Social media gains in regulated industries

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Healthcare, financial services firms and others are getting social-media advantages, even while awash in rules. Here's how they do it.

Social networking is serious business within regulated industries. Posts pertaining to finance, insurance and healthcare, in particular, require adherence to strict government and industry regulations. Even with the rule-a-palooza, however, some companies within these industries have not only found ways to keep regulators happy, but they've also made social networking a productive and key part of doing business.

That said, the phenomenon is still in fairly early stages. Only around 10% of regulated industries have a "truly social" enterprise where multiple social media tools have been integrated into general content consumption, according to Toby Ward, founder of Toronto-based Prescient Digital Media, a consulting firm for Fortune 500 companies.

"It depends on the organization and their level of savviness," says Ward. Companies where executives start their own blogs, for example, are more likely to end up using social media most effectively and predominantly, according to a recent study his firm conducted. "Almost all major banks have been in social media for at least a few years," Ward says.

Rebuilding trust with banks

"One current challenge we face is that many people have a deep-seated anger with the banking industry," says Renee Brown, social media director at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo. "Consumers are not trusting us right now." This makes it important to keep conversations healthy, since many customers hit the social media channels when they have issues.

   Renee Brown
"We make sure we go through the right compliance reviews before it's posted so nothing gets out there that shouldn't be posted to begin with," says Renee Brown, social media director at Wells Fargo.

The company primarily uses social media for customer service and to announce outages during storms. Consumers Energy also watches out for customers; occasionally someone will post his account number online during a conversation, says Youngdahl. "We delete it immediately and take the conversation offline."

Healthcare: Patient privacy first

"As a healthcare service, our number one concern is protecting our patients," says Susan Solomon, vice president of marketing and public relations for St. Joseph Health, a 14-hospital health system serving California, West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. "It's mainly about privacy issues, but there absolutely are ways to stay within the regulations and make social media work," says Solomon. "You simply have to set boundaries up front."

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