Social media for the (regulated industry) masses?

Consumer industries are in the thick of it now… for the most part companies selling direct to consumer have recognized the need for some kind of interaction in social media and have made at least some inroads in putting together a plan and a presence in relevant circles.

But B2B companies still struggle with the question of how relevant social media is to their marketing and pubic relations programs and whether or not social media really has an kind of impact on their bottom line. Think that’s a tough nut to crack? Enter an even more challenging question: what about regulated industries?

We often note that B2B companies have some specific challenges when moving into the social media space, but regulated industries have it even harder. Financial, medical, pharmaceutical and other industries are all required to play by very specific rules that have a significant impact on how “social” their marketing programs can be.

This week’s article in AdWeek takes a look at recent forays into the social media realm by a  number of pharmaceutical companies, and examines some of the opportunities and challenges regulated industries face in trying to stay up to date on the latest in marketing and communications tactics.

In many cases, pharmaceutical companies and others in regulated industries have addressed these challenges by developing a presence in social media networks, and then eliminating or strictly limiting the actual “social” aspect of their page. While this provides a band-aid for problems they face in allowing for more two-way communications with consumers, taking the social out of social marketing isn’t really a viable long-term solution.

What’s the solution? In some cases we imagine the burgeoning demand for better interaction directly with consumers may actually have an impact on regulations. But barring those kinds of sweeping changes, we argue that in most cases many of the concerns regulated industries have about using social media are largely unfounded. As the AdWeek article noted, many concerns about problems arising online are either extremely rare and unlikely in reality, or do not have the kind of adverse effects many companies assume.

Rather than fear the implications of the unknown, social media can be an opportunity for these companies to spend some time researching ways they can interact in social circles, because in many cases the assumption that they cannot and should not prevents these organizations from even considering or attempting a program in these spaces. Social marketing tactics come in many shapes and sizes, the real challenge is to not try to force existing models to work for regulated industries, but instead to take a creative new approach that addresses the challenges those industries face while still allowing for more two-way conversation to develop.

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  • Great post. I work in a regulated industry and I think you are dead on with the last paragraph.
  • I'm working with clients in regulated industries and it's a very delicate process. For example, in financial services, a salesperson's success is directly related to his or her ability to develop and maintain relationships with clients. Social media tools open the door to go beyond client relationship management to _prospect_ relationship management. However, employers are still figuring out how to foster this kind of activity (which benefits them too) while avoiding negative publicity or liability due to loose cannons...
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