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Social media risk management for small business

By Peter Roesler

Social media marketing is so simple and effective that business owners often don’t think about what can go wrong.

However, social media is like any other tool, in that a business can inflict self harm if it doesn’t use it properly. Just as there are safety precautions to take when using physical tools, there are risk-management techniques that business owners can employ to limit the potential damage of any possible problems arising from social media. This article will explore a few of the potential risks of using social media marketing and what safeguards you should put in place to protect your business.

A major risk that all business owners should take seriously is the potential for their social media channels to be compromised by hackers. There have been many cases where hacker groups have accessed companies’ accounts and have used them to send out offensive messages or inaccurate information. In April 2013, when hackers used the AP Twitter account to post that the White House had been attacked, the fake news tipped the stock market by $136 million before everything was sorted out.

Weak passwords and insecure password storage can have devastating effects. Check to see who has access to your accounts to make sure no administrators are out of date and that the passwords are strong and have been changed since the last employee left. This isn’t to say that employee will cause trouble, but this reduces the chance that the login information accidentally falls into the wrong hands.

Another challenge for business owners in the 21st century is that employees’ personal social media activities reflect on the business. Even when there are clear lines of separation on paper, that may not be the way the public sees it.

It’s relatively easy to control the content that goes out on a company’s main social media channels, given that there should only be a handful of people who post and they should all be on the same page about goals and constraints. But since just about every employee at a business has a social media account, there are a lot of chances for unintended messages to get out there and this can lead to trouble.

All of a company’s employees are spokespeople in the eyes friends and followers. Their unofficial statements carry weight. Microsoft suffered from this in 2013 when it started making announcements about the Xbox One specs. A chief developer made a post on his personal Twitter account disparaging people who were making negative comments and ended the post with #dealwithit. The event put Microsoft on defense for months afterward. Their penance included multiple apologies to the public and a complete change of course on many development issues (arguably for the better). The employee in question also had to resign. All of this started because of unofficial comments.

Another potential issue can come from employees talking about sensitive information. It’s understandable that employees who are proud of their work may want to share their accomplishments with their friends and family, but posts that are intended for a small audience can easily spill into the general public. This information can damage a company, like by giving the competition advanced warning of its plans, scaring away potential customers or incurring costly fines by violating privacy laws or Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.

Business owners need to be clear with their employees about what is considered acceptable to post in relation to work. Depending on the industry, a company may want to develop guidelines about talking about ongoing projects, posting about customers, etc. It may seem juvenile, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

That said, business owners can’t expect to control everything their employees say, and must remember to be flexible based on the situation. Red Lobster learned this the hard way when they initially sought to punish an employee who posted a picture of the racial slur a customer left instead of a tip. There action was inline with their guidelines, but the public backlash made them reverse course.

As a business owner, you must consider any and all possible risk of using social media. But don’t let these risks deter you from using this powerful business tool all together. With more than three quarters of the adult population in the US on social media, choosing not to use it would be like refusing to use a hammer because there is a chance you will hit your thumb.

Besides, many of the risks can’t be avoided simply by not putting the company on social media, since most employees are there already. The best way to mitigate the risk is to be proactive. Identify the particular risks that your company faces, take precautions and let the employees know what you expect.

By Peter Roesler

Peter_Roesler (1) (2)Peter Roesler, president of Web Marketing Pros, has an extensive background in all things marketing, social media, and search engine optimization. His impressive work history includes VP of Development at AppSoft Development, Director of Multimedia at Advantage Services, and Creative Director at Mammoth Technology. He is continually drawing upon his own talent and skill to help small-to-large corporations all over the nation improve their overall Internet standing and appearance. Among his experience, Peter thoroughly enjoys the continual challenge that SEO work brings. To keep up with the ever-changing dynamic of optimization, Peter studies and researches current methods and standards of the process. When he is ahead of the game your company is, too.

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