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4 Common Social Media Security Risks and How to Avoid Them

According to a survey by Grant Thornton, 71% of executives said their company was concerned about possible risks posed by social media.

There’s no doubt that things can go wrong for a brand if they are associated with unfiltered social media content but, with the right guidelines and social media policies in place, the benefits of ‘free advertising’ can far outweigh the risks.

Social Media Risks Grant Thornton


Those cringe worthy stories are frequently in the news: a major household name is suddenly and unwittingly associated with an employee ranting about their job; or a misinterpreted tweet on a controversial topic forces the crisis team to fly into action.

Download our FREE Social Media Policy eBook to turn employee risk into  opportunity on social media.

The rampant growth of smartphones (ownership of which is up by over 25% in the last seven years) and changes to the way we work, mean that social media is now ubiquitous. Rather than trying to avoid the issue, brands are realizing the potential power of engaging their employees and other stakeholders to promote products and services.

So, what are the most common social media security risks and how can they be avoided?

  1. Misquoted brand opinions

With access to so much unfiltered social media content, there’s always the chance that an employee might comment on a topic or thread, giving what they genuinely believe to be a corporate point of view. However, if they’ve misinterpreted the corporate message, or inadvertently picked a topic that’s hot for all the wrong reasons, it could be bad publicity for the brand.

Minimize this social media risk by:

  • paying more attention to the official branded social media channels and creating a strong voice in the social media world;
  • familiarizing employees with these channels, which provide a rich seam of curated content to be shared or discussed;
  • making sure social media guidelines are clear about the corporate policy on commenting on public issues: perhaps there’s an official ‘no comment’ to provide clarity that any employees’ comments or opinions are their own;
  • making sure the corporate narrative is clear and easy to understand to minimize the chance of it being misinterpreted in public.
  1. Taboo topics

In today’s digital age, everything is news. Even those once-taboo topics of culture, politics and religion are now the heavyweights of the social media newsfeed and sharing opinions is commonplace.

Opinions and debates in these arenas are not good news for brand reputations. For the business world, this creates a balancing act between recognizing and respecting people’s freedom of speech and avoiding being stuck in a media frenzy following brand association with a thorny issue.

Minimize this social media risk by:

  • Creating clear, firm guidelines as part of the Social Media Policy to help employees navigate their way through the news and information they see and hear online versus that which forms part of the corporate narrative;
  • Providing scenario-based training for employees to help them understand good and bad practice;
  • Taking social media guidelines a step further than governance or crisis management and moving employees from engagement to advocacy – where they can be trained to understand how to best promote the brand they love.
  1. Employee rants

A common problem for brands on social media is the employee rant. It’s a quick and easy vent if, at the end of another rubbish day, smartphone in hand, a disgruntled member of the team needs to let off some frustration. But, what goes on the web stays on the web, and the negative press for the brand – and the employee – can be very damaging.

employee rant

Minimize this social media risk by:

  • Reminding all employees of the corporate Code of Conduct. This type of behavior doesn’t fit in with social etiquette, which is why the ripples are so wide when it happens. When employees sign their contract to join the company, include a code of conduct and remind them that it applies to online and offline behavior;
  • Walking the talk. A business that wants its employees to champion the brand needs to create a brand worth championing. Employees who are well treated and feel valued will be much more engaged and this will lead to better respect and less ranting;
  • Encouraging feedback within your organization: closely related to the point above but, often, rants such as this are a cry for help. Making sure employees know how they can get their point across will reduce the need for them to resort to desperate measures to be heard.
  1. Legislative minefields

This risk has recently been further elevated by the implementation of the GDPR. Any breach of legislation; whether copyright, photo permissions, confidentiality or GDPR itself; could cause a brand a lot of legal problems as well as reputational harm.

But this risk is nothing new. Whether operating in person, on email, in print or on social media, employees and employers need to be mindful of legislative matters.

Minimize this social media risk by:

  • Including all legislative elements – GDPR, confidentiality, copyright, photo credits/permissions, official company business – in the social media policy. Boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed should be clearly stated and all employees should sign the policy to say they’ve read and understood it;
  • Back up the ‘understood’ part of the above action by ensuring regular training is given to refresh employees on the detail of the legislation. Think belt-and-braces by adding this training to onboarding processes and having FAQs and discussion forums on the intranet.

Brand messages reached 561 further when shared by employees

And, if something does go wrong?

Employees need to be clear that they must not sit back and wait if they are aware they’ve posted something in error. The best approach is to make some immediate headway towards setting the record straight – or refer it to the crisis or social media team if it relates to something legal.

The benefits of employees using social media on behalf of a brand far outweigh the risks so it’s worth addressing potential issues in order to allow these benefits to flourish. According to MSL Group, brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees compared to the same messages shared only by official brand social channels. Plus, employees that activate their professional brand online will open up more opportunities for themselves as well as improving their own network dramatically.

That feels like a win-win, with just a little care and attention to the riskier elements.

Download our FREE Social Media Policy eBook to turn employee risk into  opportunity on social media.

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