The FCA and social media

OK, this isn’t the most exciting post. But it is important. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has finally published its draft guidelines on the use of social media by financial services organisations.

There is some very sensible advice in the FCA guidelines. For instance they recommend identifying a tweet as a promotion by including the hashtag #ad.

However there are a number of illogicalities and omissions.

Take tweets. The FCA advise that promotional tweets for financial services need to contain a lengthy risk statement along the lines of, in the example they give, “Your capital is @risk & losses can exceed your deposits.” That’s 56 characters – getting on for half the characters available, and more than half once you have included a link to your products.

But why have a risk statement at all? Consumers don’t expect full information in a tweet. They expect to find more information behind any links. A more sensible rule would to be  to require the risk statement to appear on the landing page beneath the tweet. Alternatively perhaps a shorter statement leading to a risk statement along the lines of “Risks: [link]” should be allowed.

Perhaps they should think of a promotional tweet as being like the header of an email – something designed to persuade you to look for further information. Just as email headers don’t contain risk statements, why should tweets? Including one seems to offer no extra protection to consumers.

The FCA also mandates risk statements on banner ads. They give an example of an ad with three frames, the last of which contains a risk statement. But is this sensible advice? Consumers can’t be guaranteed to watch an animated banner until its completion. So what is the purpose of a risk statement in the final frame? Either the risk statement should be visible all the time – or it should be available on the landing page that links from the banner.

Another problem with the guidelines is the absence of any recognition that social media content can be either static or interactive. The FCA guidance states that social media content needs to be pre-authorised. While this is clearly possible for banners ads, blog posts and even promotional tweets, it is simply not practical for interactive content that takes place within an exchange of tweets for instance. Clearer guidance is needed here – US regulators such as Finra accept that “unscripted” interactions need a different kind of management.

Another weakness is the use of the word “significant” when describing content that needs archiving. This leaves a lot up to the financial services provider. What is “significant”? Surely sensible guidance would insist on all content available to consumers being archived, not a hard thing to achieve with a digital medium. 

My final major worry is that the FCA seem to think that awareness is not part of a promotional journey. Thus a tweet saying “To see our current mortgage offers, go to…” is not a promotion but a tweet saying “To see our great mortgage offers, go to…” is a promotion. Presumably the FCA are saying that “current” is not a word that promotes value? If it isn’t, then will the FCA provide a list of other words that are safe to use? It might be more logical to say that the inclusion of any adjective turns something from an invitation to look at information into a promotion. However, even without an adjective, an informational tweet that generates awareness is a promotion (remember AIDA?)

The FCA is asking for comments on these guidelines and will accept them until 6 November 2014. If you work in financial services marketing you will need to make your feelings known.

 

How to manage your reputation online (4 of 4)

Responding to critical posts

People are posting very unpleasant things about you in social media. What can you do about it?

You have prepared well. You have registered all the necessary social media accounts. You have built up a strong online profile. And now your efficient social listening process has uncovered some unpleasantly critical comments.

But those unpleasant comments are showing up right at the top of Google’s  results when you search for your name. You need to take action.

Now, if the comments are untrue (as opposed to opinion) then you may have some legal redress: although that is expensive and sometimes self defeating if it casts you, or your organisation, in the role of a bully.

So if you don’t want to go down the legal route, or if the critical   comments are true (I am sure they are not!) what else can you do?

The first thing to accept is that you probably won’t be able to get rid of the comments completely. What’s on the web remains on the web. Even if you can somehow get the original source taken down, the chance is that the comments have been repeated somewhere.

Your strategy is to make the comments less prominent. And this means making sure they don’t feature in the first 4 or 5 search results and ideally taking them off the first page of Google’s search results: results here get 94% of clicks with only 6% on the second page and almost nothing on the third page.

Engage

So how are you going to do that? The first step, if the criticisms are justified, is to engage with your critics. Disarm the criticism by apologising for whatever you have done wrong and explain what you are planning to do about it; remember to take any discussion with critics offline if you possibly can. The intention here is to limit the damage so that further criticisms are not posted.

Try to take the links down

The next step is to try to get rid of the information or the links to it.

  • Ask for the page to be taken down by approaching the webmaster and explaining why the comments are unfair (OK this probably isn’t going to work unless the comments are libellous, but it is worth a try)
  • Ask Google to take the links down. As a rule they won’t unless the links lead to a page with highly sensitive personal information such as a signature, credit card number or a social security number. However, for European websites they are now bound to go further and take down links to content that is “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate”. At the moment it is Google’s call whether to take the links down; there is no guarantee that they will and in any case as things stand at the moment the links will still be there on non-European versions of Google

Make sure your own pages rank higher

If that doesn’t work (and it may well not) then your next move is to try to ensure your own pages rank more highly than the critical comments you are unhappy with:

  1. Review your web assets and web profile: Do you have all the large social media accounts you could have? Do you have your own YouTube channel and a  Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter profile and have you optimised them, for instance making sure you have “vanity URLs” which contain your name rather than a long number?  And are your web site pages sufficiently rapid and mobile friendly?
  2. Analyse why those unwanted links are ranking well: if it is because lots of sites are linking to those pages you may be able to ask the owners of the linking pages to take down the links, or to give you a link as well. Some people recommend aggressively targetting the sites that are ranking well using “reverse SEO” techniques such as buying lots of dodgy links to them from link farms in the hope that Google will penalise them. I wouldn’t recommend it: there are no guarantees and you may make things worse (besides this isn’t ethical behaviour especially if your critics have a point)
  3. Analyse the words that the unwanted sites are using about you. Say it is “customer service”: you need to put a positive spin on this by developing new positive content around the key phrase “customer service”: This could be a white paper; blog posts; comments in media sites relating to customer service; you could also develop social media pages that contain your name and the key phrase; and you might even want to buy some new URLs with the along the lines of JohnSmithCustomerService.com and develop appropriate content for them
  4. Freshen up your own web pages with new content so Google is likely to rank them more highly: the more popular the content, the higher they will rank. Start adding a new piece of content a couple of times a week at least. Get more active on sites like LinkedIn – changing your profile, posting updates and entering into discussions within Groups
  5. Develop content for social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious and Squidoo: It needs to be new content, not a duplicate of articles published elsewhere but that shouldn’t be difficult if you think “lists”: favourite restaurants, books, flowers, dogs, capital cities, flags…the opportunities are literally endless
  6. Upweight your PR activities: seek to get quoted in the press
  7. Upweight your SEO activities: focus on building more back links from high quality sites through social bookmarking, article submission, guest posts, and comments on other people’s blogs and articles
  8. Identify your friends (happy clients etc) and ask them to engage with all your social media profiles, following you and sharing your content with their followers. Start to write testimonials for suppliers and customers and make sure they include the words you identified in point 3
  9. Look for other ways to get mentioned on line: Register a company in your name. Join a service that will list you as an expert such as nonexecutivedirector.com, opentoexport.com or liveperson.com. If you can afford it, pay to be a speaker at a large conference as these often rank very well
  10. Self publish: take advantage of Amazon’s search profile buy publishing an ebook and an audio book on the site

None of this is free: but then having your name appear below pages that are critical of you isn’t exactly free either!

And sadly none of this is guaranteed to work every time. If you have been caught out doing something unsavoury, and if the public or the press create a social media crisis for you, then there is little you can do to reduce your exposure on search engines. But if you are just trying to down-weight some criticism or reduce the prominence of an unfavourable stories, then taking the steps I have outlined should help.

How to manage your reputation online (3 of 4)

Developing a strong online profile

You’ve registered social media accounts in your name. And you are listening to what people are saying about you online. But that’s not enough to protect your reputation. You also need to establish a strong profile so that positive links to content you control show up when people search for your name. It’s not that hard. But it does take some structured effort.

Your social media accounts

It isn’t sufficient to have a social media account with no content. A Twitter account with no tweets could damage your reputation (have you got nothing to say of interest?) and a LinkedIn page with no information certainly won’t help your employment prospects.

So the first thing to consider is how you are going to make you social media profiles credible. The basics are obvious: make sure you have a good profile picture (no Twitter “eggs” please!); and make sure you attend carefully to what your profiles say about you. If you don’t have the time or energy to fill out full profiles for all those social media accounts you have registered, choose one to complete carefully and then link the other profiles to it.

But you also need a regular stream of content. Now, if you are using social media for marketing you will want to think carefully about the content you write for each of your accounts. But we are doing this simply for reputation management so it doesn’t matter particularly if the content in various different accounts is the same. Rather than cutting and pasting your posts from Facebook to LinkedIn and Google+, you can use a service like BufferApp to schedule and distribute your posts to multiple social media accounts. That way you have have several active social media accounts without writing content separately for each one.

Your website

In the first post in this series, I suggested registering a URL in your name perhaps using the suffix .me if it is available. If you do this you might as well also build a small website containing your resume. (If you are not comfortable with this then head for CodeAcademy where you can learn how to programme a simple website: it is much easier than you might imagine.)

If you are comfortable with coding html, then it is important to remember that your website should be “mobile friendly” as Google will rank it higher if it is. Use a template to help you: there are plenty online but you could try Proweb Design’s Simple Responsive Template.

And if you are really competent with coding then you will implement “rich snippets” on your website using schema.org data. Find out more about rich snippets here. Using rich snippets will make your website more strongly on search results page, simply because more content will be shown.

If you have a  common name then it is unlikely that you will see it on the first page of Google (take a look at what comes up when you search for “John Smith” – it’s not ordinary people). If that is the case then perhaps there is less reason for reputation management purposes to create your own website – although it might be useful in other ways.

Wikipedia

If you are running a business it is reasonable to consider developing a page on Wikipedia. Remember though that Wikipedia is NOT the place for self-promotion. The site enforces a strict “Neutral Point of View” policy that means only facts based on valid sources can be published.

Unless you are running a reasonably sized business or are in some way a prominent person it is probably unnecessary to have a Wikipedia page. Indeed there are disadvantages to having one. As the site is strictly neutral anything bad about you that can be verified can be added to the page. So if you have been to prison recently you might not want to create a page… Wikipedia gives an excellent explanation of why it is not always a good thing to have a Wikipedia page.

Remember also that even if you write a page about yourself it may not be published. Wikipedia requires pages to be about content that has “significant coverage in reliable sources”. If you cannot provide links to this type of coverage then your page may be declined as “non-notable”.

Whether or not you have a Wikipedia page it is important to monitor it: if you are being mentioned on the site then you will want to check out whether the facts given are true. If they are, and they are damaging, then you won’t be able to do much about it, although you may be able to add some additional verifiable facts that are more favourable to you.

Blogs and discussions

It is pointless thinking about blogging unless you are prepared to put some energy into it. That means having a regular stream of content. You don’t have to post content every day. But it should be at least once a month for your blog to have any credibility. Use a site like Tumblr or WordPress to host your blog and you immediately benefit from the popularity of those sites.

Don’t confine yourself to your own blog as you build up your profile though. Identify some key blogs in your industry in or areas you are interested in and follow them, contributing your own comments to them as appropriate. How to find them? Well, back in the day, when the web was smaller, there were a number of blog directories. With so many blogs published, most existing directories tend to focus on particular areas. Google “Blog [area of interest]” and you will probably be lucky. Or go straight to a search engine that specialises in blogs like Icerocket.

As well as blogs, find other places you can leave comments or join discussions: popular media websites for instance, or community sites.

Other platforms

Think creatively about other platforms you could use. Look for popular websites that have a good reach as these will rank highly. Are there any societies or industry bodies you can join: if there are do they have a place where you can write a personal or business profile? For instance I belong to the Institute of Consulting which enables me to publish a profile about my services on a reasonably prominent website. And if you are running a business you might want to put a review of working for your company on a site like Glassdoor.

Google and Google+

One last thing to consider: Google. Make sure you make it as easy as possible for Google to find you and to rank your pages highly. This means having a Google+ presence with a good “headshot” photograph: this is helpful if you want to stand out in search results. Google used to use the photo in search results and while it no longer does this, your photo can still appear on the right of the screen as part of a mini profile that Google will create. You should also implement  Google “authorship” on your website and your blogs: it’s not the easiest thing in the world although perfectly achievable and there are several good guides on how to do it such as this from Searchengineland.

Next time…

So far we have talked about registering appropriate URLs and social media profiles, listening to what people say about you online, and establishing a strong profile. But what do you do if people start trying to damage your reputation? You will have to wait for my next post for that!

Could you manage an international social media campaign?

Could you manage an international social media campaign?

Social media campaigns are hard enough at the best of times. Soggy metrics, a lack of control, unexpected reactions…So adding an international dimension can make them even harder.

But if you are faced with managing an international campaign, what are the areas you need to consider?

I have been involved with a good number of international clients over the years and they are never easy to manage. Some of the learnings from international advertising campaigns are easy to apply to social media though.

Global vs local

The problem with international campaigns is knowing how “global” or “local” campaigns should be – to what extent they should be the same around the world and to what extend they should be designed for individual markets. And the answer to this is likely to vary across markets.

In some territories local activity will predominate. While in other territories it may be appropriate to use global assets that are produced by head office. The balance will depend on a number of factors.

Language

The simplest thing to address is language. If a client is headquartered in an English speaking country then running campaigns in English may be a logical solution for other English speaking countries and even in countries (such as Sweden, the Netherlands and India) where large parts of the population speak English.

However, while this is an easy solution, it may not be the best. Cultural differences may mean that campaign messages in one country may not be well received in another. Early UK advertisements for Coca Cola’s Dasani water used the message “Can’t live without spunk”. True possibly, but not something calculated to attract the average UK consumer. Research into whether localisation is needed is essential. And this is true whether or not messaging is being translated from one language to another.

Consumer perceptions

Another very obvious thing to address is the consumer. It is quite possible that the brand you are working with is perceived very differently in certain markets.

The oddest example of this I have come across was a UK cough sweet that was associated in Germany with, er, physical love! Fashion and retail brands often show differences around the world: for instance Levi Jeans have less fashion cachet in the USA than they do in Europe. Fast food too: Millward Brown show how Burger King is a weak brand in Belgium (compared with MacDonalds) but a strong brand in Mexico.

But getting the right message across to consumers isn’t necessarily the hardest part of managing an international social media campaign. There are many other issues.

Local platforms

A “one size fits all” approach to which social media platforms to use is unlikely to work. For instance Twitter penetration in Spain is around three time that of France but only half that of Saudi Arabia. Some markets, notably China and Japan, are very different from Western Europe and North America.

Local strategy implementation will need to take account of the strengths of different social media platforms. For instance if the strategy is to disseminate lots of photographs, then using Instagram to supplement picture posts on Facebook may be wasted effort in markets like Canada and France but worthwhile in Germany and Indonesia.

Local resources

If you are working with local operations in international markets then you will almost always find that resources in individual countries will vary widely, as will skill levels. One market may have a team of half a dozen experienced social media marketers, while in another the intern looks after social media in between doing the filing.

This means that you may need to moderate the amount of global assets you share with some local markets, or at least give territories with less resource the option to pick and choose between which global assets they decide to use.

 Local perceptions of social media

In most countries around the world consumers use a lot of social media. But that doesn’t mean that local marketers take social media seriously. There may be a big education job to be done helping local marketing managers understand why, and how, to use social media.

Where you are dealing with a local market that is sceptical about social media, it will be important to avoid a situation where social media is managed by a junior who may post inappropriately, without any (informed) supervision; social media is global and you won’t always be able to stop people in one country reading damaging posts in another country.

Local independence

Some local marketing operations will be more independent and harder to influence than others. Managers in a large territory such as the USA may well feel that they don’t need (or want) central control.

This may be especially true if the territory concerned has a heritage in effective social media marketing (which you could argue is the case in many English and Spanish speaking markets).

Dealing with resentment aimed at “interference from the centre” is always difficult. Providing reasons to use global strategies and assets (such as cost saving) is likely to be more effective than simply mandating the approach they must take.

Building consensus through joint development of assets and best practice will also help. And with social media, this shouldn’t be too difficult given that accepted knowledge of how best to use social media is still building.

Local laws

And finally do remember that laws vary across the world. For instance a competition that is legal in one country may be illegal in another. And similarly some countries have very stringent rules about endorsements.

Ensuring that local market operations are aware of the rules of what they can and cannot do on social media is important if you don’t want the humiliation of having your campaigns being deemed illegal or noncompliant by local regulators.

All in all

Setting up and managing an international social media campaign isn’t easy. As well as understanding how consumers differ across markets there are many practical issues around the nature and relative strengths of local marketing partners.

The safest way forward is to develop a global strategy with input from local markets and then allow local markets to tweak the global strategy, localise global assets and, if appropriate, add their own local content. Developing appropriate best practice guidelines to help less experienced local partners will also be important.

 

Social media and reputational risk

A good reputation is the lifeblood of any organisation. And managing reputation in a world where social media plays an increasing part is hard. After all, no organisation can stop consumers criticising them if they choose too. In the past it might not have mattered much if one or two unhappy consumers complained to their friends. But now, a bad review (whether fair or not) can spread around the globe in hours.

Social media risk is the risk that the use of social media by an organisation, or by third parties including the general public, causes loss or damage to that organisation. The risk can be divided into five basic types:

  • reputational risk
  • operational risk
  • compliance risk
  • legal risk
  • asset risk

Reputational risk is the most common form of social media risk, and certainly the most well known. This is in part because much reputational risk is a consequence of other risk factors. In other words, most social media risk factors can lead to reputational damage.

The risks can involve damage to an organisation’s reputation, or to the reputation of brands and products it owns and the services it provides.

These risks vary in importance but they can be found right across most organisations, in finance, operations, HR, marketing, sales and general management.

Social media reputational risks occur across an organisation

There can be a wide variety of causes including:

  • Unethical employee behaviour online or offline such as inappropriate tweets or the uncovering of unethical manufacturing practices by an organisation
  • Consumer reactions to poor quality products and services or inadequate after sales service, especially where these are amplified by the media
  • Impersonation of prominent people associated with the organisation who are then apparently heard saying inappropriate things; or the takeover and altering of corporate social media assets so that they are no longer “on-brand”
  • Inappropriate use of social media by employees such as bullying behaviour or simply the posting of unwise content
  • Poor marketing activity including allowing consumers to discover and respond to obsolete marketing campaigns
  • Unflattering comments by third parties on social media platforms (e.g. poor reviews, aspersions made against directors, negative analysis of financial performance)
  • Unwise comments by executives that are amplified by the media (the “Gerald Ratner syndrome”) with disastrous results

Many instances of reputational damage are not particularly important. There is often a lot of fluttering by social media commentators but if the damaging issue isn’t seen by mainstream consumers the main outcome can be red faces in the marketing department! In these cases it is important not to over react.

The real danger is that a particular issue – low quality, unethical practices, inappropriate public comments by senior executives – gets taken up by the mass media and “amplified”.

 Growth of a social media crisis

Organisations often place their social media risk management processes within PR or marketing. However, reputational damage is not just a concern for marketing departments. A damaged reputation can affect many things adversely, including:

  • Finance: The ability of an organisation to borrow at the best rate of interest; the ability to attract investment can also be damaged and this can result in damage to the share price
  • Operations: The image of the organisation as a “corporate good citizen”, which in turn may reduce influence with external stakeholders such as regulators or suppliers, ultimately resulting in less efficient operations
  • HR: The organisation’s “employer brand” which if damaged can result in difficulties recruiting the best talent
  • Sales: The sales a company makes; in addition the profitability of those sales can be reduced due to increased costs (less influence with suppliers) or by the inability to charge higher prices (less credibility with consumers)

Because the potential effect of reputational risk extends across organisations, it is sensible to monitor the risks outside PR and marketing departments. The ideal organisational structure will allow for social media risk management to be a separate and stand alone function which can work with the relevant business function to manage any difficulty.

As with other social media risks, the simple ALP management process should be applied:

  1. Audit: Identify potential risks using scenarios or knowledge of previous social media “fails
  2. Listen: Listen out for potential problems
  3. Prepare: Prepare for potential problems by:
    1. Developing an appropriate social media policy and training all employees in its meaning and use (this includes Board members)
    2. Agreeing management processes to handle likely risks including escalation processes and generic position statements
    3. Simulating problems and practising the response

As we said at the start of this post, reputational risk isn’t the only risk area to stem from social media. More on the other social media risk areas next week.

What to do if your social media accounts are hacked

If your Twitter feed is hacked, it isn’t likely to knock $160 billion off the Dow Jones. But it could still be very damaging to sales, recruitment or share price.

What will a hack look like?

You will know you have been hacked if unauthorised posts are sent out from your social media account. These might be for “spam” products like diet pills or Viagra. Or they might be designed to damage your reputation perhaps by endorsing competitors or vilifying your own products and brands. Or they might simply be mischievous. Alternatively a hack might involve a change in your social media profile: perhaps a new profile picture or a change to your description, again often with the aim damaging your business. Even if you have taken reasonable measures to stop your accounts from being hacked, they can still happen. So it is a good idea to have a plan in place, just in case. After all, if you are hacked then you will need to respond as rapidly as possible. So here is a simple 5-step plan for damage limitation after a social media hack.

Step 1. Regain control by resetting passwords

The first thing to do (or at least attempt) is to regain control of any hacked accounts. You will do that by changing the password on the account (ideally to something not quite so easy to hack!) If you can’t get access to the account, because the hackers have changed the password, then try resetting your password using the forgotten password link on the site. You should then get a message, sent to the email registered as belonging to the account’s administrator, which will allow you to reset the password. At the same time you should also change the password of the account administrator’s email address. This may have been hacked too and if it has then it will be all too easy for the hackers to gain control again.

If you can’t regain control

If the hackers have locked you out of your account and you can’t get back in, then you will need to contact the social platform directly. This may take a little time as there will be forms to fill in and proof to provide so it is important to start this process as soon as possible. All the big social media sites provide an easy way into this process:

  • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hacked
  • YouTube: support.google.com/youtube/answer/175276?hl=en (link to AutoRecovery at bottom of page)
  • LinkedIn: help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1501/ft/eng (link to Contact Us at bottom of page)
  • Twitter: support.twitter.com/articles/185703-my-account-has-been-hacked (link to Contact Support at bottom of page)
  • Google+: support.google.com/mail/answer/50270?hl=en

Lock down content publishing if you can

If you can, it’s a good idea to lock down any publishing activity while you check the security of all your social media accounts. Some software providers such as Nexgate’s ProfileLock will do this automatically should they detect an unauthorised change to your profiles.

Step 2. Protect your other platforms

The next thing you need to do is to check all your other social media platforms and ensure they have not been hacked as well. If they are safe check that they have a secure password and that this is different from the passwords on your other social media sites.

Step 3. Get back to normal

Once you have control back you will want to get your social media accounts back to the state they were in before the hacking incident.

Delete unwanted content

You will need to delete any unwanted content such as tweets that have been sent out without your authorisation. This doesn’t guarantee the content will disappear completely and for ever. Other people may have seen it and saved it or shared it with other people. But you can at least limit the possibility of other people seeing being exposed to messages you don’t want them to see.

Check account settings

Back in control, you will also want to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises waiting for you. Have any automated responses been tampered with? Does your profile or email signature contain new and unwanted links? Have any Twitter lists been tampered with? Do you have new some “friends” you weren’t expecting to see?

Step 4. Let people know

There is no point in hiding the fact that you have been hacked. If it is embarrassing they are bound to find out. It is far better to tell people what has happened and apologise for it.

Tell your audience

Post messages, e.g. tweets, to anyone following you apologising for any inconvenience or offence caused. It may be appropriate to pay to promote these messages if that option is available on the platform you are using. If you don’t it is highly likely that many people who follow your social media accounts won’t see your explanation. It may also be sensible to put a message upon your website and any other “static” content such as blogs and even social media profiles. Some companies have ready-made web pages that are pre-approved and can be published quickly in the event of an emergency. It is likely that you will want this page to be a template of some sort so that the precise content can be adapted to suit the nature of the crisis.

Tell your employees

Make sure you have a clear communication plan that is directed towards your employees. They may need reassurance that the damage won’t affect them; they will certainly need to know what to do and say if they are asked about the crisis by friends or peers.

Tell the media

It is also sensible to tell the media, who are likely to pick up on a crisis anyway. Of course if the breach is trivial then there may not be any reason to do this but if the breach is potentially damaging then you will want to make sure any relevant media have your version of events as soon as possible.

5. Review your security

Once things have settled down you will want to review your security to reduce the risk of anything similar happening again. You will of course cover off the basics: make sure that passwords are robust and that you have managed and limited access to your social media accounts. But there are a few other things you need to do as well.

Review any apps that have access

Review any applications that have access to your social media accounts and remove any that you don’t recognize. Apps may include measurement tools, media owner sites, or tools that link different social media platforms. For instance if you want to see the apps that have access to your Twitter profile you can find them at twitter.com/settings/applications. If in doubt it may be safest to delete all applications and then start adding apps to your account from scratch.

Check for viruses

Run a virus scan on any devices that have been used to access your social media accounts to ensure you haven’t picked up a virus or other malware. Don’t forget to check any mobile devices that may be used and if home computers are ever used to access your social media accounts then ask the relevant people to check these too.

Enable 2-factor authentication

Many social networks now offer “2-factor authentication”. This is a security system which requires a number sent to a device like a mobile phone as well as your password to get access. Generally this makes it very difficult for a hacker to break into your account. So if this hasn’t been set up on your social media accounts you should do so right away, unless you are using software such as Single Sign On software that makes this unnecessary.

Review your training

Most hacking events are the result of human error – clicking on a phishing URL or using weak passwords for instance. In order to guard against future risk, review the knowledge of anyone who has the ability to log on to your social media accounts, whether or not they ever do so. Do they understand the need for strong passwords, are they aware of the risks caused by cookies, do they always check which site they are going to when clicking on shortened URLs, are they aware of how they might get fooled in a phishing attach? If your staff are knowledgeable about these issues then the chance of a social media hack will be very much reduced. Any other tips? Please do let us know.

Reducing the risk of social media hacks

Imagine you are the CEO of a bank. Despite the grey suit you are down with the kids, tweeting regularly, and generally being hip.

And then your twitter account is hacked. Someone sends out a tweet in your name that says your bank has made huge losses in the financial markets and doesn’t have enough money to repay current account holders. People panic and there is a run on the bank…

Couldn’t happen could it! Or could it? It’s only a year since the AP Twitter account was hacked and messages about bombs in the White House caused a massive 143 point drop on the Dow Jones Index.

Social media are very credible and as a result very powerful.

So of course you want to avoid your social media accounts getting hacked. It’s not easy, in fact it is impossible to guarantee absolute security (and I won’t be surprised if someone hacks into this blog just because I am writing about security!), but there some steps you can take to keep them reasonably secure.

How do social media hacks happen?

First of all though, knowing how social media accounts get hacked will help protect you. Generally this happens because someone who wants to cause mischief or wreak revenge gets access to a password. And they get access in a number of ways including:

  • Simple passwords are hacked using “brute force” software that runs through all the possible combinations of letters and numbers
  • Unprotected portable devices are lost or stolen
  • Devices are infected with spyware
  • People who know a password leave a company and that password isn’t changed
  • A shared personal device allows access to a social media account by non-authorised people
  • Password lists are made available to non authorised people

So what can you do about this?

Use strong passwords

The very first thing you need to do is ensure that social media passwords are strong. That means: a minimum of 12 characters including at least one each of an upper case letter, a lower case letter, a number, and a keyboard symbol (like ! % or &).

Words and names should not be used as part of this: so Password isn’t a great password. And guess what. People realise that numbers are commonly substituted for letters. So P455w0rd isn’t great either!

As words and names are a no-no you will need a simple trick to come up with a great password. It’s easy in fact. Think of a phrase such as “I love my wife Delvina and my two boys Caspar and Tarquin!”. Now take the first letters and turn that into a password: “IlmwD&m2bC&T!”. Complex but easy to remember. And so much better than Password!

Next it is sensible to ensure that passwords are different for all your social media accounts. After all if one does get hacked you don’t want them all being hacked. And change them a couple of times a year. Scott Aurnou has written an excellent post on passwords.

Limit access

The next step is to limit the number of people who have access to the social media accounts. Simple if they are your own accounts but more complex in a company where you may want several people to be able to post content.

Start by doing an audit. And remember to check whether any third parties like your PR company also have access (if so do you will want to know whether they share your password with all their employees).

Next, severely limit the number of people who have access in future. And make sure that written into their contracts is a stipulation that passwords must not be shared and an explanation of sanctions if they do so. If necessary appoint an “editor” who uploads content written by other people. Oh, and do make sure you keep a record of who does have access somewhere.

Ideally, and if budgets allow, you will also implement Single Sign On (SSO) technology (such as Nexgate provide) to manage access to your social media accounts. This means that when people sign into their work computers only authorised people will be given access to social media accounts, but they will be given access without having to input a password. As they don’t know the passwords then you can simply deny them access should they leave or their role change.

One more thing to lookout for. Some social media platforms including Facebook and Google+ require business pages to be set up from private social media accounts. If this is the case you will have trouble managing these accounts in the future if the person who set them up leaves your company. The easiest thing to do is probably to start afresh with these platforms, even if it means sacrificing some assets such as people who Like you.

Prevent cookie attacks

Several big social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook are designed to remain open continuously, so that every time you go to your computer or mobile phone you can read and post content.

Convenient; but keeping an account open all the time can give people a really easy way into your social media account, especially if the account is open on a mobile device which subsequently gets lost or if you are using a shared device and forget to log out.

As people will inevitably forget to log off on some occasions, the most secure way to handle this is to require access to corporate social media only via fixed company equipment. This does mean that people won’t be able to post updates from Twitter and Facebook when they are out and about. I’ll come you how you manage that disadvantage in a moment.

Avoid phishing attacks

Another common problem is “phishing” which is where a hacker sends you message that seems to be from your social network, asking you to log in to your account for some plausible reason. They provide you with a handy link. You, thinking you are logging into your Twitter account, enter your username and password into a fake login page, which promptly captures the data. You have been hacked. Often these attacks are highly personalised and will use your name, as a result looking very credible.

The only way to prevent phishing attach is through education. Train people to look for suspicious emails. Get people to check the actual address of the site they are logging into by looking at the address bar or better still avoid clicking on links (especially shortened URLs) in emails and navigate directly to their social media account instead.

Additional security can be provided by using the SSO technology mentioned earlier as these tools won’t automatically complete your log in information if you aren’t on a legitimate site. But if you don’t have that then education (and common sense) is your only defence.

Protect mobile devices & manage wi-fi use

Business people who have a requirement to post on social media sites for their employers are highly likely to have a smart phone or a laptop. And mobile devices represent a real risk because:

  • They can be lost or stolen
  • They may connect to the internet via unsecure or dangerous connections

The easiest way to manage risk this is to limit access to corporate social media accounts via fixed computers in secure office locations. This might sound draconian but in practice most social media can be managed in this way with executives who are out of the office mailing posts to colleagues who can post from the secure location of the office.

But what about newsy posts that require immediate publication? For instance tweets at a conference or Facebook posts at an industry event? Here are some ideas:

  • Ensure the mobile device you are using is adequately password protected, especially if you are using a password vault like LastPass to make logging on to a number of different accounts easy
  • Password vaults remember passwords for you. Ideally I wouldn’t use them on a mobile device but if you do make sure you have the ability to lock or wipe it remotely in case you lose it; (IT managers should audit the remote use of social media and where appropriate provide such remote locking or wiping capabilities to privately owned devices)
  • If you are logging on to Twitter or Facebook on a mobile device make sure you log off after you finish
  • If you are accessing social media via wi-fi then check to make sure it is the official wi-fi (check the exact name) and don’t be tempted to use an unsecured wi-fi that seems to offer easy access; (personally I would never use wi-fi outside the home or office for any sensitive purpose, but then I am a cynic)
  • If you are tweeting via wi-fi then don’t use the corporate account, or your own account if you are a prominent person (e.g. a director of a large corporate). Set up a secondary account and use it for out-of-office events. Use the hashtag for the event to ensure that people find your posts. Get colleagues to follow the secondary account and share your posts via the main corporate account as soon as possible

Educate

Ultimately a lot of protection can be gained through education. Help people understand where the risks lie and what they can do to minimise them. Education is a cornerstone of security. It won’t protect you all the time (nothing will) but with the right processes and attitudes in place the risks can be reduced massively.