When it comes to data security, most businesses focus heavily on protecting sensitive corporate information and personal details about employees and customers. But there's another digital asset that companies should guard just as carefully, and most organizations don't realize it until after a breach has occurred.
That asset is a business's social media presence. In today's highly connected world, a large percentage of a company's branding efforts happen on social networks. All the time and effort you've spent creating a positive brand image can be undone in a matter of seconds if the wrong person gains access to your accounts.
You don't have to look very far to find examples of corporate PR disasters due to a compromised social media account. Burger King and Jeep were victims of highly publicized Twitter hackings last year; the Associated Press suffered a hack, too, and a fake tweet about a White House explosion went out to nearly 2 million followers. While social media teams were able to get the situation under control quickly in each of these cases, it's easy to see how damaging a social hack can be to a brand. [5 Surefire Ways to Get Your Passwords Stolen]
Devin Redmond, CEO and co-founder of social media brand protection company Nexgate, said that the consumer-oriented, viral nature of social media makes it much more difficult to keep track of this content, especially when something does go awry.
"Social media is outside the abilities of traditional IT departments," Redmond told Business News Daily. "Once you create a page, it gets a life of its own and grows quickly. By the time IT can catch up with it, it's already very robust. Anything that goes on social media lives in these external environments, and there's nowhere near [the level of] traditional IT controls."
The first line of defense against a social media breach is, of course, proper password protection. Branded social media accounts are often managed by more than one person, and bad passwords and password-sharing practices can greatly increase your risk of a breach.
"[Consider] who has access to the accounts, where the passwords are kept and how they're stored," Redmond said. "At some organizations, social accounts are on a spreadsheet shared with workers, contractors and external agencies."
To avoid some of the risks associated with password sharing, Redmond recommended using a good password management system, or a social media management solution that allows users to publish and edit content without inputting the social account's actual password. You should also keep a close eye on the apps and devices attached to your brand's social accounts. Third-party apps accessed through Facebook and Twitter often list "posting to your account" as one of the terms you agree to when you authorize them, so be sure the ones you use are trusted and secure.
If you've been lax about social media security in the past, you always face the possibility of a breach, even if you're more careful now. Bigger brands have a lot more at stake than do smaller ones when social accounts are hacked, but those larger companies also have more resources to deal with the fallout as quickly as possible. At a small business, where social media management is likely someone's side project rather than full-time job, a hacked account may go unnoticed until it's far too late. For this reason, Redmond emphasized the necessity of a strong social-media security policy.
"Spend time creating a policy and process for what to do if an account is hacked," he said. "[Think about] how to notify followers. What's your recovery plan?"
Diligent daily monitoring of your social accounts can aid in recovery time should someone hack into them. Redmond advised proactively looking for unusual activity, such as "spammy" direct messages, automatically published content that comes out at odd times, and unauthorized changes to profile pictures. Deleting all traces of this activity and immediately changing your passwords will stop further hacker efforts, and set you on the road to brand recovery.
Originally published on Business News Daily