How to Scale Social and Maintain Customer Engagement in Regulated Industries
Peter Friedman

Social media marketing for companies in regulated industries poses special challenges—challenges such companies can, and should, face if they wish to remain competitive. The ability to engage deeply with customers in social will increasingly define the world’s best-of-class products and companies. Drawing on our experience at LiveWorld, working with major brands in the pharmaceutical and financial sectors, what follow are a few best practices to create highly engaging social conversations at scale while minimizing legal risk.

1. Develop a great relationship with your in-house legal and regulatory. You won’t successfully engage anyone if you can’t get your program through legal. Marketers often find themselves in an adversarial relationship with their legal departments. This isn’t good for anybody as it can lead to problematic behavior, such as marketers taking programs to legal too late—which then in turn corners lawyers into recommending the company dump social media campaigns rather than develop strategies to mitigate risk. We have found that taking the time to educate legal departments about the goals and benefits of your social efforts, and to bring them into the process early, creates a cooperative dynamic that allows them to see that potential risk exists against a backdrop of potential gain.

2. The most effective scaled social conversations feel dynamic and spontaneous—but are built on a foundation of thoughtful planning. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer (a LiveWorld client) has eight consumer healthcare brands on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other major social media platforms. These include brands such as Chapstick, Emergen-C, Centrum and Advil. The social media team at Pfizer spent six months in advance of the launch working with their legal, medical and regulatory departments establishing process and guidelines. Working with input from their brand teams, care center and agency partners, they created a database of close to 10,000 posts and answers to different questions that could come up as users interacted in social. Says Kathleen Hartnett, Senior Manager, Consumer Engagement at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, “We really anticipate as much as possible.” That kind of preparation doesn’t eliminate risk, but it creates a structure that makes “spontaneous” interaction between customers and brands possible.

3. Know your market segment. It’s essential to understand both the culture and the laws of any market segment you’re looking to reach. For example, teenagers: When you’re too restrictive in your interactions with teens, you immediately become uncool and “fake” and they won’t show up. But the definition of “restrictive” varies worldwide, both in terms of culture and law. France has extremely tight regulations, for example, on marketing content targeted at teenage girls. In the more liberal culture of the Netherlands, however, not only do you not have such laws, if you’re too tight in your management they won’t pay you any attention. The better you know both your audience and the rules governing interactions, the better you’ll be able to explore the range of interactions that are possible.

4. Moderate, moderate, moderate. While this varies from brand to brand, we’ve found moderation to be among the most successful tools, not just for risk management, but also for engaging customers in a successful, lively conversation. Your goal is not just to talk with your customers, but is ultimately to get customers to talk with each other—a result that helps tremendously when you’re trying to scale big since it takes some of the content creation burden off of your team.

How much you moderate “can depend on the brand itself, the brand’s history, and what’s gone on in the recent past from a PR or legal standpoint,” according to LiveWorld client, Susan Shook, Associate General Counsel–Associate Director Global Privacy & Digital Law, from Procter & Gamble. But it’s safe to say that highly regulated brands live and die by moderation.

Our clients’ legal groups have told us that having an established system and process flow, tools that track and archive content and actions, and an expert or trained team (vendor or in-house), greatly improves the program and substantially mitigates risk.

5. Remember that social is a long-term commitment. As you consider both the goals and the risks of your social program, you shouldn’t just be thinking about the immediate future. What does the situation look like six months or a year out? What would be the risks if the program needed to scale back? What does success look like? Asking these kinds of questions helps you shape expectations upfront, both internally and with your fans.

Many of these insights, including the quotes from my colleagues at Pfizer and Procter & Gamble, were discussed at length in a panel discussion that I moderated during Social Media Week New York City at a Pfizer-LiveWorld sponsored special tract on social media and regulated industries. (If you’d like to learn more about improving social media engagement in regulated industries, you can check out the recording.)

The resounding consensus of the session was that as a social media marketer in a highly regulated or sensitive industry, legal departments aren’t your worst enemy, as so many marketers complain—they need to be your best friend. They’ll help you identify risks and, if your relationship is good, provide valuable cost-benefit analysis. Together, you can develop strategies to that mitigate risk while giving you the control you need to engage customers effectively in the fluid, never-a-dull-moment environment of social.


Peter Friedman ( is the Chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a social content marketing company that is a trusted partner to the world’s largest brands, including the number-one companies in retail, CPG, pharmaceutical, and financial/travel services. @PeterFriedman

[Photo Credit: Adam_T4 via Photo Pin | Creative Commons]