.

Since HIPAA was enacted long before the age of social networks, there aren’t any specific social media rules for the guidelines. However, companies with a strategy for maintaining patient privacy and managing employee posts will be able to reduce their risk factors.

Overcoming Healthcare Challenges

For social media and marketing purposes, healthcare groups need to consider the regulations of groups like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Office for Civil Rights (HIPAA).

Fortunately, the best way to tackle many healthcare sharing problems head-on is with the right employee advocacy strategy. When employees understand the role that they play in representing a healthcare business online, they can change their sharing patterns accordingly.

Minimizing HIPAA Violations

HIPAA violations are one of the biggest concerns that any healthcare organization has to face. Employees can very easily share HIPAA protected information by accident, and this not only endangers their career but damages the reputation of the organization they represent. Here are some examples of HIPAA violations on social media:

  • Sharing photographs or any personal information without the consent of a patient. While a patient can post their own picture on a social page, the company cannot post the same picture without consent.
  • Posting information about patients to unauthorized people (even when the name of the patient isn’t disclosed).
  • Sharing pictures or comments that have PHI visible, such as an image with a patient file in the corner.

Companies can reduce their concerns with HIPAA violations by implementing clear policies that help employees to understand what kind of information they need to be cautious about sharing. Organizations can also use social advocacy solutions to curate and distribute content, along with social messaging ideas, to help brand voice and intent consistent.

Providing Patient Guidance

Patients automatically believe in the medical information they see online. In fact, 90% of respondents in one survey said that they would trust medical information shared on social media.

Unfortunately, this presents a problem for healthcare companies protecting themselves against malpractice and the unlicensed practice of medicine. For instance, an employee telling a follower that they should take some aspirin to manage a headache on Twitter could be interpreted as a medical diagnosis, which is in breach of FTC guidelines.

There are many different ways that social media posts may be considered endorsements of specific treatments, procedures, and drugs. Additionally, anyone giving medical advice on behalf of a healthcare company without the right licensing can face serious problems. The best way to overcome the issue is to set careful employee advocacy guidelines in place.

  • Let employees know not to provide any tips or advice on social media (outline this in your policy)
  • Stay away from any false claims, exaggerations, or inaccurate information
  • Ensure that employees know the extent of their role when it comes to supporting customer service

Record Keeping & Management

The Affordable Care Act and ERISA have changed the way that customers interact with healthcare companies. For instance, patients can now complete a qualified health plan on a broker website, and those websites are required to maintain detailed record trails for a minimum of 10 years. ERISA demands that the actual records are maintained, which means that companies need a plan in place for managing their content.

To ensure your agency is compliant, make sure that you’re keeping records that meet the standards of both ERISA and ACA.

Tactical Social Strategies in Healthcare

Employee advocacy can be beneficial to a range of different sectors within the healthcare space. However, it’s important to choose the right strategy with the individual goals of the focus department in mind.

Marketing

Healthcare brands, just like any other company, can benefit from having a social media aspect to their marketing strategy. Social media can raise brand awareness, improve your online reputation, and develop a crucial relationship with your customers. After all, patients want a healthcare provider they feel they can trust.

  • What to share: Third-party content that demonstrates your brand values, behind-the-scenes looks at your office or practice, insights into your day-to-day work (with HIPAA guidelines in mind) and industry news. You can also consider thought leadership posts from specific members of staff.
  • How to position: Make sure that your posts are informative, insightful, and friendly. Don’t make language too clinical and ensure that you speak your audience’s language.

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Human Resources

Healthcare employee advocacy programs on social media can also help you to recruit new members of staff for your team. Studies suggest that employees hired through referrals are generally easier to retain than standard employees, and a strong employer brand naturally makes your company more appealing to new talent.

  • What to share: Posts about job openings, company events, and stories about successful hires. Brand content that highlights company culture, and information about your business values, or what it’s like to work for your firm.
  • How to position: Give your candidates a feel for what it’s like to work in your organization, and what kind of things you prize as an employer. Remember to keep your posts engaging and informative and avoid revealing too much information as this might cause problems with compliance.

Financial Institutions

The financial industry is one frequently plagued by regulatory and compliance issues.

Though it’s taken a while for this sector to catch up and embrace the possibilities of social media and digital marketing, many companies are now beginning to see the potential of being active online. In fact, there are various banks, accounting agencies, and stock traders that reach new clients and offer support through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Employee advocacy in the financial industry can:

  • Boost brand awareness
  • Establish thought leadership
  • Reduce the cost of recruitment
  • Minimize the cost of acquisition

Of course, like any regulated industry, the financial space has its challenges to contend with.

Managing Safe Social Shares

The biggest issue that financial leaders face on social media is making sure that their financial advisors and teams are careful about what they share online. It’s difficult for any business to control what a team shares on social media. The best thing that finance brands can do is implement the correct training and guidelines to keep staff on track.

Leadership can put social media training in place, along with a sharing rulebook that’s regularly reviewed by legal experts. Additionally, pre-creating secure and safe content that employee advocates can share means that businesses can be rest assured that the content shared by employees is within compliance regulations.

Separating Advocates from Advisors

There are various people within a financial team capable of acting as an employee advocate. However, not all of your team members will be equipped to answer questions and offer advice online. Even a well-meaning tip posted on Twitter could be enough to get a financial business into trouble if it’s issued by the wrong person, or in the wrong format.

FINRA offers some guidance on the type of content that employee advocates can share. They recommend information about charitable events, job postings, and news about upcoming changes in the firm. Advocates can also like and share content on brand profiles to improve awareness and boost engagement for a company.

Creating the Right Content

In any employee advocacy or social media marketing strategy – content is key. The right content can improve your reputation, strengthen your relationships with customers, and set you up for success. On the other hand, the wrong content could lead to hefty fines and brand crises.

Employee-shared content for a financial brand must be:

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social media compliance
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Achieving Department-Level Goals in Finance

Similarly to healthcare and government, social media marketing and employee advocacy can be extremely impactful in the financial sector. Having the right tactical strategy in mind for each goal your team establishes ensures that you leave the right impression on your audience while still adhering to compliance standards.

Human Resources

In the financial industry, employee advocacy and social media can help to lower the cost of recruitment. The key to success is sharing content that showcases the culture of your company, and the nature of your team. However, at the same time, you’ll need to ensure that you’re not revealing any financial information that may be deemed private.

  • What to share: Job openings, participation in social causes, stories about specific employees and achievement, relevant content that demonstrates your brand values, milestone celebrations and company outings.
  • How to position: Build awareness about your company culture and its commitment to important ideals. Share stories that will help people to visualize a position as part of your team but avoid any in-depth personal information.

Marketing

As mentioned above, it’s taken some time for the financial industry to fully embrace social media for marketing purposes. However, when used correctly, the right channels can be a powerful way to show potential investors and clients just how valuable your company can be.

  • What to share: brand content and content from respected media that demonstrates your thought leadership and industry position. You can also ask leaders in your organization to write insightful articles or take part in interviews – but avoid discussing any specific client information without their permission.
  • How to position: Stay clear of too much financial jargon, but make sure that you provide enough information to highlight your expertise. Statistics can be useful, provided that you have the right permission to use them.

Sales

Financial companies are perfectly primed for social selling. However, like any other aspect of your employee advocacy strategy, it’s important that your team know how to share the right information. Taking steps to develop the pre-existing conversations about your brand can be a great first step for social selling.

  • What so share: Newsworthy information related to your specific niche. Impart useful information but remind customers to seek their own financial advice before making investments.
  • How to position: Demonstrate industry authority and focus on engaging leads. Ask employees to take part in conversations about trending topics—but be careful with opinions.

Sustaining Your Social Strategy

Surviving social media can be a challenge for any business.

In a world where information travels at the speed of light, the wrong message can make a huge impact in a matter of seconds.

There are countless regulated industries, such as health, finance, and the government space, that face additional challenges in social media marketing. Each of these sectors is under significant pressure to build their business with the potential of social conversations, without tripping over the lines drawn by regulatory bodies.

Compliance issues aren’t just worrying because of the potential fines they can lead to. An advocate without guidance on social media can also lead to damaged reputations and lost customer loyalty. The good news is that the right tools and the right strategy can help companies to make the most of social media, without fear of federal regulations.

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