• Sunday , 27 May 2018

Regulated Industries and Social Media

One challenge I hear from clients when the question of “Why Social Media?” comes up is that they are in regulated industries and can’t use social media.

That’s incorrect,  they can use it but it’s more regulated than for those in non-regulated industries.

For purposes of this article I’m talking about small and mid-sized businesses.  You know who you are.  You’re the ones without large and expensive legal, compliance, and HR departments to help you through the seemingly endless minefield of regulations.

Large companies, such as financial service behemoths, frequently forbid their employees from using social media at all.  In which case, if you want to keep your job then you’re stuck.

Examples of the types of companies I’m talking about are:

1)  Healthcare firms like doctors and dentists;

2)  Financial services firms like CPA shops, tax preparers, and financial planners;

3)  Other regulated practices such as law firms and independent insurance agents.

I argue that social media and its benefits are not closed to these outfits, they just need to approach it differently.

At this point, I want to make very clear that I’m not an attorney and these are my opinions alone.  Anything that a professional organization does with social media should be checked with its professional society and those to whom they look normally for legal guidance here.  My point being if you don’t ask then no one is going to tell you that you can.

My argument for the use of social media by regulated professional services firms is threefold:

First, social media is an extension of traditional networking practices by another means.  Yes, these tools can run afoul of practices that are regulated, just avoid these!  Don’t give financial advice, don’t diagnose illness or prescribe drugs, and keep client and patient confidential information away from these apps!  Simple, right?

Next, even if social media is not used proactively then it can be used passively.  Establish a presence to at least let the world know that you’re there and to serve as a listening post for your industry, clients or patients, and competitors.  (Trust me, they’re all there especially the latter!)

Finally, professional development practices have long been allowed.  How many of you go to conferences, write articles for professional journals, speak at forums, and do pro bono or community service?  Why would social media be precluded from these practices?

Yes, there issues around using these tools for certain purposes.

FINRA requires all communications with clients be documented.  Where do social media comments fall here?  Financial recommendations and advice are prohibited.  HIPAA provides for patient privacy.  All social media activities must be properly supervised from a compliance perspective.  I’m not arguing against the regulation, I’m just saying that the regulated activities should be avoided.  (In some situations, the activity is permissible just heavily regulated.  Avoid these!)

What’s possible?

The following are just a short list of activities that could be shared on social media (just remember to check with your professional association or other rules making/enforcement bodies):

1)  Information about the firm

a)  Contact information

b)  Principle staff with their bios and licenses

c)  Services offered

d) Links to articles published in professional journals or videos of presentations given

2)  Safe examples of possible content (many of which could be done by your own blog)

a)  Information pertaining to the annual tax cycle

b)  Retirement prep activities

c)  Healthy living (Diet and exercise, I know of one PCP who periodically schedules hikes with his patients.  This is a great example of an event to share on social media.)

d)  Current issues in society like the coming flu season or the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

3)  Listen to current or prospective clients and patients

a)  Their issues

b) Their concerns

c)  Their questions

The current state of social media in regulated industries is in flux.  A recent article in Forbes magazine talked to this issue and the ongoing confusion among regulators.

This much I know.  If my clients are any example, professionals are complaining about the uncertainty and lack of guidance.  They also see the larger players moving ahead and don’t want to be left behind.  Change will be a certainty here.

My advice to all small and mid-sized firms who are in regulated industries to follow their professional and trade associations, keep an eye on their competition (including the large firms), and don’t be afraid to raise issues and ask questions.

But as importantly, develop a social media program and stick with it!

Trust me this a race that you don’t want to be left behind in!

That’s it for now!

In the meantime, thank you for following and reading my blog!

I look forward to any and all comments that you may have.  I will reply to any comments made to this blog post as promptly as I can.

Remember!

I work with social media for a living and if I can be of any assistance to either you or your organization, please feel free to call on me.  Our initial discussion will be of no charge to you.

I can also be reached at conpsweeney@someddi.com.

My Twitter handle is @conpsweeney.

Stay well!

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