Business processes and cyber risk

Cyber risk doesn’t just involve malicious techies hacking into corporate accounts. It can also involve risk to every day business processes: “process cyber risk”. Unfortunately, because the IT Department are kept busy defending the corporate network from the hackers, these process risks are often left to themselves.

What do I mean by process cyber risk? Quite simply, a risk of loss or damage to an organisation caused by a weak business process combined with the use of computer technology. These weak processes are often found within finance departments, but you will also find them in HR, in marketing and across organisations.

Process risk and identity

Many business processes rely on a particular document being signed off by an authorised individual. As many processes migrate online, the assumption is that the sign-off process can also be undertaken online. Sign on as an individual and perhaps you have authorisation to access a particular document or process.

As most people have to log in to company systems with a password and a name, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Except that passwords get shared. Busy people often share log-in details with juniors, allowing unauthorised people to access systems and documents that they are not authorised to access.

Any authorisation process that simply relies on someone logging in with name and password is weak because it is easily subverted. Issuing “dongles” as a second factor authentication device isn’t much better as these can get shared (unless they are integral to a company identity card). Robust processes where sensitive data or decisions are concerned should assume that a password has been shared (or stolen) and require additional security such as a second pair of eyes.

Process risks and finance departments

One big risk for finance departments is invoice fraud. This can happen in several ways. A common way is for thieves to gather information about a company, perhaps the news that it is investing in new technology. They will then use this information plus other easily obtainable assets such as company logos and the names of senior people in an organisation to put together a scam.

This might involve an email “from” a director of the organisation to a mid ranking person in the finance department asking for an invoice to be paid promptly; the invoice, which is of course a fake, is attached to the email.

In other cases the invoice is genuine. For instance thieves may pose as a supplier and ask for details of any unpaid invoices. They then resubmit a genuine invoice – but with the bank payment details changed.

All too often the unwitting finance executive passes the invoice for payment. Once the money has reached the thief’s bank account it is quickly transferred to another account making it unrecoverable.

This type of fraud is big business. Earlier this year Ubiquiti Networks disclosed that thieves stole $46.7 million in this way. While in the UK, the police’s Action Fraud service received reports of around 750 in the first half of 2015. And of course many similar frauds go unreported – or undetected.

What can you do to protect against this? Well start by educating staff about the nature of the threat – all staff not just in the finance department. Ensure that the details of all invoices are scrutinised carefully: Is the logo up-to-date? Is the email address correct (perhaps it is a .org instead of a .com)? Are the bank payment details the same as usual (if they have changed then telephone someone you know at the supplier to ask for confirmation)? And take extra care with larger invoices, for instance requiring them to be check by two separate people.

There are other cyber risks within finance processes – and often these are internal risks, initiated by employees. Examples include purchase fraud when personal items are bought using company money or when required items are bought at inflated prices, with the purchaser then getting a kick back at a later date. Again fake emails can be used to support these purchases. And again simple processes can disarm the threat.

Process risks within HR

Within HR there are numerous process risks. Let’s start with recruitment. The risks here can involve social media profiles designed to misinform, perhaps with fake endorsements or untrue job details. Looking at a LinkedIn profile is an easy way to identify potential candidates – but it is important to realise that the profile you see may well be substantially embroidered.

Another short cut, especially when looking for “knowledge leaders”, is to see what sort of “rating” candidates have on sites like Klout.com. Superficially this is fine. However, it is essential to be aware of how people are rated by the site (for instance what data is used) before making a judgement using this type of data as you may well be given an untrue perspective.

Another risk of using social media to identify candidates is that you open yourself to accusations of discrimination. An attractive cv may not have information on social media about age, ethnicity or sexual preference. Social media will. You really don’t want to know this sort of information but once you know something you can’t “unknown it”: and this can open you up to accusations of bias. It isn’t unknown for companies to commission an edited summary of a candidate’s social media profiles with anything that could lead to accusations of discrimination taken out in order to de-risk the profile before it is given to the recruiter.

In fact HR is full of cyber risk, especially where social media is concerned. There may be problems with the posts employees make on social media. There may be issues around bullying or discrimination at work. And maintaining a positive “employer brand” can be very difficult if an ex-employee starts to deride their old employer on line in sites such as Glassdoor.

Process risk and marketing

Process risk is also very at home in marketing. Again social media is one of the culprits. Not everyone, even in marketing, is a social media addict. Senior marketers frequently hand over their brands’ social media profiles to junior marketers, or even interns, because “they have a Facebook page”.

It’s a mistake. Not only is it likely that the output will be poor, the junior marketer may well (they frequently do) break advertising regulations (for instance by glamorising alcohol, or even fair trading laws (e.g. by including “spontaneous” endorsements from paid celebrities).

This shouldn’t be difficult: there is no reason that the processes that govern advertising in general can’t be applied to social media.

Procurement and cyber risk

Finally there is procurement – and the process of ensuring that third party suppliers don’t represent a cyber risk. This is a huge area of risk and one that is not always well appreciated.

The issue is not just that the third party may be insecure (for instance the massive hack to US retailer Target came about via an insecure supplier) and it is hard to know whether they are secure or not. It is also that people working for a supplier who have been given access may then leave the supplier without you being told: and as a result they retain access to your information, perhaps after they have joined a competitor. In additions suppliers may well have their own reasons for being a risk – they are in dispute with you, they are in financial difficulty, they have been taken over by a competitor…

Business processes frequently have the potential to be undermined by online technologies. It takes imagination to identify where the threats lie. However once they have been identified, actions to reduce the effect of the threat are often very simple.

KPIs for B2B social media

“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” Albert Einstein could have been talking about social media. And in truth, for companies who are not selling products via Facebook or Pinterest measuring the ROI from social media can be problematic.

But even if ROI – in simple terms of pounds and pennies – can be difficult, that doesn’t mean it is impossible to define some strong KPIs from BtoB social media campaigns. After all not all advertising is measured in terms of sales.

Vanity KPIs

Let’s start with vanity KPIs: things like Twitter Followers and Facebook page Likes. These have little, if any, value as KPIs – although they are very visible and thus superficially attractive. The trouble is that most followers and fans don’t do much: the average person will engage once and then have nothing more to do with your brand on social media.

The same is true of “trivial engagements” such as Facebook post Likes or Twitter Favourites: these are easy-to-perform (and easy-to-forget) actions that mean very little to your brand.

If you want to use followers and fans as a useful metric you will have to identify a subset: followers who can be considered to be prospects or customers; you can then track this number over time as a valid KPI.

Indicative KPIs

Indicative KPIs are a little more important because they tell you that things are moving in the right (or wrong) direction. However they don’t tell you much else. Change in numbers of followers/fans over a particular time may be indicative or success or failure, and movement in a positive direction is at least likely to keep the boss happy. Sentiment is another example: Tracking sentiment will rarely give you an accurate picture of how people really feel about your brand. However, if sentiment is steady or slowly becoming more positive over time this should at least give you some comfort even though there isn’t much you can do with this information. More useful is a “blip” in sentiment (a sudden rise or fall in positive or negative sentiment) which may indicate that something of importance has happened that needs investigating.

Other indicative KPIs are the “weak engagement” signals – content sharing such as re-tweets. If these are increasing you will feel that you are doing something right although it will be impossible to know whether this sharing is having an effect on your brand, and even harder put a value on this.

Another popular indicative KPI is website traffic from social media. Again, an increase in traffic looks as though it should be considered to be a positive result. It’s worth tracking but traffic on its own is a poor indicator: after all you don’t know why people have visited and it is perfectly possible that most of your visitors are disappointed when they arrive.

Brand KPIs

KPIs that indicate some sort of brand support or uplift are very important. These are things like positive brand perceptions such as “Brand X is a thought leader” or “Brand X is in my consideration set”. Generally these brand-based KPIs will need to be measured using one-on-one research such as surveys. This inevitably makes them more expensive to measure and many BtoB organisations may feel that this sort of measurement is not worth while.

Another type of branding indicator is the number of your followers and fans who are influencers. There is no set definition of what makes someone influential but you could decide to include people with, say, over 1000 followers. These influencers are likely to be of two types: “direct” influencers who are prospects or existing customers; and “indirect” influencers such as journalists and bloggers; track them separately.Unfortunately you will probably have to do this by hand.

Content effectiveness

If you are spending a lot of money on developing content (as you probably should be) then you will want to track loyalty: the percentage of people who have read your content who then return; and you will also want to track how frequently they return. This will involve setting up some customised reports in your social media analytics tools, for instance tracking the behaviour of people who have visited a particular set of pages or people who have visited your main website from your blog pages.

You may also want to track content engagement. This is hard to do as you cannot know whether people are actively reading your content or drinking a cup of tea while the page is open. The simplest way is to set up your analytics tool to track page scroll depth so that you can see how far down a page people have scrolled. As an alternative you can encourage people to rate content at the end or even divide content into a number of pages and then track each time people click on the link to pages, 2, page 3 etc. Alternatively there are more sophisticated tools (e.g. contently.com’s analysis) that can help with this by using clues such as mouse movements to estimate whether someone is actively engaged on a page and even whether they finished reading the whole article.

Strategic KPIs

Strategic KPIs don’t relate directly to marketing investment or sales success but are nonetheless important to track.

One set of strategic KPIs relates to competitors. Metrics such as social media “Share of Voice” compared with competitors will show you if you are shouting louder than your competitors (of course that is only important if you are shouting the right things.) And an analysis of comparative sentiment will also be useful (with an analysis of any blips giving you some actionable information). In a similar way an analysis of keywords around dissatisfaction with competitors will be useful information, although not strictly a KPI.

Another set of strategic KPIs relates to consumer insights. Here you need to analyse the content of any social media conversations and match the key words you are using to describe your brands with the keywords and topics that are generating engagement. You may find that one set of topics is going well at generating positive consumer reactions but that you are failing with another topic. This knowledge is important for advertising as well as for New Product Development.

Marketing KPIs

Unlike all of the preceding KPIs, some marketing KPIs can have a genuine value in terms of monetary ROI attached to them.

While the volume of website traffic from social media doesn’t in itself have a value, we could attach a value to it by estimating the cost of generating traffic using paid search or advertising. We could also attach a value to non-sales conversions such as product sheet downloads – if we know how many of these are likely to convert into a sale. And similarly we can value leads (such as email addresses) if we know what our conversion rate is likely to be. And finally we could potentially value any back-links that have been achieved from social media if we are able to calculate the cost of a single back link achieved via SEO activity.

Another area where we can potentially attach real value is in social media activity. Qualified followers and fans (i.e. people who have been identified as prospects) will have a quantifiable value if we know the average conversion rate we achieve with prospects. And so will people who are identified as being dissatisfied with a competitor.

Other KPIs worth tracking are the total number of “strong engagements” i.e. comments on your posts, and the numbers of qualified followers and fans who engage weakly or strongly with your content: while it is hard to ascribe an monetary ROI to these KPIs, they are important as they tell you whether your campaigns are succeeding in generating engagement and, importantly, whether they are doing so with the target audience.

Sales KPIs

And finally there is what every BtoB marketer will want to be able to measure: sales generated from social media.

At the soft (i.e. hard-to-value) end there are CRM interactions – the number of contacts with customers or prospects that have been made via social media. This isn’t the same as the number of leads as one customer or prospect may have been contacted several times via social media. Track number of customers/prospects contacted and also average number of contacts per customer/prospect.

And then there is the “gold standard”: sales converted from social media leads. Did I say “gold standard”. Well, that would mean that the sale was made in the absence of any other drivers such as advertising, email etc. And that’s unlikely to be the case. So track this figure; but bear in mind that giving social media total credit for the sale is probably over-estimating its importance. As Einstein said “Not everything that is worth counting can be counted”!

 

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!

How to manage your reputation online (2 of 4)

Listen

Managing your online reputation isn’t just about ensuring you have registered all the appropriate social media accounts and URLs for your name. As well as preventing people from using your name online in social media accounts and URLs as far as possible, you also need to:

  • Listen to what people are saying about you online
  • Create a strong profile, using the social media accounts and URLs you have registered
  • Repair any damage caused by people abusing your name online

This post briefly looks at how to listen out for when people are using your name.

Monitor the web

The first thing you need to do is to monitor when people use your name (or your company name or brand names). It is very simple to set up a Google alert that will email you when Google finds someone using your name. You shouldn’t rely on this though. Google isn’t perfect and may miss some mentions. It’s sensible to set up an alert using another tool like Yahoo. Alternatively simply  use another search engine such as Bing on a regular basis (say once a week) as an extra check.

Remember to set your searches up for appropriate variations of your name: I have alerts for jswinfengreen, “j swinfen green”,” j swinfen-green”,  “jeremy swinfen green” and “jeremy swinfen-green” (my fault for having a silly name). You can also include your twitter handles such as @jswinfengreen.

Google allows various options when setting up your alerts such as how often they are delivered. You may want to consider selecting “All results” rather than the default “Only the best results”.

It is also sensible to use a dedicated social listening tool to search for mentions of your name on social media. There are plenty of free tools. I particularly like SocialMention but there are dozens of others. SocialMention does have an Alert facility although it is disabled at the time of writing.

Note that the social media tools (especially the free ones) are generally less comprehensive than the big search engines so you will get a different and probably much smaller set of results. But they will be results from social media which may be useful as it can be easier to manage comments in the social media space than in the wider web. If you want to be more certain of who has mentioned you on social media then you will need to go to each platform and search: a useful exercise on Twitter and YouTube ( where it is just a simple search) as well as LinkedIn (search for Posts) but less so on Facebook which will not show you posts where your name is mentioned.

Identify themes

Once you have pulled out the relevant results, perhaps those where people are being unpleasant about you or your brands, you should start to identify the themes that reoccur. For instance if you work for a motor manufacturer (let’s call them “Supa Carz”) and people are complaining about the breaks failing you will want to monitor that closely and make sure you don’t miss any instances of a complaint that you need to respond to.

In this case you will want to set up alerts for things like Supa Carz breaks failure as well as more general alerts such as Supa Carz sucks.

Note that if you are paying for a social media listening tool you may still need to search the web for mentions of your name or brand because not all tools will monitor sites beyond the main social media platforms. This means that mentions in online communities like mumsnet may get missed.

Monitor sentiment

A change in sentiment can be a signal for an approaching problem. So it also makes sense to monitor this. Doing this well takes time but if you just want an indication  of sentiment then simply use the free sentiment measure on SocialMention or Coosto (shown below). coosto sentiment

Don’t fool yourself

The search engine you use will typically customise the results it shows you depending on your previous behaviour. This means that you may not see the same set of results for a brand that I see. This can be a problem: perhaps it means that you are seeing a set of results on the first couple of pages that are favourable to you: because you are always checking out your social media pages, your blog and your website these come up at the top of the list of links you are shown.

But, because I rarely if ever check your social media pages out, I may see other links at the top of my list of results. And some of these may be damaging to your reputation.

Because of this, it is a good idea to make sure that “personalised search” is disabled when you search for your name. There are several ways of doing this but the simplest is to toggle between the two buttons found to the right of “Search tools” and the left of the Options “cog” to see or hide personalised results for a particular search.

Icons that allow you to turn personalised search on and off in Google

Listening isn’t enough

If you are not listening you won’t be able to manage your reputation online. But listening is not enough. You will also need to create a robust profile so that your name appears linked to positive content such as your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. And you will need to know what actions to take should someone start damaging your reputation online. More on that shortly.

12 ways to protect your organisation against spear phishing

Online scammers are getting smarter. And one area of increasing threat is spear phishing.

You probably know what phishing is: an email, often badly written, trying to persuade you to divulge confidential information such as bank log in details, or asking you to click through to a site that will prove to be decidedly dodgy.

With spear phishing the scammers have taken things up a notch. For a start the emails tend to be well written. But they are also personalised. Highly personalised. What’s happening is that the scammers are targeting individuals, perhaps wealthy people or people who have access to things they want such as customer lists or corporate information. Once they have identified you as a target, they trawl your social profile, getting information form sites like Facebook and Twitter to identify things about you. They might even pay to get extra information from e.g. from genealogy sites. They then use this information to write an email that seems credible and relevant. For instance:

Dear Angie. Welcome to Acme Inc. It’s good to know you joined last week. Doris in HR tells me you like skiing. Well you might like to know that we have an Acme ski club and we are planning a little trip to the Alps next weekend. New joiners like yourself will get a big 40% discount so click through to find out more about the trip.

You click of course and – nothing seems to happen. But in fact your PC has been compromised with malicious software. What can you do about this. Well there are several techie things that your IT manager can put in place: setting the company’s firewall to block any emails that contain executable files, or running intelligent phishing detection software. But that won’t solve all your problems. There are a number of other things you need to put in place. And these mainly revolve around educating your staff:

  1. Tell people to be watchful. Describe what spear fishing emails can look like and what they do. And explain to them what they should do if they are suspicious. For instance if an email is asking for sensitive information they should check with a colleague. And if an offer is too good to be true, then it probably is!
  2. Ask people only to use their company email for business purposes; if they haven’t got a personal email help them to get a free one from Google or Yahoo. This will limit the potential ways users’ email addresses can get out onto the Internet.
  3. Teach people not to open email attachments from sources that they’re not familiar with. Similarly, warn people to take care when downloading software and apps to mobile devices; if they are not familiar with the source they should check it out and if they are familiar with it should should go directly to the source by typing in the url rather than clicking on a link.
  4. Teach people not to click on links in emails, especially shortened one. They should type in the URL directly. (Cutting and pasting the URL may not be a good idea because they may not have noticed a tiny change to the URL that means it isn’t going where they think it is). Similarly clicking on links in social media can be very dangerous: these links (often in surveys or special offers)  account for over half of malware attacks.
  5. Accept that people are lazy and they are unlikely to type in email addresses so tell them that at the very least they should check where the link is leading by looking at the address which comes up at the bottom of their screen when they put their cursor over the link.
  6. Include in your social media policy advice or instructions on what corporate information not to divulge on social media (e.g. on LinkedIn). The more information you share the easier you are making it for scammers. Depending on your business and the employee’s role you may want to restrict information such as the names of people they report to, direct telephone lines and email addresses. Directors and IT personnel should be particularly careful about this.
  7. Tell people that if a “friend” emails and asks for a password or other information, they should contact that friend they really are who they say they are. They shouldn’t do this by replying to the email obviously!
  8. Reiterate that it is never appropriate to share passwords and PINs with anyone online or on the telephone.
  9. Explain to people that just because a link starts with HTPPS that doesn’t mean it is safe.
  10. Give people a taste of spear fishing. Send your colleagues a targeted spear-phishing email using an outside email address. Ideally dig up some information on their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and use this to make the email seem credible. If this is impractical, for instance if you work for a large company, one thing you might do is  find out which bank people’s pay is sent to (you won’t need their branch and account number and I’d hope HR wouldn’t give you that anyway). Send them a fake phishing message seemingly from that bank.  When they click on the link tell them that they have been phished and give them some tips about avoiding  this in future.
  11. You need people to report attempted attacks. Reward people for reporting suspicious emails and, if they do appear to be malicious, make sure everyone in your organisation knows to look out for them.
  12. You need people to report any instances when they think they have been scammed. After all you will need to check their PC and your corporate network. So make sure you have a “no blame” culture about spear fishing; and never discipline people if they fall foul of an attack.

The bad news is you are unlikely to be able to prevent 100% of spear fishing attacks as they are so difficult to detect. The good news is that you can prevent a lot of them by giving people the right information. Any other tips? Let me know and I will gladly share them.