Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer companies a low-cost way to market their services and connect with clients and customers. But with more and more people engaging with social media, these sites have become attractive to criminals.
As hackers and spammers start to exploit the opportunities created by social networking, such sites now represent a unique security risk to businesses.
In fact, attacks and spam delivered via social networking have risen 70 percent in the past year, according to recent research by IT security firm Sophos. The company’s ‘Social Security’ research found that criminals have increasingly focused attacks on social networking users in the last 12 months, with 57 percent of users reporting they have been spammed and 36 percent saying they have been sent malware. According to Sophos, 72 percent of firms are worried that workers’ behaviour on social networks is putting their business at risk, potentially exposing sensitive data to criminals.
Meanwhile, lost productivity and potentially negative effects to reputation have led companies to restrict employee usage of social networks, according to a worldwide survey conducted by employment services firm Manpower. The survey found that globally, only one-fifth of companies have a formal policy in place for employee use of external social networking sites. But among companies that did have a policy, 63 percent claimed it was effective in combating lost productivity.
So, what can you do to ensure that your company doesn’t suffer in terms of security or reputation on account of social media?
Social media dangers: Security
Here are some general tips for protecting security when you or your staff use social networking sites:
1. Change your password regularly and use different passwords for different sites.
3. Secure your social networking experience by ensuring that these sites are only accessible via networks with web filtering, anti-virus software and firewalls in place.
Social media dangers: Facebook
With more than 350 million users, Facebook, which celebrated its sixth birthday in February, is the most popular social networking site in the world.
Asked which social network they believed posed the biggest security risk, 60 percent of businesses named Facebook, according to the Sophos research. The other sites listed were MySpace (18 percent), Twitter (17 percent) and LinkedIn (4 percent).
Worryingly, 49 percent of firms admitted allowing their employees unfettered access to Facebook (a 13 percent rise on last year). This activity increases the chances of company networks being exposed to malware, spam, phishing and identity theft.
Recent changes to the Facebook site altered the default privacy settings in a way that makes more of your private information available by default. Make sure to update your privacy settings to ensure that only limited information is publicly available to visitors to your page.
Perhaps most important of all, don’t download Facebook applications without checking that they have been created by trusted sources. Such third-party applications often contain malware and viruses.
Social media dangers: LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a social networking site for business users, and it is generally considered to be one of the safest networks. However, bear in mind that your LinkedIn account can potentially provide a mine of information for hackers.
For example, if you lay out your entire corporate structure on your LinkedIn page(s), you may inadvertently be providing hackers with a directory of people to aim malicious email at, such as your sales manager or your R&D team.
Provide the minimum amount of information required to network effectively with customers and other businesses.
Social media dangers: Reputation
Here are some tips to ensure that you don’t inadvertently damage your company’s reputation online:
1. Add value by posting worthwhile information. While you should let your personality shine through and speak in the first person, remember not to post exclusively about yourself or your company. You can add value by linking to items that will be of interest to your customer base.
2. Pause and think before posting anything that you’re unsure of. Consult with colleagues if need be.
3. Correct any mistakes and, if you change an earlier post, indicate that you have done so (and, ideally, provide a reason why).
4. Remember that everyone who posts on your company’s social networking site has the potential to damage your brand. Make sure that every employee post is in line with your company’s image, standards and brand.
5. Avoid broadcasting to your readers. Instead, encourage ‘conversation’ by eliciting and responding to reader comments.
6. Post frequently. This ensures followers and readers won’t forget about your company.
Social networking has provided companies with a low-cost way to define their online presence, but the dangers of hacking and reputation loss are very real. By following these simple guidelines you can help ensure that your company networks and reputation remain intact. You may wish to incorporate some of these guidelines into an internet usage policy for employees. In the next issue, we’ll take a closer look at how to devise such a policy and what areas it should cover.
This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.