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Creating Compelling (and Legal) Content in Financial, Healthcare and Other Regulated Industries

When he changed marketing jobs from a local bank to become Director of Digital Marketing at the Cleveland Clinic, Scott Linabarger went from a world where every piece of content—even minor word changes on the bank’s website—had to be reviewed by legal and compliance, to the Wild West where practically anyone could write and post an article on the world-renowned hospital system’s website.

That was a little too “loosey goosey” for Scott, as he noted yesterday in a late morning session at Content Marketing World 2011 in Cleveland. So he implemented some internal controls. Today there are still 200-plus contributors to the Clinic’s website and related digital media, but someone on his staff now reviews it all—for grammar if nothing else—before it’s posted.

Katie Herbst, eMarketing Director for Westfield Insurance, also participated in the panel discussion. Characterizing her company as conservative in a conservative and risk averse industry, her job boils down to providing useful information to their independent insurance agents on a wide variety of fairly complicated topics. “It’s information they need, but no one wants to read it.” As she noted, “Every business needs insurance.”

Start slowly

Before Westfield entered the social media world, as Herbst recalled, they had some frank conversations with the leaders of key departments, including human resources, compliance and legal. Coming out of those discussions were some clear corporate policies (spelling out what employees must and must not do), as well as guidelines or best practices for being effective. Many of the policies already existed in a slightly different form in the employee handbook. Her team created the guidelines and presented them in an e-book that encourages Westfield employees to contribute content while behaving in such a way that wouldn’t put the company at risk.

Westfield’s corporate blogs  now have 25 regular contributors on such topics as loss control, agribusiness, and information security. Each contributor has received training on the policies and guidelines, and the basic processes for creating and posting new content.

Brent Williams, Director of Professional Services for digital marketing firm Knotice, Ltd., and the third panelist in this session for content creators in regulated industries, noted that such guidelines extend to content monitoring as well as content generation. Acknowledging the regulatory limits on certain conversations, he noted that a social media playbook must include listening to market conversations. Only by listening can an organization respond quickly and effectively, in real time, when the need arises.

Keep content aligned with strategy

Like many companies in other less-regulated industries, the challenge isn’t generating viable ideas for good content. The challenge is executing effectively. People may have good ideas for great content, but a number of questions have to be answered before any initiative should proceed:

  • What is the strategy?
  • Who is going to support it?
  • Who will write it?
  • What’s the frequency?
  • Will legal be involved?

Answering these questions will ultimately help make sure any content that is created is aligned with the overall social strategy, and prevent any efforts from being duplicated, Williams added.

Westfield’s Herbst noted that they use such discussions as a toll gate to gauge people’s seriousness. A team may come up with a social media project they’d like to launch, but they have to have a plan, she said. Such plans would include ongoing plans spelled out in an editorial calendar.

The insurance company’s fitness team, for example, wanted a Facebook page to communicate with employees. After being gently rebuffed, they came back with a detailed execution plan and the core objective of engaging more employees in fitness, which was clearly aligned with corporate goals.

Provide information, not advice

When communicating directly to the public, the core directive in regulated industries is that you can provide information, but not advice. And nothing can reveal—or potentially reveal—any personal information about any patient or client. As restrictive as that might sound, it leaves quite a bit of leeway.

“Part of the Clinic’s mission is to educate. That drives the bulk of our activity,” noted Linabarger. So creating and distributing information is a core element of everyone’s job expectation, especially the professional staff.

In addition, he noted that senior executives must be involved in social media activity. They have to have a personal Facebook page, for example, and look at what people are saying about the organization, and how the organization is responding to those comments.

“This is not a set it and forget it kind of thing. [Senior executives] have to get involved because this is way that we are engaging our patients,” said Linabarger. In fact, two years ago the Clinic didn’t have Facebook page, it didn’t have a Twitter account, and its YouTube account was hardly used. It was the hospital CEO who pushed the organization to get more involved in social media.

The big win

While the Clinic has grown its fans and followers over the intervening period, that’s not their primary objective. Their investments of time and effort in generating social media and digital content is paying off in brand awareness, which is measured on a quarterly basis. When asking people how they heard about of the Clinic and its activities, social media has grown from nothing to upwards of 8% in a relatively short period of time. That’s the ROI, concluded Linabarger.