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Is Social Media and “Employee Advocacy” Possible Within Regulated Industries?

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Regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services have stringent requirements about how they communicate with the public. How does this square with the concept of “employee advocacy”, where firms encourage their employees to share news of their firm on social media? To find out, I spoke with Russ Fradin, digital media marketing industry veteran and CEO of Dynamic Signal.

Belbey:  What does “Employee Advocacy” mean exactly? Is it something new?

Fradin: The idea of Employee Advocacy isn’t new. Companies have offered referral bonuses or encouraged employees to share great media coverage with their networks for years. But in today’s digital, social, mobile, always-on world, the way companies select technology and execute employee advocacy has certainly evolved.

Social media is now a significant part of our everyday lives and often serves as a primary communication channel between family, friends, and colleagues. Forbidding employees from using social media at work isn’t just unnatural -- it’s a missed opportunity. Enabling a workforce to do what they already want to do, across their social networks, may lead to ROI and a more satisfied, connected workforce. When employees are equipped and encouraged to share news and information about their organisations, they become a powerful force in authentic brand storytelling. With these personal, public endorsements, companies experience more engaged, more productive employees who help to drive measurable results for marketing, sales, human resources, and communications departments. That’s employee advocacy.

Belbey: How do firms facilitate “employee advocacy”? How is it being used?

Fradin: It starts with communication. Disconnected, uninformed employees can slow growth, distract from the mission, or deteriorate the company culture. On the other hand, an employee who feels connected, knowledgeable, empowered, and equipped to share the great things their company is doing, will create meaningful awareness and loyalty beyond the reach of traditional marketing or advertising campaigns. 

Today, employee advocacy is used for social selling, recruiting, brand awareness, event attendance, productivity, content distribution, and more.  Success, and possible ROI, is very much dependent on consistent participation across the organisation.

Belbey: We know that a few regulated firms have allowed select groups such as financial advisors to post pre-approved content on social media. Have firms in regulated industry had any success deploying social to broader employee populations? 

Fradin: Administrators in financial services, healthcare and other regulated industries can deploy technology to curate, vet, and approve content before pushing it out for all employees to share, and can also choose which employees receive each piece of content. This means employees can share the company story and news without concerns about potential regulatory pitfalls.

Using healthcare as an example, Humana, a health insurance company, provides employees with general content about health and wellness, in addition to company news. The content is created by Humana employees or other industry leaders and pre-approved by the program administrator for distribution.

Like many firms within regulated industries, Humana established stringent requirements around the content that employees can distribute. They use technology to ensure all shareable images and content contains necessary legal disclaimers. They even pre-populate a dedicated hashtag.

Every organisation wants employees to be excited about their company, their colleagues, and their work. Historically, regulated industries have missed out on this opportunity. However, by providing content that is pre-approved for employees to share, organisations can activate employees for public support.

Belbey: How do regulated firms comply with regulatory requirements regarding communications with the public?

Fradin: At Humana, #HumEmployee is included in every post to make it clear that the person works at Humana. Employees also must adhere to rules within HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), including not acknowledging someone’s disease or illness publicly, even if they tweet at a Humana employee about it.

Employees are also not allowed to post about Humana or correct someone else's incorrect post about the company directly. Instead, employees are directed to reach out to the social media or corporate communications team.

Humana digital marketing and legal teams also worked together to make sure the program was in compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations.

Belbey: How do you see “employee advocacy” evolving?

Fradin: Employee advocacy will continue to evolve as communication channels and technology continue to emerge. Employees want to have a relationship with their companies that mirror the other relationships in their lives – to deliver authentic, seamless, and consistent communications.

The explosive growth of communication allows for timely communication across channels and devices. We’re seeing a rise in the use of things like video and new technology like Virtual Reality. Companies will continue to evolve to meet employees where they’re at -- instead of expecting a workforce to proactively seek out necessary information. The role of internal communications in employee advocacy will also grow and evolve as companies understand that this will ultimately drive success for external communications.

More organisations will adopt a holistic strategy in how they approach and manage communications, especially with hourly workers who may not even have a corporate email address. 

By leveraging the channels and devices that employees already use and trust like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and Microsoft’s Yammer, companies will be able to make sharing and engaging with company content an effortless part of the daily routine.

This blog appeared previously on Forbes.

Contributor’s note: Regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services and energy, follow stringent rules and regulations pertaining to recordkeeping of business records, communications with the public, advertising and the supervision of the activities of employees. Before firms deploy any social media program, it is suggested that they gather together key stakeholders such as compliance, risk, data security, corporate communications, marketing, investor relations, human relations, and representatives from the various lines of business. Together, they should craft employee social media polices that adhere to these rules. These polices can then be reinforced with technology.