Social Media Guidelines for Regulated Companies

On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet posted on the Associated PressTwitter account claiming the President was injured following two explosions at the White House sent the Dow Jones industrial average into a temporary tailspin, prompting a 140-point drop in only a few seconds.

The offending tweet was quickly identified as a hack and taken down, but this incident perfectly illustrates the work that communicators have cut out for themselves when it comes to establishing their company’s social-media guidelines.

Whether you are a celebrity, a corporation, a politician or, in a crisis like the Boston Marathon bombings, a loved one trying to locate someone in the aftermath of a tragedy, social media has opened an effective communications platform directly to your audience.

But the use of social media just got a little more relevant—and risky—for publicly traded companies. The recent announcement by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow publicly traded companies to break financial news on social media sites—so long as investors are notified of which sites are being used—is an important development for companies and an area of confusion for PR pros.

The decision was handed down after Netflix CEO Reed Hastings bragged on his Facebook page that subscribers watched a billion hours of video in one month.

After some handwringing over whether to pursue the company for the disclosure, the SEC opted not to, and instead announced it would actually allow companies to dip their toes in the social media pool, with certain conditions.

But before companies dive in headfirst, they need to make sure they have worked out a process and clear guidelines to ensure that this new benefit doesn’t turn into a negative cost to the brand or the top and bottom lines.

For publicly traded companies subject to regulatory scrutiny by the SEC or Congress, your followers or “friends” are not just customers, investors and employees, they are also regulators themselves.

With that in mind, there are a few tips to live by when crafting a social media strategy for publicly traded companies:

Choose wisely the IR or PR employees who will be in control of the account. These are not just the public faces of the company; they are the last set of eyes and ears to review what goes up before that button gets pushed.

Do put in place a system with internal controls and review to ensure whatever is being posted or tweeted is looked at by the appropriate set of people aware of how the relevant audiences will react. It’s not just the investor and public relations teams or the business teams; it’s also legal and government affairs.

Do choose wisely the topics you plan to release in this setting. You want topics that are going to be interesting and relevant to your business, those that further the company’s goals such as corporate responsibility, but they should also be interesting to the audience.

Be succinct and professional in your tweets and posts. They are going to be more conversational and informal than a press release but that doesn’t mean you compromise on content or grammar.

Don’t tweet anything that will interfere with any ongoing issues under scrutiny by regulators or that are currently being litigated.

Don’t jump on trends simply to drive traffic. Yes, you may get more followers, but at what cost? Such shortsighted decisions can hurt the brand, impact the bottom line and catch regulators’ eyes in an unhelpful way.

Don’t use social media sites as the only source to communicate to your key audiences. It should be a complementary tool used with other forms of communication like the company’s web site.

Don’t use social media simply to put out press releases and canned statements. The message needs to match the medium and cutting down the headlines of releases and posting them on Twitter is not a compelling way to inform and keep your audience.

Social media presents an exciting and creative opportunity for companies to enhance their current public relations capabilities; they just need to deploy it carefully. PRN


Tracy Schmaler is managing director at ASGK Public Strategies. She can be reached at

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