Social Media Safeguards for Healthcare and Regulated Industries

Social media has tremendous power as a tool for effective, affordable marketing and customer service — and yet many companies in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare, avoid engaging it for fear of the legal and regulatory challenges it introduces. As the CEO of a company that works with major brands in the regulated pharmaceutical and financial sectors, as well as consumer sensitive CPG and retail companies, I can tell you that with proper planning and oversight, these challenges can be navigated.

What follows are a few best practices to help healthcare providers start thinking about how to embrace social media while mitigating risk.

1. Define goals, strategies and program elements up front. This drives all future planning and clearly defines the intended benefits for all stakeholders, as well as for any parties who will be tapped for management and oversight. Once goals are clear, it is much easier for program leaders to work with, for example, the legal department, to anticipate challenges and weigh risks against benefits.

2. You can't control customers who interact with you through social media. Social media simply allows you to better realize what they're saying, and enables you the opportunity to influence them. Publish guidelines for interaction (both yours and theirs) on the pages, and over time establish a cultural context through moderation, dialogue and content programming to show users what's "appropriate" when they visit the site. Attracting and serving a community of brand defenders is the best way to prepare for and prevent a PR crisis.

3. Bring legal into the process early on to meet with the social media team to identify risks and determine a plan to mitigate and manage them. For example, the social media team at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer1 spent six months working with the legal department and establishing process prior to launching seven of their brands on Facebook, Twitter and other major social media platforms.

4. Establish a comprehensive, systematic moderation program, with tracked content and audit trails. A number of our clients' legal groups have told us that preliminary evaluation and subsequent implementation of appropriate system and process flows, such as escalation paths and adverse events management; tools that track and archive content and actions; and an expert, trained social media team (vendor or in-house) not only makes the program better but also ensures that risk is sensibly managed.

5. Put a social crisis management plan in place before a crisis happens. When an issue arises, it should already be clear exactly which parties need to be involved. Everyone on that team needs clear guidelines in advance as to how quickly they need to respond. Escalation paths should be well defined. And again, a crisis flashpoint isn't the moment to identify and enlist brand defenders. We don't build relationships in the middle of a crisis. We need to have established them in advance. A good social program identifies and cultivates relationships with your brand’s fans as its first priority. And it won't be hard, if you're doing it right.

 1 Pfizer is a client of LiveWorld.

Peter Friedman (; @PeterFriedman) is the chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a social content marketing company that is a trusted partner to some of the world's largest brands across various industries, including  in retail, CPG, pharmaceutical and financial/travel services.


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