Digital Marketing: Staying out of trouble

Any time I see a headline about Kim Kardashian being spanked for her social media high jinx, my link-bait alarm immediately starts buzzing. But this time, when I saw it was the Food and Drug Administration doing the spanking, I just had to get to the bottom of it.

It turns out that her recent Instagram post endorsing the benefits of a morning sickness drug failed to meet the compliance rules for pharmaceutical advertising. The problem? In her rush to over-share, Mrs. Kardashian-West failed to include any of the required disclaimers about the risks associated with the drug, a major compliance no-no for pharmaceutical companies.

At this point, the drug company has only been hit with a stern warning from the FDA and her product endorsement has been removed. However, companies in highly regulated industries such as financial services, health care, utilities and government contractors don’t always get off so easily.

For example, just last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau forced the online mortgage company Ameriprise to pay $19.3 million for deceptive advertising practices over misleading online banner ads and interest rates on third-party websites. It turned out those interest rates weren’t quite as good as advertised and the bait-and-switch scheme generated thousands of complaints.

Know the Rules

For the most part, the traditional rules established for highly regulated industries all apply, in principle, to digital marketing and social media. How those principles translate from platform to platform is where it gets tricky.

Your company’s comments, tweets, images, retweets, likes and emojis all constitute marketing on some level. Online contests, sweepstakes and sponsored ads are under scrutiny as well.

Any actions taken by or on behalf of your company must comply with industry regulations. It will be almost impossible to create a policy that covers every possible contingency so make sure there is a resource that employees can turn to when they have questions or concerns.

Monitor Everything

Social media monitoring has come a long way from the early days of online reputation management. Today’s software automates the online monitoring process, constantly scanning news and social media platforms and websites for online mentions about your business.

Beyond that, there are specialized regulatory compliance platforms that use more sophisticated filtering and risk management algorithms customized to specific industries. These will allow you to identify potential compliance issues before they become problems.

Some software programs allow you to maintain a rolling index of all of social media and web content created by and about your business. Others will flag potential compliance violations.

Plan To Fail

At some point, something will go wrong, and your team should be prepared. The most important part of handling a public relations crisis is to have a plan in place in advance.

If it’s social media, designate or hire a social media manager or social media team with clearly defined roles and authority. Identify in advance which situations will require legal guidance.

Then clearly communicate this plan to all pertinent employees and review it on a regular basis.

If your marketing strategy is big on social media, make sure you have a dedicated, experienced social media manager in charge. Compliance changes will drive policy changes and someone needs to modify those procedures and educate employees on the rules.

In addition to safeguarding adherence to compliance rules, your social media community manager should be able to devise an online marketing strategy that accomplishes your business goals while keeping your company off the hot seat.

• Regina Gilloon-Meyer is a content marketing specialist at Fusionfarm, a division of The Gazette Company, (319) 368-8530,, @Regiimary

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