Blanket Social Media Ban Is Not The Answer

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Talking with staff about social media policies and pitfalls is just as effective at securing your company as network-policing, says Nick Morse

News that a large proportion of UK businesses are clamping down on the use of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter in response to perceived security threats is sadly typical of the knee-jerk reaction most companies have when it comes to their Internet security.

While a recent survey points out that 53 percent of managers identified social network use as an issue of concern, there were similar concerns about the use of the Internet itself when it first came on the scene, with companies concerned that staff would be spending all their time on it. Of course we now know the internet is a must-have communication tool – imagine how damaging a blanket ban on its use would have been to businesses.

While companies are right to have concerns about social media and the very real threats posed, they need to focus firstly on gathering the facts and making informed decisions about how to act, and secondly on educating staff as to the dangers they face and how to stay safe.

There are any number of network tools nowadays that enable companies to track and control their internet usage, and it’s important that businesses make the most of these. By looking at the actual amount of time people are spending using social media, companies may be surprised by what they learn. Importantly, only by having this granular level of information can they hope to make informed decisions about what are increasingly important channels of communication.

Choosing the right tool for the job

Network tools can enable you to allow unfettered access to certain users who are posting to social media networks as part of their job yet restrict others to using it over their lunch breaks for example. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon and demanding a blanket ban on any social networking, companies should use this as an opportunity to educate their staff as to its use and power as a modern business tool.

To do this they need to be aware of what the potential problems are, in order to then create a sensible and well-planned solution. Below I will set out some of the main issues companies need to be aware of.

The rise of social media is heavily linked with the revolution in mobile computing, and the subsequent explosion in the apps market. Employees often download dozens of apps even onto their company phones. Although malicious software in apps is not hugely common, Google removed from its Android Market more than 60 applications carrying malicious software.

As the saying goes, loose talk costs lives – in this case that may be a little extreme, but loose talk can certainly cost livelihoods. People are more willing than ever to share personal information online and social media platforms encourage a dangerous level of assumed trust. It’s a relatively short step from sharing your thoughts to telling a new friend about your company’s secret project, or other sensitive information.

The enemy within

Employing other common sense policies such as staying off adverts and third-party apps on Facebook as well as suspect looking URLs on Twitter, can also pay dividends. However, one of the most dangerous threats from social media comes from your staff themselves.

With the boundaries between public and private use of social networking blurring, you need to ensure staff understand the impact of what they are saying. Dealing with an indiscreet comment in the office is one thing; if the comment is made on a work-related social media account, then it can’t be revoked or muzzled.

Ketchum PR vice president James Andrews, is one of the more high-profile people to have found this out to his detriment. He infamously posted a tweet trashing the city of Memphis, hometown of a small Ketchum client called FedEx, the day before he was to make a presentation on digital media to more than 150 FedEx employees.

The tweet was discovered by FedEx employees, who barraged Ketchum HQ with angry emails protesting the slight and questioning why FedEx was wasting money on a snooty New York PR firm while employees were dealing with a 5 percent salary cut during a severe recession. Andrews was forced to make a very public and humiliating apology.

The best way to avoid incidences like these is through education and a clear social media policy – which too many companies still do not have. Without a social media policy in place, companies are simply inviting disaster. You can’t let staff loose on social networks and urge them to be ambassadors for the brand without setting them guidelines first. Companies need to spell out the goals and parameters of their social media initiative. If they don’t they will get exactly what they deserve – chaos and problems.

While managing and controlling social media is certainly a big challenge for organizations, it is not insurmountable. The secret is to employ common sense and structured policies, and not knee-jerk reactions.

Nick Morse is EMEA channel sales and marketing consultant for internet security specialists SoHoBlue.

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