April 2, 2019
Every company under the sun is on social media, or so it seems. It’s not surprising really, given that the number of social media users hit 3.196 billion in 2018 and the majority of those people log into their accounts at least once per day.
Imagine if your brand could get under the noses of just 1% of that community.
It’s powerful stuff, and it’s easy to see why companies are scrambling to get onto the social media bandwagon. But before you leap onboard, is your social media strategy compliant?
Social media compliance is a set of rules that companies must adhere to, when using social media to engage with the general public. These regulations vary according to your specific industry alongside federal, state, and local laws.
Take FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) as an example. Investors and financial services firms must operate within FINRA’s rules on communicating with the public, which includes all social media activity. The full FINRA regulations on social media and digital communications can be found here, which in brief refers to:
- Books and records: Firms and their registered representatives must retain records of communications and the content used.
- Supervision: Firms must supervise the business-related content that their staff are communicating on social media.
- Third-party posts: Such as customer complaints or other communications that require review under FINRA rules and federal securities laws.
- Linking to third-party websites: The firm must not link to any third party site that is suspected of containing false or misleading content.
- Suitability: Relating to recommendations made through social media websites, such as specific products or service providers.
- Fair and balanced communications: FINRA sets out communication rules that apply to firms using social media as well as other media such as email and print.
In the same way that your advertising or marketing material mustn’t mislead or misinform consumers, your social media messages must also play by the rules.
For instance, these are some of the legal issues potentially surrounding social media usage as highlighted by Thomson Reuters:
- Privacy laws
- Content ownership
- Intellectual property infringement
- Workplace harassment and discrimination
- Insider trading
- Marketing and advertising regulations
A simple tweet or Facebook post could easily, and unwittingly, fall foul of one or more of these issues.
That’s why it’s important to incorporate social media into your internal policies in order to minimize risk, in the same way that you would with any other public business activity.
Tips on How to Stay Compliant
Here are 3 quick tips to help keep your business within the social media safety zone:
1. Know Your Regulations and Create a Social Media Policy. Bizibl advises companies to update their communications policies and regulations to ensure they include social media, as it is a relatively new medium compared with more traditional forms of communication.
Your compliance officer and social media marketer should work together to define policies and procedures for your compliance requirements. If you don’t have a compliance or risk assessment officer, outsource to a qualified professional on a freelance or contractual basis.
According to social media company Hootsuite, at a minimum, your social media policy should include:
- A primer on the relevant rules and regulations
- An outline of social roles and responsibilities, including the approval process
- Guidelines to keep accounts secure, such as how to spot phishing attacks
2. Create an Acceptable Use Policy. An ‘acceptable use policy’ helps guide your staff and marketers on how to use social media appropriately, and also informs your followers on how to interact with your brand to minimize compliance risks.Take a look at this example provided by Hootsuite: “We love when you comment and tag your friends and family on our posts but we ask that you do not … make comments about how a product works for you outside of its intended purpose, as these comments can be dangerous or misleading — our products are developed for particular purposes, as stated on the label and/or in our advertising.”
3. Control Access to Your Accounts and Monitor Regularly. Only give specific people access to your social media accounts. Sharing usernames and passwords isn’t the best way to provide access; instead use a centralized social media platform to give access and monitor content. Your choice of platform should also have the ability to lock down access to social channels in case of urgent compliance problems.
This is a quick overview of some of the steps you can take to remain compliant and minimize risk. Best practice states that every company should work with a compliance officer to understand industry regulations and create social media usage policies, and also carry out training with staff to ensure that anyone engaging in business communications on social media adheres to the policy, and understands the potential risks involved.
How to Write Compelling Social Media Posts
Now that you have an idea of how to write compliant content for social media, how do you know that people will actually take the time to read them?
Golden Rule: Know Your Audience
The golden rule of any marketing activity is to know your audience. It doesn’t matter how catchy your content is; it’s only compelling when it’s targeted and tailored to the right people. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to do it!
Always start with a clear idea of who you want to reach through your social media marketing, and why. Are you selling to consumers or to other businesses? Clients or suppliers? New or existing contacts? Discount-hunters or loyal customers?
You’re probably aiming to reach multiple groups from the same social media profiles. This is normal, but for your posts to be of any value, you may need to adjust the content or your scheduling to strike the right balance for multiple audiences. For instance, posts about discounted products or flash sales will only interest consumers, not your B2B followers (unless they’re monitoring you for competitive analysis). While you may gain healthy interaction with consumers, too many posts of this nature will disengage your business fans and they’ll likely stop following you. One solution could be a 50/50 mix of content that appeals to both groups, or two separate profiles tailored specifically to different audiences.
Find the Right Tone
In general, when writing social media posts for business, think about striking a tone that’s conversational yet professional.
Of course this will vary depending on your industry and your specific followership; certain industries will require a more formal and educational tone, while others can be relaxed, friendly, and even humorous (be careful with humor: it can land you in trouble if taken the wrong way — so be sure to include guidelines in your social media policy).
Write Content that Adds Value
It can be difficult to find things to write about. Your guiding light should be: always add value!
Whether you are offering personal knowledge on a specific subject, sharing informational content from another (trusted) source, announcing a new product, or simply imparting a little light-hearted wisdom on a Friday afternoon, always aim to add value to your audience.
The more useful your content, the more likely it is to get shared, and the more likely you are to gain followers.
Keep your posts succinct and within the character limit. Where possible, add eye-catching visual elements such as a good quality photograph, an infographic, or a video. These tend to dramatically increase interaction when compared to text-only posts, which easily get lost in busy news feeds.
It’s About THEM, Not You
When it comes to social media, remember that it’s about them — your followers and readers — not you. Don’t be selfish. You might be thrilled that your company just hired a new salesperson and you’re eager to spread the news on social media, but why should your readers care? What’s in it for them?
“So where do you start? Well for one it’s not about you, it’s about “them” — your prospects, customers, viewers and readers,” says content marketing expert Jeff Bullas. “Content comes in all types of formats, shapes and styles and often the creator has only a few brief seconds to entice you to go beyond the headline or the opening line.”
There’s a lot of marketing noise out there. Remember that this is a ‘social’ medium, so think about how to solve problems for your readers and do your best to offer useful information that’s genuinely interesting and helpful. That way, you’re more likely to win your readers’ loyalty and increase brand engagement, which will ultimately get your business under the noses of more people.
Hi I'm Jo Meunier! I started freelance writing in 2012 and I’ve never looked back. I’m lucky enough to work with some great people and companies, including Alliance Virtual Offices, who embrace the flexible working lifestyle as much as I do. When I’m not busy researching or writing, I’m out walking my two dogs, spending time with family or horse riding in the Northamptonshire countryside. I love chatting about work/life balance and I’m always eager to learn from others. Let’s connect! (twitter.com/alliancevirtual)