As popular as it is today, social media is a requirement for any serious business. As a perfect avenue for cheap advertising, proper social media campaigns can reach thousands, if not millions of potentially untapped customers. Unfortunately, it can also backfire in the worst of ways.
While there’s plenty to get right, there’s just as much your company can get wrong when addressing the world from an unprotected soap box. Poorly thought out comments can be misconstrued to ruin your company’s image, at least temporarily. Worse, totally disengaging from these platforms can make your business seem out of touch.
Proper knowledge of how to navigate social media safely and effectively is necessary for any modern business. So what kinds of threats are there, and what can you do about it? So glad you asked.
Malware and You
If you’re reading this, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that like the rest of the net, social media platforms are one of countless sources of malware (that is, anything that causes your computer or other hardware to do things you don’t want it to). Whether it’s a traditional virus, spyware, keyloggers, or other types of bad software, malware can really leave your business hurting.
Most, if not all malware, is disguised in some way to fool you or your employees. Smart cybercriminals may look for common links between employees, such as websites they frequently visit or groups they join. Armed with that very public information, all they need to do is create a link that’s enticing enough to have someone click it, and they’re in.
Educating your employees about internet safety is paramount, but so is ensuring anyone who’s connected to your business uses a good anti-virus program.
For personal computers and home devices, free software such as Panda, Avast, or Malwarebytes will do the trick. For computers running on a business network, a subscription anti-virus service is more important as the additional features may be necessary (typically features include backups, anti-theft and tech support). Regardless of the scenario, no business should be without such basic software, and the above free programs also offer business versions.
As for education, being able to identify bad links is important. On a desktop PC, simply hovering the mouse over a hyperlink will reveal where it goes, no matter what the link text “claims” it leads.
In general, you and your employees should always be on the lookout for any form of “clickbait” hoping to convince you into visiting fake websites or downloading malware. A single hacked account can be a big problem if you aren’t on the lookout for unusual behavior.
Securing Your Connection
Even if you’ve taught everyone to be vigilant about bad links and malicious downloads, there are still ways for hackers to directly infiltrate the system. If your social media accounts are handled by a single person or small group of people, their devices can become a quick and easy access point for anyone looking to damage or steal from your company.
Hackers are able to infiltrate unsecured internet connections, and if your employees are posting from regular locations, their IP addresses can become the target of a cyberattack. Ordinarily, your device is easy to locate because it essentially communicates by giving your IP address to any websites or services it accesses.
The best tools to combat these problems are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and firewalls. Professional firewalls monitor traffic for intruders, and VPNs help to conceal the actual location of users by routing their internet through a remote server. This also encrypts data being sent and received so that it becomes unreasonable to intercept (encrypted data takes a very long time to crack).
If your business is highly mobile, a VPN also makes it safe for your employees to access social media through public WiFi. Without that kind of protection, you might one day wake up to find an employee’s device has been hacked and your company’s social media account passwords stolen.
By the time you’ve recovered your accounts, your business will have the pleasure of spending the next several days apologizing for what you’ll likely term a “data breach.” Speaking of which, there’s another important way to secure your company’s social media accounts.
Though simple by nature, too often individuals and even businesses make the mistake of using weak or incredibly easy to guess passwords for truly vital accounts. If your company is selling cybersecurity, using a password such as Security123 is probably not the best idea.
In fact, a good password should never contain singular words from the dictionary. Important elements include uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and lengths exceeding eight characters when available. Passphrases are often the best as their extra length makes them nearly impossible to brute force yet very easy to remember.
If creating strong passwords isn’t your forte, consider a service such as LastPass, which can be used to automatically generate difficult passwords. Use some caution: automatically generated passwords tend to be difficult to remember. Fortunately, LastPass and other similar providers often offer password management, which will allow you to store a variety of different passwords with them to make remembering a bit easier (they also encrypt the passwords so only you can see them).
Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but make certain that no one in the company shares passwords to important accounts. Also consider changing company passwords regularly and removing access for employees who quit or are terminated, as they might become trouble later. This is especially true for companies who use shared accounts, which when compromised, can grant access to numerous other accounts (some who may have administrative privileges).
What your business says on your social media account matters. It matters a ton. While it may seem tempting to join in controversial topics or take positions on social/political matters for a temporary boost in attention, it can also lead to some very negative attention.
Turing Pharmaceuticals recently committed that mistake when their CEO, Martin Shkreli, decided to start posting comments on his Twitter in response to criticism of his and his company’s choices. By the end of his back and forth, he was receiving death threats and his social media posting came to a quick end.
This is obviously something your company should shy away from if you hope to maintain any sort of decent public image. Err instead on the side of caution and maintain a professional demeanor as would be appropriate for any in-person company. Conventional business wisdom applies here; don’t argue with the customer (or heckler, troll, etc.)
Remember that it isn’t just customers reading your Facebook feed or blogs; other companies you may one day hope to do business with are also reading what your business posts. A poor representation of your company may sour deals before you’ve even picked up the phone.
A study done by the Keller Business Development Advisory Group highlights the importance of good social media practices and behaviors even for professional lawyers and firms. Keep in mind that business netiquette may vary from conventional netiquette, especially when dealing with international customers and business contacts. Your company should be voiced in cultural differences to avoid being the cause of any misunderstandings.
Stay Up to Date
Social media is by nature a very quick medium. Posts happen instantly, and it doesn’t take long for things to get out of hand. Proper moderation of your social media accounts that involve comments is important to prevent overly negative looking pages.
This may occasionally mean deleting comments or responding to joking inquiries. A good sense of humor is valuable as it can offset angry customers and entertain visitors who may become interested in your company when they discover it is run by humans. In the same way you probably don’t enjoy robo-calls or the dreaded “our menus have changed recently” touch tone system, users really don’t like social media bots.
Avoid live Q&A sessions when possible, as they are easy targets for trolls. Stick with posting regular updates and answering questions individually rather than having a group session (unless you’re prepared to moderate out a whole lot of comments).
Vigilance is Key
No matter what steps you take to secure your pages, there will always be someone working to overcome your efforts. Cybersecurity is an ongoing battle that can never be decisively won. Yet it is also a battle your company can’t afford to lose. You’ll be forced to adopt new techniques as new technologies appear.
What’s your business doing to stay ahead of the social media curve? Tell us what techniques have kept you safe while promoting your company.