Best Practices for Managing Six Social Media Threats
Social media is an incredibly powerful medium that enables companies to access unfiltered consumer feedback and engage with customers and potential customers all while they build their brands and provide valuable information. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn are all commonly used platforms in this endeavor, but social media for enterprises isn’t all like-ing and friend-ing.
For organizations, the reality is that there are some real risks to using social media ranging from damaging the brand to exposing proprietary information. Here are six of the biggest social media threats, and best practices to manage them, that you need to know about whether your company is an active participant or sits more on the sidelines.
1) Lack of a Social Media Policy
Whether or not your company is active in social media, your employees probably are. Social media mishaps occur all the time. People often say things on a blog, Twitter or their Facebook status that they later regret. But when it comes to your company’s reputation or confidential information, the results can be much more damaging. In terms of social media policies, every company is going to differ on what type of engagement is acceptable. A social media policy should outline for employees the corporate guidelines or principles of communicating in the online world and include what is necessary to protect the company legally and financially. Items to specify may include proprietary information, identifying themselves as employees, using disclaimers where appropriate, and speaking on the company’s behalf.
2) Social Networking Sites
Even the most polished and experienced social media team can use the occasional refresher course on safe Internet use. To protect your company’s data and network, make sure that employees who use social networking sites, either as part of their job or just on their lunch breaks, are aware of the do’s and don’ts of careful Internet usage. Particularly when it comes to the big social sites, because hackers fish where the fish are as they say. The biggest threat is users downloading apps associated with these sites as many do not realize these apps actually download software to their individual work PCs along with associated spyware and viruses.
3) Out of Date Network Security
It should seem pretty straightforward, but it’s important to make sure that you have the latest software protection and updates in place. Bad people and hackers spend countless hours every day finding ways to work their way into systems, creating malicious viruses and general mayhem for people they don’t even know. They are up to date with the latest and greatest techniques and methods so you need to make sure your systems are adequately armed to stop them. Work with your IT department to ensure that there is a process for making sure this happens.
4) Employees’ Mobile Phone Apps
Sound crazy? The rise of social media is inextricably linked with the revolution in mobile computing, which has spawned a huge industry in mobile application development. Naturally, whether using their own or company-issued mobile devices, employees download dozens of apps simply because they can. But sometimes they download more than they bargained for. In early March 2011, Google removed from its Android Market more than 60 applications carrying malicious software. Some of the malware was designed to reveal the user’s private information to a third party, replicate itself on other devices, destroy user data or even impersonate the device owner.
5) Lack of a Social Presence to Address a Crisis
You may not be ready to talk directly to the world via social media sites but the world is probably already talking about you. And if what they are saying is something that isn’t true, it needs to be addressed and explained. Or, for the lucky ones, where the talk is positive it should be praised. If you want to be ready to address online chatter, then you better have your channels of communication locked and loaded. As quickly as fun and quirky #news and #trends come and go on Twitter when good things happen, the negative events linger all too long and in too many places. The best position you can take is to be ready to react and respond when appropriate through the channels where the discussion is taking place. Waiting three days because your team can’t decide on a Twitter handle just doesn’t go over well with the public.
6) Your Employees
You love them and you need them, but you knew this was coming. Even the most responsible employees have lapses in judgment, make mistakes or behave emotionally. Nobody’s perfect all of the time. Dealing with an indiscreet comment in the office is one thing, but if the comment is made on a work-related social media account, then it’s out there, and it can’t be retrieved. Just ask Ketchum PR Vice President James Andrews, who two years ago fired off an infamous tweet trashing the city of Memphis, hometown of a little Ketchum client called FedEx, the day before he was to make a presentation to more than 150 FedEx employees (on digital media, no less!).
This was a VP who should have known better and damaged his company’s brand and endangered an account. Imagine what a disgruntled low-level employee without as much invested in his/her job might be able to do with social media tools and a chip on his/her shoulder. The best offense is a good defense. Ensure all employees, at all levels, are well versed in, and diligently follow, your social media policies, as well as adopt a “read and think it through before you post” habit.
The Best Practices
Now we will discuss best practices that you can implement to mitigate and even eliminate these threats when possible. Of course it isn’t reasonable to think you can plan for every situation that may arise, but by setting the stage ahead of time and taking the necessary precautions, you can minimize the impact should something occur.
1) Implement a Social Media Policy
Whether your company is active on social media or not, your employees almost certainly are. When your employees are sitting at their desks wearing their work hats, most wouldn’t dream of sharing proprietary information or sharing their frustrations publicly in a way that might make your company look bad. But after the sun has set and the hat has come off, it’s not uncommon for employees to share a little advice from someone in the industry to a friend or vent about work problems in social media. Sometimes they find an opportunity to “help” by dealing with a disgruntled customer but go about it the wrong way like what happened to Price Chopper when an employee took matters into their own hands when dealing with a customer complaint on Twitter.
Even good intentioned efforts can take a wrong turn. That is why it is imperative that companies formally outline expectations, establish guidelines and provide clear examples of what is meant in their social media policies. All employees are potential spokesmen for your brand—your brand stewards. Each of them, including executives, should be trained in the basics of good and bad social media communications, particularly in the areas that can have legal and financial implications for your business. Your social media policy should be in your Employee Handbook along with your vacation, sick time and Internet usage policies and covered in new employee orientation and company meetings. Policy templates and examples are available here if you need examples to help get started.
2) Make Sure Network Security and Firewalls Are In Place
Popularity has its price. Facebook may be the most popular social networking site with more than 800 million “active users”. But it also tops the list of the worst applications for any corporate network, according to research by network security specialists at WatchGuard. The company released its list of the most risky web applications and social media applications top the list. Among these social media applications, Facebook is on top of the list, followed by Twitter, the second most popular social site. Others in the list are also the top favorites among social network users including YouTube and LinkedIn. The biggest threat with these comes from users downloading apps associated with the sites and clicking links as many do not realize the apps actually download software to their individual work PC’s along with associated spyware and viruses.
The popularity of these social media sites makes them top IT risks. Work with your IT department to understand what is in place now and what is on deck for future planning. No one is recommending that companies totally prevent employees from gaining access to social media sites. Instead, IT administrators should be using the latest in firewall technology to manage and limit certain social media apps to those that should have it or, as many are concerned with, limit unproductive applications so that employees are not wasting time playing games and the like. In fact, that’s the next big thing in IT security—firewalls having the ability to control applications. Businesses need to be able to control applications in order to ensure their networks, applications and data are safe, as well as to ensure employees are productive.
3) Regularly Update Your Network Security Tools
It should seem pretty obvious, but it’s important to make sure that you have the latest software protection and updates in place. Bad people and hackers spend countless hours every day finding ways to work their way into systems, create malicious viruses and general mayhem for people they don’t even know. They are up to date with the latest and greatest techniques and methods so you need to make sure your systems are adequately armed to stop them. Network security and firewall specialists invest countless hours combating viruses and thwarting hacker efforts. Make sure you have their latest updates. PC Magazine outlines some key things you can do to lessen the chances of network or data compromise so that you never experience what happened to Sony’s Play Station Network with a devastating security breach. Work with your IT department to ensure there is a process to make sure this happens regularly.
4) Employee’s Mobile Phone Apps
In early March 2011, Google removed more than 60 applications carrying malicious software from its Android Market. Some of the malware was designed to reveal the user’s private information to a third party, replicate itself on other devices, destroy user data or even impersonate the device owner. If that phone is a work phone or a personal phone that receives company email and data, your private data may be exposed to the wrong people. Awareness of this issue is still growing but there are security apps on the market for mobile phones as well as built-in encryption technology and tools as simple as using password locks. Consider creating a Mobile Device Policy for all employees and vendors who have access to your data. Stay Smart Online provides great information and tips for protecting your company and your data when it comes to mobile devices.
5) Establish a Social Media Crisis Plan
You may not be ready to engage directly with consumers on blogs or Twitter but that does not mean you shouldn’t prepare yourself ahead of time with the handles, pages and profiles necessary to address issues and the communication strategy of how to respond if the need arises. The best position you can be in is poised and ready to react and respond when appropriate through the channels where the discussion is taking place. Recent interviews of social media strategists at Intel, Coca-Cola and Toyota, among other companies, found that 76% of the social media crises they experienced could have been averted either with more preparation or a better response to the problem.
The Altimeter Group, who conducted the interviews as part of their research, has an excellent report addressing social media readiness for businesses after surveying 144 companies which outlines how companies can prepare internally to deal with a social media crisis. They found that the average corporate social business program is three years old and there is a huge difference between companies that have crisis-response systems in place and those who don’t.
6) Educate Your Employees
Finally, all of the policy guidelines you’ve created and crisis planning that you have done will be meaningless if you do not take the time and make it a priority to educate your employees. That means every single employee from the C-level execs all the way down to the mailroom. And yes, that includes any agencies and folks who may be working with you—especially if they are tweeting on your behalf (as you’ll see in a moment). Social media education doesn’t have to be a full production, but it does require some diligence on your part to make sure that each person has been made of aware of policies, procedures and expectations.
Looking for a little motivation? Here are a few examples we hope you’ll never experience firsthand. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole attempts to leverage the uprising in Egypt to market his spring collection. Chrysler’s former social media agency employee tweets an offensive post and loses his job and the account for his company damaging Chrysler’s image. An enthusiastic fan on Honda’s Facebook page turns out to be a Manager of Product Planning at Honda but savvy Facebook users picked up on it. And finally, budget airline Ryanair responds to a blogger’s post by calling him an idiot and a liar.
How Visible Can Help
Visible is the leader in monitoring, analytics and engagement solutions, providing the perfect combination of software and services to harness business value from social communities. Our next generation social media platform, Visible IntelligenceÒ, is designed to deliver big improvements in competitive and brand intelligence, social media engagement, marketing ROI and smarter customer insights through an agile platform that activates brand communities at Internet speed and enterprise scale.
We have been empowering many of the world’s largest brands including Microsoft, FedEx and American Express to inform business decisions, influence purchase behavior, perform crisis monitoring and response, build brand loyalty and improve customer relationships by harnessing the business value found in social media.
One of the ways we ensure our client’s success is by partnering with you to help design, build, develop and expand your social listening and analytics programs through a variety of services. Whether it’s developing your enterprise strategy, a social media command center or implementing social media best practices and customized data solutions, Visible supports building successful programs to maximize business results for each group in your organization.