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Drugs, Milk, and Money: Three Ways to Do Social Media in Regulated Industries

by Glenn Engler  |  
April 12, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Three ways to add social media marketing in heavily regulated industries
  • Three industries missing the boat by holding back on social media marketing

"We're not allowed to" is one of the most commonly uttered phrases about social media by marketing professionals in regulated industries. A few bad experiences, combined with an understandably vigilant regulatory mindset, turns organizations known for their marketing prowess into paralyzed players.

Let's look at the following three industries and their cross-category similarities, and then let's come up with some solutions.


Highly regulated, the drug industry is used to long development cycles with often very little communication during that process. As a drug moves along the development cycle, and then into clinical trials, there is as much attention paid to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight as there is to the future marketing landscape.

Once a drug has received FDA approval, pharmaceutical companies launch into a tried-and-true formula of brand awareness, doctor education, and focused customer communications to take advantage of their exclusive window.

But even as organizations' paralysis (or quiet) remains the norm in their social space, conversations and discussions are going on louder and faster than ever before:

  • Millions of consumers online discuss key conditions—everything from cancer treatment to MS and dietary conditions.
  • Some four million mommy bloggers talk about various topics, with their family's health as the top topic category.
  • And, according to a variety of research sources, more than two-thirds of US online adults use the Web to research and discuss medical conditions.

Added all up: An incredibly vibrant set of discussions.


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Glenn Engler is the CEO of Digital Influence Group, a Boston-based digital agency with social at its core. You can read Glenn's blog and reach him via Twitter @glennengler.

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  • by Chris Beurman Tue Apr 12, 2011 via web

    Good article Glenn!

    I am also in a regulated industry for a Medicaid managed care organization that is owned by a safety-net hospital. We are utilizing Facebook and YouTube currently as our main two social media platforms with a high emphasis on health education and event promotion.

    The health education is through our YouTube channel, and the various channels that have picked up our videos. We have now acheived over 40,000 views for these health education videos targeted at individuals with low health literacy levels.

    We also use Facebook for videos and event promotion ( Community events are important because that is where we can meet members or potential members to help answer their questions. When we promote the events using Facebook, we combine with traditional advertising to get more people at the events. We also share health benefit information, health education and healthy recipes on Facebook. Anything that is fun and helpful with an emphasis not on insurance, but health education.

    Anyway, thought I would thank you for your article and share what we do as a Medicaid Managed Care Organization regulated by CMS. As far as I know, we are one of the few of our type of industry using social media.


    Chris Beurman
    Community Relations Manager
    Children's Mercy Family Health Partners

  • by Dan Soschin Tue Apr 12, 2011 via web

    I just spoke on this exact topic at Radian6's user conference last week in Boston. The key takeaway that I wanted to people to leave with is that your employees can be brand champions and be active in social media communities, but you need a well-defined policy as your first step. But it doesn't end there -- you also need training and education. For instance, build a module that is added to your new hire orientation. Education should involve case studies and an exhaustive amount of examples. Let employees print out a certification of completion after passing a short test as well, so that they can demonstrate to their peer employees they have passed the course. But, when all else fails, swift monitoring and action, such as a well defined triage plan for complaints is a good asset to have. Above all else, I wholeheartedly agree that striking up strong relationships with all departments and stakeholders will lead to success. More at my blog -

  • by Glenn Engler Tue Apr 12, 2011 via web

    Thank you for the comments, Chris and Dan. Sharing content is critical, I would agree. And then getting a well-defined policy as a baseline will absolutely help organizations get started.

  • by George Fri Apr 15, 2011 via web

    I'm about to start a project to help a dental office market and grow their business. The Dental Association has a long list of restrictions, I was surprised. They are almost "anti-barnding"!!! So thanks for this insight.


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