Statistics show that in 2017, there were nearly 209 million social media users in the U.S. alone, with that number projected to exceed 220 million by 2020, further emphasizing the fact that social media should be a critical component of any marketing strategy.
While developing and executing a social media campaign is challenging for all brands, it can be particularly difficult for brands in highly regulated industries like healthcare, finance, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and cannabis.
Marketers who work in these fields have to think compliance-first, as even the most creative, thought-provoking idea will quickly get shut down if it doesn’t adhere to industry regulations.
Despite the arduous requirements of compliance, it is still very possible for brands in highly regulated industries to excel at social media. Below, we’ll explore three ways to do just that.
Keep your content compliant
Staying on top of industry-regulated content requirements is vital and should always be step one. There are many factors that need to be considered when posting content, and more often than not, it must abide by not one but multiple regulations. The more informed and prepared you are to collaborate with your internal compliance department, the quicker you’ll be able to share your content on social.
To start, once you have a clear understanding of what regulations to abide by, you must put a plan in place for an internal compliance review of your content. Depending on the industry, this might include representatives from legal, regulatory, medical, marketing, product development and more.
Having a clear plan in place for internal review makes the content creation and approval process substantially more efficient, and the initial time spent establishing this protocol will prove to be a great investment in the long-run.
Monitor social media and stay engaged
It is important for all brands to constantly monitor social media to stay on top of everything happening in their industries and how their company is being discussed, but this becomes especially crucial for brands operating in highly regulated spaces. These companies must closely monitor legislative and regulatory changes as they occur and where they break, which is often on social media.
That said, it is virtually impossible for one person—or even a team of people—to manually monitor social at all times, which is why I recommend using a tool like Hootsuite, HubSpot or Sprout Social, in addition to partnering with a strong digital marketing agency to ensure that you have all of your bases covered. These tools enable brands to consistently monitor for various subject areas and key terms, follow important voices (including regulatory agencies) in their industries and set up alerts on hot-button topics.
Once you have a plan in place for consistently monitoring all social platforms, you need to determine how to best engage with your industry through these channels. Whenever there is news impacting your field, find a way to contribute to the conversation.
For example, if you’re a brand in the healthcare industry and open enrollment is starting in one week, you can work that into your social content calendar. Rather than overtly promoting your own company, make an effort to add value to the public at large as a trusted source of information. In the example of open enrollment, this could entail sharing an infographic with the enrollment dates for every state.
Invest in your content strategy and use social insights to drive it
Social media is just one part of content marketing, essentially making it a long-term investment that presents a huge opportunity for competitive differentiation. This is especially true in industries with ever-changing regulations, as establishing oneself as a social-savvy and progressive company that maintains close ties to its audience will yield substantial benefits.
As anyone who’s ever been tasked with content creation will tell you, developing a steady stream of high-quality materials can be quite the undertaking. It is nearly impossible for one person to do this at scale, which is why I always recommend establishing partnerships with studios and agencies that can produce premium content, both visual and written, on a recurring basis.
Convincing your leadership team to allocate budget for outsourcing content creation might be a challenge at first, but it will ultimately pay off tenfold and allow for quick and cost-effective optimization of your brand’s marketing communications.
Again, this is particularly important for brands in highly regulated industries, as the brand’s in-house team has to ensure that all content goes through the compliance approval process, which makes expediting content creation through outsourcing even more timely and effective.
In addition to selecting the right partners, it is critical to align your content strategy with social insights and analysis. Analyze the engagement rates on every post to determine what type of content resonates most with your target audience. Keep in mind that this will vary depending on the platform. For example, a post promoting a new industry whitepaper might perform well on LinkedIn but would likely fall flat on Facebook. This is why it is important to create story-driven content in multiple formats—including written copy, imagery, video and augmented reality/virtual reality—that tie all social communication pillars behind a single brand purpose.
Social media is one of the most cost-effective digital marketing channels for brands to syndicate content and increase their visibility, regardless of what industry they are in. Even though brands in highly regulated fields might have to jump through a few extra compliance hoops, they can still optimize social media to engage their target audiences and differentiate themselves from the competition.
It does require additional planning in terms of keeping a constant eye on regulatory developments, establishing compliance review protocol and leveraging outside resources to track analytics that help drive social strategy. However, this is necessary to pivot with the fast-paced information exchange of today’s society. Keep the aforementioned points in mind, and you will be well on your way to winning at social media despite being in a highly regulated industry.
Julie Raque is director of marketing at cannabis research and development company Cannabistry Labs.