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Social Media Isn’t a Free-for-All

September 26, 2008

Recently, I was speaking with one of our healthcare prospects regarding how to use social media to engage patients, leading to greater familiarity with their services, with the end goal of driving more patients to their participating doctor partners.   During the conversation, it was mentioned that because of HIPPA, liability, and compliance issues, they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to leverage social media because it is a “free-for-all”.
Over the years companies in the more constrained or regulated industries – healthcare, banking, investment, legal, and defense – tend to have a similar mindset.  What I find most interesting is the assumption among those not familiar with social media is that social media = MySpace.  It does not, but it can.  For its purpose, MySpace is what MySpace needs to be: a fairly free-form gathering place, without an abundance controls or moderation.  It is not representative of what one might do, for example, when applying social media for the amplification of investment information content.

Some established communities are somewhat free-for-all.  But by leveraging the controls inherent in the better social media platforms, companies can have very controlled, tightly managed communities.  Not surprising, most of the latter fall into the “constrained or regulated industries” I mentioned above.  The use of access plans, moderation (both tools and human), community management, policy and Terms of Service definitions, security, roles and other social media platform functionality can provide just the right amount of control.  Our job as social media consultants is to help clients understand exactly what functionality to use and how to use it to successfully meet the business goals and objective without introducing unacceptable levels of exposure or risk.
So, my advice to those who have doubts about deploying social media because it is too uncontrolled: have no doubts.  The deployed community of any social media initiative can be as open or as controlled as it needs to be – just make sure that the right balance is struck.  Whether or not you are in the “constrained or regulated industries”, do not dismiss social media because it is too “free-for-all”.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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