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I did a presentation this week on protecting your brand in a social media crisis. The audience was a large group of people in a very regulated industry: insurance – specifically health and life insurance.

The questions all centered around a hunger for specific, actionable tips for creating a corporate structure that could handle any social media crisis, whether it originated internally or externally.

It’s always a challenge to address a group of that size – every company was at completely different levels of social media acceptance and implementation. Some, like Wellpoint and Cigna, have fully embraced social media as part of the new corporate universe and are forging ahead with confidence. Others are not even doing basic social media engagement or listening.

That’s not surprising – it’s often difficult for an industry that is built on caution and planning ahead to let go of control of their brand and listen to and engage with the customer.

Let’s take a look at some quick tips that can get any regulated business up and running in social media with confidence:

1. Develop Social Media Employee Guidelines: We’ve all heard about the beauty of simple social media employee guidelines like the ones used by Intel, Dell and Best Buy. Simple is great for the majority of companies, but in certain industries you have to exercise a bit more caution and spend a bit more time crafting guidelines that make it easy for your employees and contractors to know how to engage in social and still adhere to laws like HIPPA (health) or the laws that govern securities and exchange (finance) for example. If you are in the health, insurance, finance or legal industry, your guidelines should reflect not only best practices for social media but also best practices for your industry.

2. Develop Social Media Company Policy: Slightly different than guidelines intended to help your employees navigate the tricky waters of engagement, corporate policy lays out specific policies for social media both on a corporate and human resources level and the consequences and rewards for following the policy. The policy documents are designed to protect the company and to make any consequences for various mishaps or crises that occur from not following the guidelines clear. For example, what and when to tweet would go into the Guidelines document, but the consequences to the employee for tweeting out a patient’s health care info or violating the rules of the SEC on Facebook would be part of this Policy document.

3. Establish a Plan for Managing Crises: A crisis can be internal or external. Having a team in place and a clear plan of action for various crises that may occur, as well as ready content and other tools at the ready just in case, makes triaging that crisis much simpler (and quicker). The faster you can calm, control and corral an issue, the better you are able to rise above it.

4. Designate One Person to Lead Social Media, Then Support Them with a Team: In a regulated industry you definitely need one person overseeing your social media efforts and making sure everyone in the company is complying. Because excellent oversight of social media requires deep dives into listening tools like Salesforce Radian6, analytics like Google Analytics, spreadsheets (which can take advantage of tools like our Excel Add In), and more, one person can quickly become too tied up in the back end details to engage. Make sure that you have a team of folks supporting your social media lead with engagement of all types and content creation. It helps your brand stay consistent in the public eye, and helps you handle any thing that comes up with the right department (human resources, marketing, customer service, sales, legal,e tc).

5. Develop a Reporting Habit: Every week and every month you should be reporting on your social media efforts, analytics, insights and measurable results to the leads in all company departments and to the C-Suite. By showing the results of your efforts and letting people know how social media is helping each department it helps develop support and encourage participation from all departments for your programs and campaigns. Reporting also helps you work with team in each part of the company to develop more programs that are designed to help them reach their goals and fine tune the existing programs for better results.

6. Conduct Regular Fire Drills: These fire drills should test your crisis response, yes, but also test engagement tactics, knowledge of tools, explore your metrics and test your reports and results. Like any good fire drill, these should be unplanned tests of various aspects of your social media plans. Think of it like a tune up – every engine runs better with regular attention and maintenance.

7. Develop a Listening Plan: Create a listening plan that tracks not only happy customers, patients or clients but also monitors potential problems. Put yourself in the shoes of your patient or client. Think of topics, keywords and phrases they may say or search for online if they are in distress. Remember that people in distress may not always think to mention the provider or brand at first. Being able to reach out early will help alleviate crisis and give you the intel you need to provide a better service overall, improving with time and feedback. Additionally, hearing your customers where they are and in their own words will help you plan future iterations of your product or service.

8. Don’t Stop After Problem Solving! Follow Up and Follow Through: Following through by following up with the client or patient weeks or months after the challenge is solved is an essential part of your success online and offline. Be the brand that people know will make sure the solution you arrived at is working. If it isn’t – solve the challenge a new way down the line.

9. When in Doubt, Be Useful: If you can’t engage in a traditional sense because of rules or regulations on your industry, you can still engage and be part of the online ecosystem, reaping benefits for your brand. Simply turn from more direct engagement to a more comprehensive content strategy and work to be useful. Even the most secretive, regulated industry can create content such as how-to videos, posts or white papers that help people navigate their company offerings and the industry overall.

10. Listen Everywhere, Don’t Be Everywhere: It’s possible to spread yourself too thin if you must balance social media with spending your days addressing compliance issues and delicate industry needs. Choose a handful of platforms to be active on – generally three to five is enough (including email and your website or blog). Then put listening tools in place everywhere else, and possible outposts directing people back to your hub profiles and sites. It’s better to offer quality engagement in fewer places consistently than try to keep up with every shiny new tool. This also gives you room to analyze new social media tools for compliance with your industry’s needs and regulations before trying them out, instead of jumping in early and finding out later the site violates a regulation.

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AltaFlux Corporation

By AltaFlux Corporation

AltaFlux understands what you and your organization need to excel, and can deliver rapid innovation to unleash your full workforce potential. Together, we can empower your business by streamlining, transforming, and optimizing your key HCM and talent processes with industry-leading SAP SuccessFactors technology—enabling you to adapt at the speed of change.