Finding social media success in regulated industries like banking and healthcare

      I met my new friend Jeff Reed through a LinkedIn group. Jeff works as a wealth adviser for a large national company but has been hamstrung in his attempts to use social media.

“I am forbidden to use it,” he said. “The company is trying to figure out what to do, but in the mean time I feel like the world is passing me by.”

This is not an unusual situation. Regulated industries like banks and healthcare have to pay attention to the legal ramifications of how they share information.  Still, I think they are missing a bigger opportunity by not exploring how social media can be used on a very personal and human level.

I asked Jeff: “Does your company forbid you from attending a business networking meeting?”


“Do they keep you away from going to a chamber of commerce function?”


“Then what’s the difference? This is just another business networking opportunity. You don’t have to sell, you don’t have to advise. You don’t even have to identify your employer. Why not just be yourself and meet cool people and learn from them. Who knows … they just might turn into clients some day.”

This got Jeff’s attention. He was interested enough to enroll in one of my college classes and from that point on he has been on fire with this stuff, exploring several strategies to connect with people in meaningful new ways. And it’s working!

This is what most businesses — even regulated ones — miss. Social networking is not about B2B or B2C marketing.  It’s P2P — person to person. And isn’t that what personal services is all about?

If you are expected to grow your business through time-consuming live networking meetings or expensive advertising programs, doesn’t it make sense to unleash the powerful, cost-effective potential of the social web … before your competitors do?

In addition to the networking opportunities, there are several ways businesses like financial services and healthcare can employ social media within their industry regulations:

Social as a PR initiative. There are many ways to use social that avoids privacy issues. Why not apply social to your PR efforts? JPMorganChase has been able to help over two million Facebook fans focus on the good the organization is doing by engaging users its Chase Community Giving page. A Knoxville medical practice effectively used an eBook and video contests to build awareness for their services … and eventually get clients in the door.

Connection through education. A big part of marketing for financial and medical practices is education. Why not use social as an extensions of current efforts?  Vanguard took a leap this year by launching a Twitter handle and a Facebook program that embraces engagement within regulatory limits.  Morningstar is appealing to investors by providing a series of blogs (“Real Life Finance”) and forums where investors can learn and compare their portfolios right on the Morningstar website.

Mobile on the rise — Forget about social. What about the next wave — mobile?  Mobile is going to have a huge impact on banking, and it’s almost impossible to watch TV or Hulu without seeing a commercial for the latest mobile banking offering.  In a recent survey financial services is dominating other industries in term of iPad use (36.8%). While some financial services professionals take tablets into the field as a sales tool, Google and Bloomberg have developed apps for professional or individual investors to keep track of the market.

Customer service — Neither banking nor medical are known for their efficient processes or paperless service features. There must be some ways to copy what other industries are doing to use social to cut waste, reduce paperwork and streamline service. Chase Bank in New York is allowing customers to deposit checks by uploading a snapshot of the check on their cellphone.

Geo-location — I am the Foursquare “mayor” of my local bank branch. When I walk through the door, the tellers announce “Hello Mr. Mayor,” or “The Mayor is in the Building.” I must say, I enjoy walking into that bank.  As mayor I’m still waiting for my free money, but in the mean time, the bank is creating an emotional connection with me. Isn’t that remarkable?

Many customers, patients, and investors expect you to be there. Not participating sends a strong message and leaves a practice vulnerable to competitors. It’s becoming expected and preferred method of communication by many constituents.  Ignoring physician review sites such as, and won’t make the comments go away.

Those are a few ideas but I’m sure there are many more.  How are you seeing regulated industries such as banking and healthcare use social media effectively?

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  • They will use it very rigidly. And they will be late to the party. Such is the destiny of big, gangly structures.

    I think a better question is how do we convince them to dump a ton of money into it so we can have a party and put it on their bill….for once lol

  • They will use it very rigidly. And they will be late to the party. Such is the destiny of big, gangly structures.

    I think a better question is how do we convince them to dump a ton of money into it so we can have a party and put it on their bill….for once lol

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  • Now that is a splendid idea. Your place or mine?

  • Having worked within these very strict and antiquated industries, I know that they are scrambling at HOW to let their employees use social media. They are so afraid of the one rogue agent that will tweet, blog and update about products and services and big promises that it will set them up for a lawsuit. These industries move like a giant ship – they can’t turn on a dime and cannot feasibly keep up with the constant change that we all know SM brings.


    I have a client that I have been working with for over a year that is in the Insurance field with a Fortune 100 company. She has a successful business but doesn’t “believe” in the old school methods of advertising. She knows that in order to reach her target market (young families) she HAS to be in social media. I’m proud to say that we have not only accomplished this, but the main marketing folks in the corporate office have recognized her efforts and have placed her on their SM committee. So, it can be done with the right strategy!

  • I couldn’t agree with this post more! My husband is a CFP with a major national organization and his hands are tied when it comes to marketing online. I am constantly buzzing with ideas as to how he could leverage social media, but it is currently completely banned. It is mind-boggling (like you said) that he is able to attend various local (and time-consuming) networking groups like Rotary or BNI, but he can’t have a LinkedIn page.

    Like Kristen & Dino said, these organizations are only focused on the negative possibilities — and arguably there are some serious issues that could crop up! But as a result, they are missing a huge opportunity to build their brand online.

  • Anonymous

    Great post! Of course I agree with this! I say just respect what you would in the office online in regard to patient privacy etc.

  • Hi Mark… another great common sense post explaining why social media can be leveraged by most companies of any size. You said it best here:

    “Social networking is not about B2B or B2C marketing. It’s P2P — person to person. And isn’t that what personal services is all about?”

    I love that quote sir!

  • Great examples, Mark. And the networking event analogy is a good one. I have even noticed some pharma brands like Boehringer Ingelheim basically say we’re going to take the plunge because we’re missing out on what social has to offer. The policy on their Facebook fan page is tongue and cheek, but gets to the point — Hey, we’re taking a risk by opening up comments out here. Help us keep this going and not get in trouble ;). Good stuff. Cheers.

  • haha…nah…neither. Lets do it up in their place so we can burn that mother down lol plus, we dont have to clean up afterward 🙂

  • Hi Mark,

    As a marketing consultant for medical practices, I can vouch on the hesitance of health care orgs and social media. There are some great leaders in the field, like Swedish in Seattle and of course Mayo and some great small offices producing outstanding results. I get a lot of “We Can’t’s” with social media (in fact I just wrote a blog post about that exact topic last week). Try to focus on what you can do…and of course have an employee social media policy so the employees can have direction and guidance.

    Another enjoyable read from you, as always.

  • Anonymous

    Great blog Mark and thanks for using our medical practice as one of your examples. Connecting P2P is what medicine is all about so it’s ironic that physicians are among the most reluctant to use social media to connect with patients. For us it is the key to our marketing. We don’t even buy magazine ads anymore.

    Even in a regulated industry I think there is room for personality and creativity to shine through. Dr. Reath is the Chairman of the Education Committee of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons so his real passion is educating consumers on the importance of Board-certification. The challenge is to do it in a fun way within HIPPAA regulations.

    Even though our eBook was the biggest success story, it is surprising how much engagement we get on facebook. The Truth-O-Meter Tuesday game is still the big draw. In fact we just had our one year anniversary edition two weeks ago and had 56 comments about specific topics people want to know more about in weeks to come. We also have fans talking to other fans on our page about products they like. They even posted their prom photos during prom season.

    The other thing social media enables us to do is have a voice about how plastic surgery is portrayed in the media, and do it in a timely way. Last week’s Glee episode featured a story line where Rachel was considering cosmetic surgery on her nose. Dr. Reath’s blog about it “Glee” Covers Plastic Surgery (And Strikes The Right Chord)” was up on Friday.

    One thing you mentioned that is not working well for us in social is Geo-Location tools like 4-Square and Facebook deals. Even though we have good incentives, I don’t think that people want to announce to all their friends that they are at a plastic surgeon’s office. Understandable.

    The goal for us is to use social media tools to help educate the general public about issues surrounding plastic surgery. So we always keep it general and never comment about a specific patient or their medical care. And certainly never use it to give medical advice.

    PS: I am still mulling over mobile especially after hearing CK Kerley speak at Social Slam. I can’t remember leaving a meeting so inspired by such great speakers. I can’t wait for next year and Dr. Reath is coming with me this time!

  • You know, what’s really interesting about this post is that you’ve taken the issue away from the “Corporation” and brought it down to the individual level. But after all, the core of “Social Media” is “User Generated Content”. If people do participate at the “Human to Human / Person to Person” level and stay away from corporate committments, it will all work.

    Companies do have to be very careful about public communcations and committments. This will NEVER change. But, individuals who “follow the rules” can make good use of SM as you’ve outlined. I really like this line of thought and hope a lot of people who are feeling strapped by coporate governance policies see this.

  • Have spent the majority of my career (a whopping 5-6 years!) in the banking industry, this is neither a surprise nor new for me to hear. The problem, at least for the financial sector, is they’re still stuck in traditional thinking. A majority of financial companies (primarily banks) are still hellbent on selling every product to every individual. Banks make money by giving money away (and hopefully having it paid back on time) and by people spending money. Social doesn’t do this in a direct and obvious way. So bank officials are still stuck on throwing product down your throat.

    The excuse “we’re regulated” is just that — an excuse. And it’s not a legit excuse, either. While there are some banks that are doing a great job, for the most part, many of them will never find success because they’re still being run by traditional, old-school thinking men over the age of 50.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I’ll bet that would result in a neat Foursquare badge.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I want to know more!!! This needs to be a guest post – what a great success story. Great job Kristen!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I do think there are ways around it, but it seems pretty draconain when they can’t even have a personal LinkedIn page. More than draconian — stupid. They are just hurting themselves. They are missing an opportunity to have all these people become becaons for their brand! Thanks for this superb insight Tara!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Why do medical pracitces operate from a position of assuming that doctors and medical professionals are stupid?

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks Mark. I know you’re busy and it means a lot when you take the time to comment on my blog. I appreciate you!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I love that! I’ll have to check it out. Funny … i just ahd this conversation in one the classes i teach moments ago. Remember that negative comments can be a gift when the terrorists bring the comments to you. Thanks for this great example sir!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    So kind of you to say Karen. Four our communty members, here is the link to Karen’s blog post that she mentions. A good take on this issue!

  • Great post! I often come across potential clients in these areas and this post has some sound ideas. Another area that seems to be wary of using social media are lawyers. I think it depends somewhat on what area they specialize in, but there is that general nervousness of stating something out loud that could have legal ramifications at a later date.

  • An amazing and inspiring testimony, Lisa! And I’m glad you enjoyed Social Slam. I agree that CK rocked the house! : )

  • Thanks for your input today Steve. Always makes me smile to see you in the comment section old friend!

  • Nice to hear from somebody in the trenches. I was shocked to hear one of my students today (from financial services industry) that she is forbidden to even have a LinkedIn page. You have got to be kidding me. So I agree with you that the industry is out of step and hiding behind the regulation thing. Thanks, Kasey!

  • Nice call. I probably should have included that, but I think the same principles apply. Do social media, but follow the rules and don’t be stupid. Thanks Lisa!

  • Very good post with useful information. Here is an example of a credit union taking an innovative approach to active engagement with their members and the community at large. It’s reflected in their new website integrating community tools in a totally new way:

  • Great post about banks and social media. I’ve worked on various forms of bank marketing for over 20 years and they are very reticent to change. I’ve worked with some banking clients who won’t even use email marketing. You’re right, they could harness social media to become, at the very least, a great PR vehicle. One reason regional and community banks don’t attempt social media is because they just don’t have the manpower. Some of these departments are only 1-2 people and another project would become overwhelming for them. . . especially a new medium which they’d need to devote some time to.

  • Thanks, Mark 🙂 It really has been a big success for me and the client. And as always – your wish is my command! I’d LOVE another honorable spot in the hot seat!

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • But here is the decision they need to make. Traditional media is dying. People are spending more and more time on social and mobile. So why are they still spending their time on traditional marketing activities? It’s not an add-on. It’s a replacement. The whole mindset has to change. Thanks Julie!

  • Most excellent!

  • Like the analogy of attending conferences – this is definitely the approach to take when trying to convince sceptics in these kind of industries. So it’s part of your job to mix with people who can benefit your business – what does it matter whether you do it online or offline? I think sometimes the mere term “social media” throws up the defences and makes people worry. Far better to simply talk about what it the most efficient way to connect with lots of people. Identify the people, identify what you have to say – THEN make the call on the best way to reach them.

    A kind of 1-2-3 approach, even?


  • Mark, I really enjoyed your blog post but your comment has left me scratching my head. I don’t understand how you can be so spot-on above and then completely miss the mark in your comment here. To say that “Tradition media is dying” is a huge misnomer. While it is true that many people are transitioning marketing sped from more traditional forms of marketing, like print and television, to social media and mobile, to say that one is dying is just not true. Thanks again for your post, now I’ll get off my soap box and invite your response. In the meantime, here’s a blog post I wrote discussing exactly this: .

  • Mark

    again: Great ideas from your side. Banks sometimes seems to be bounding themselves in a cobweb of restrictions which in reality aren’t existing.

    Kind Regards from Germany


  • Rose Swanger

    As a good student, I read your blog 🙂 The problem w/ finanical industry is too much regulations in the name of “protecting individual investors” but w/ very lit’l practicality. Regardless how many rules out there, if a person (Bernie Madoff) is bad, he/she can still do the damages. Meanwhile, all the good ones are doing honest work w/ hands tied behind their back. Currently, many BD don’t allow their rep. do any social media ad. However, the rule is very inconsistent–some independent BD are more lenient than the traditional brick-and-mortar ones. FINRA has issued some regulations regarding the use of social media, but we’re waiting to hear more from them. Can hardly wait for the day of using s.m. freely.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    24 out of the top 25 newspapers in America had declining circulation last year. Some American cities have no daily newspaper any more. All newspapers are moving toward online content models to stay afloat. Many major magazines have gone bankrupt or are barely staying alive. Network television is in a crisis and may be abandoning local affiliates.

    Your article points to QR codes as a point of innovation for print. I think the jury is still out on that. Personally I think they are going to become an over-used gimmick. At a minimum, the QR codes are taking people AWAY from the content and advertising in the traditional printed form.

    I stand by my characterization and believe the data is on my side. However, I’m glad you commented and pointed us to your post Jon. Thanks!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    So true. it just makes good sense. There is a huge wall thrown up by these industries, largely out of misplaced fear. Just sent you an email on the 1-2-3 approach!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I’m glad you weighed in Hansjörg. This is the post I said I was going to write for you! Hope you can use it : )

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Hey, welcome to the community! Glad to see students coming on board!

  • Hi Mark

    Thank you. I thought it this way.

    Yes, it is definitely a valuable part of my puzzle “Social Media Banking”…

    Kind Regards from Germany


    PS: By the way: do you have German ancestors? The name “Schaefer” seems like…

  • Yes, my father’s family came from southern Germany and German-speaking Alsace-Lorraine. I have been to Germany many times on business and love the country and its people! And, I especially love the CARS!

  • Mark, I must confess that I didn’t read {grow} for 3 days out of the past 2 months and of course thats when I get a mention. I won’t miss reading your posts in a timely fashion from now on. Thank you for the on-going encouragement.

  • Great. Do you speak and understand the German language? If you will be here next time, lets meet!

  • You just nailed it, Mark. I came out of financial services, and I understand the kind regs they have. The thing is the folks who work out of financials, are trained to have that mindset *sell, sell, sell* That they failed to see the bigger picture of ‘not giving advice’ just build reputation.

  • Generally good article, but maybe some suggestions more for the banking side of things. Working in the healthcare side I think the geolocation is not a good advert. You shouldn’t have your patients as mayors, they should be better before then.

    Another point, (agreeing with you this time) is consider it social networking, rather than social media. In a crowded market lots of people will offer the same treatment. Differentiate yourself with your personality. Get that first point of contact. Then when they think they need you, they already know you.

  • There are lots of great examples both in banking, healthcare and other industries. Problem is covering this in a short format blog post! But point well taken.

    Certainly agree with the geolocation idea. Thanks so much for the addition to the dialogue Daniel!

  • The irony is, the best way to sell sell sell is to build relationships! : ) Thanks Dewita.

  • Hmmm interesting.

    Maybe for more “protective” industries social media is better served starting on the inside.

    Using social media within the walls of the company as internal collaboration/ communication tools (Yammer, SalesForce Chatter etc) will give such companies an opportunity to trial social media without the dangers that comes with being exposed in public space.

  • Maybe for more “protective” industries social media is better served starting on the inside.

    Using social media within the walls of the company as internal collaboration/ communication tools (Yammer, SalesForce Chatter etc) will give such companies an opportunity to trial social media without the dangers that comes with being exposed in public space.

  • Gifford Morley-Fletcher

    Hi Mark – very glad you tweeted about this again as I missed it the first time. I have contacts both in banking and law who are asking me the question more and more: ‘What’s this social media stuff? It’s not relevant for us, is it?’ and this alongside mention of the inevitable compliance issues. The main argument they have (and we’re talking about huge institutions here) is that the kind of clients they have and are looking for are so ‘big’ that social media wouldn’t be on their radar, and therefore isn’t a relevant sales tool. My response is along the lines of what you say: it’s not just a sales tool. I do think that this industry is in the early stages of adoption, but the key is that they get involved and understand the medium or they will get left behind.

  • Yesterday I was talking to a frustrated wealth adviser — her company will not even let her have a LinkedIn profile. I’m not sure some companies are even in that early adoption stage! Thanks Giff.

  • Interesting take on this Robert!

  • Thanks for the inspiration!!

  • I don’t speak German but because of my name, most people in Germany assume I do! I will actually be in Berlin briefly this summer but unfortunately would not have time to connect. We’ll look for an opportunity though!

  • What a pity. If your schedule will allow a meeting, just let me know.

  • Added this one to my delicious! Surprised I missed it before :s

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  • I once worked in the Financial Services industry and our approach was: if you can’t archive social media, then you must block access to it – which is what we did. Aside from creating rules and protocols around accepted use, it’s important to adhere to the industry regulations that apply to your organization as well.

    A good summary of the rules set forth by FINRA, the SEC, HIPAA and the FDA is here:

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