—Rose McKinney, APR, President, Risdall McKinney Public Relations

Do we need stinkin’ rules? When it comes to social media it’s still somewhat reminiscent of the wild, wild West. And we’re all deputized to rule on what’s fair – right on the spot by responding to a particular post with a bystander’s opinion hoping others will chime in with support. OK, that’s an exaggeration and an over simplification, but based on several recent seminars on exactly that topic, it’s not that far off either.

At the Minnesota PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) professional practices conference on December 2, I moderated a panel on “Social Media within Regulated Industries.” Following brief overviews by Gabby Nelson, director of internal and external communications for Select Comfort, Catherine Peloquin, PR manager for Medtronic and Stephen Baird, JD, chair of the trademark practices group at Winthrop & Weinstine, the audience peppered this panel with questions:

  • How does a busy marketing-communications department find the time to establish and maintain a social media program?
  • What are the potential pitfalls of employees communicating about the brand within social media?
  • What resources do you recommend to stay abreast of all the changes impacting social media dos and don’ts?

A few key takeaways:

  • Social media isn’t always an addition to the communications mix, it’s often replacing traditional outreach activities. For example, Select Comfort used social media to help turn around sales when budgets were tight at the end of ‘08. The results demonstrated that this could complement, and even replace, more expensive traditional marketing activities. Positive performance paved the way for more extensive and frequent use of social media, and the communication team’s reputation for “doing it well and doing it right ”was the credible rationale to continue with a social media strategy; it wasn’t about being the first or fastest adopter of social media.
  • Employees have always been on the front line interacting with customers, so it only makes sense that companies would expect employees to engage in social media conversations about the brand. Panelists concurred that a social media policy is an important first step to spelling out acceptable, desired behaviors; they also recommended that the guide be thorough, yet simple and easy to follow.
  • Industry associations and trade publications are tracking social media for their members and readers. There’s regulatory risk and there are reputation risks with social media, so create strategic partnerships to stay informed. (In this blogger’s humble opinion, it’s never been more important to be an active participant of your industry and a subscriber of the key mediums who cover it. ) Whether it’s Bench & Bar or PR Week magazine, the reporters are writing about the latest perspectives from the FTC, FDA, FINRA and others.

It was fascinating to listen to the panelists share collective encouragement — social media is effective and as leaders and brand representatives, we’re the ones writing the rules.