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Social media strategies: There's no big bang

Creating an effective social media strategy that conforms to compliance mandates requires a phased approach and plenty of collaboration.

ATLANTA -- It's en vogue for companies to be aflutter about Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as a business tool. It can connect them with customers, lead to new ideas and even drive sales and revenue.

But many companies -- especially those that are subject to regulatory compliance mandates or strict internal rules -- fail to launch successful social media strategies right from the beginning. Their fatal flaw is neglecting to bring legal departments and compliance officers into the conversation until it's too late, according to speakers at this week's Social Shake-Up conference.

Don't go to the compliance department with a fully baked cake.
David Davidovicpresident, pathForward

Creating a solid enterprise social media strategy means bringing all stakeholders to the table in the development phase, the experts said, because meeting early and often ensures social media strategies meet business needs without causing legal issues.

"It's about having all the stakeholders in the room to collaborate and design that strategy together across the organization," said Victor Gaxiola, a subject matter expert for social media at Actiance Inc., a social media integrated platform provider in Belmont, Calif.

Gaxiola discussed the challenges of balancing social media efforts with regulatory concerns and compliance and legal issues during a conference panel entitled, "Playing with Lawyers: Social Media Governance." When clients approach Gaxiola about launching a social media initiative, the first thing he does is get all teams together.

"We'll have all departments represented -- and we're pushing the limits of that conference room," he said. "But we're that glue that's bringing it together in a way that is compliant, but also meets those business objectives."

Conference speakers also warned that the failure to foster collaboration and communication can create social media strategies that need costly and time-consuming revisions after the fact.

"Don't go to the compliance department with a fully baked cake," said David Davidovic, the president of pathForward, a consultancy for healthcare providers based in San Francisco, Calif. "Even if your plan gets approved, it will get approved with lots changes."

We're that glue that's bringing [all the departments] together in a way that is compliant, but also meets those business objectives.
Victor Gaxiolasubject matter expert for social media, Actiance Inc

An incremental approach can help stakeholders get comfortable with social media and learn about best practices. Conference speakers suggested companies start small -- give users access to just a few platforms and offer specific guidance on the kinds of messages that are legal and compliant.

Phased social media strategies

Experts on the panel encouraged attendees to be flexible and constantly refine their social media plans to achieve compliance over the long term. Developing social media plans that are phased over time is much more effective than trying to do everything in one day, they emphasized.

"We've had clients start articulating their strategy, and we say, 'You're trying to boil the ocean; you don't need to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr. You don't need all these platforms in 30 different languages, across all these different locations," he said. "If you take that approach to compliance, they'll kick you out of the room."

The objective in the first phase should not be to establish company presence on every platform or to train all employees on best practices for social tools. Instead, experts urged attendees to gather information, test plans with a small group, then iterate and fix failures.

Companies often start out very conservative and want a great deal of control, Gaxiola said. But over time, as they educate users and test different tactics in partnership with legal and compliance departments, firms often become more willing to loosen the reins of control.

The panel emphasized that achieving social media success in a regulated environment means educating users and gradually developing a comfort zone for legal and compliance. Some companies begin by asking Gaxiola for very basic social media capabilities. A typical company, for example, might begin simply by giving employees a Facebook profile and allowing them to share content stored in a pre-approved library. Then, as users become more educated about what falls within the parameters of legal compliance, the company allows them to "like" and share posts more liberally.

"Slowly, companies start opening up that spectrum of their approach to social," he said. "But it's a process."

Building a legal and compliant social media strategy has to be a work in progress that companies test every day, added pathForward's Davidovic. As stakeholders participate in the process, as users get educated, and as legal and compliance become more comfortable with the medium, some of the initial desire for excessive control can dissipate.

"Don't approach [a] compliance team as an approval body, but [rather] as a partner," he said. "It can help the outcome."

Muscle memory

Companies with social media know-how -- the ones that do the best job of creating with tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts while remaining compliant with government, industry and internal company regulations -- have been painstakingly building "muscle memory" for months, the panel noted. One example is popular cookie maker Oreo and its parent company Mondelēz International Inc.

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Avoiding social media pitfalls

By last January, Oreo had been tweeting messages daily, learning from mistakes for nearly a year. The company had built a strong partnership of trust and collaboration between marketing teams and compliance officers, when suddenly the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl. Oreo was able to come up with a fitting tweet in five minutes that reflected the zeitgeist: "You can still dunk in the dark."

But as Tom Chernaik, the CEO of CMP.LY in New York noted, what looked like an in-the-moment stroke of marketing brilliance (though some disagree) was actually the fruit of a year's practice. The lesson: Companies can't make legal, compliant decisions in the moment unless they hone skills over time.

"[Oreo had] less than five minutes to create copy, get it approved and publish it out," Chernaik recalled. "You can't make that decision during the Super Bowl on a Sunday if you haven't practiced it. You have to build trust with people internally and understand who you need at the table."

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A lot of times companies trying to launch a new social media strategy are afraid that they're late to the party and need to make up for lost time. They burst onto all the social media platforms at once, and when they make rookie mistakes it's very visible, to the point where potential followers will leave and not come back. Lack of compliance with the company's legal department is just one such mistake. It can be helpful to work with a consultant firm, or even outsource content creation entirely to a company that knows what it's doing, while you learn the ropes. The growing popularity of dedicated content marketers like Prose Media ( just shows how much social media has become a full-time job.