Curbing social media risks requires foresight

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Russell Nel, privacy specialist at privacyconsulting.
Russell Nel, privacy specialist at privacyconsulting.

Social media training programmes for employees are the best way to protect an organisation from the reputational risks posed by staff on social media.

This is according to Russell Nel, privacy specialist at information security company privacyconsulting, speaking yesterday at ITWeb Governance, Risk and Compliance 2019, in Johannesburg.

Nel noted that while social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn provide many opportunities for brands, they also pose significant threats.

"Companies cannot control what external social media users say about them on social media, but they should take advantage of the internal controls they have, by educating employees about their conduct while using these platforms."

While having a social media policy is good, as it provides clear guidance on what employees are permitted to say regarding their colleagues, the company and its clients, as well as the consequences of violating the policy, it is not enough if employees are ignorant of these guidelines.

Some companies integrate social media-specific clauses into their risk management policies, but the most important thing is to educate employees on the practicalities of these policies, he advised.

"I find that time and time again, in the cyber security and privacy space, some employees don't have a clue on how to protect the information of their employer.

"They don't even know how to protect personal information of clients or stakeholders that they handle every day. If employees don't know what they should or shouldn't be doing online, how can companies control their activities on social media?"

Online reputational risks, he continued, are becoming a major concern in a world where rumours and customer complaints about a brand can spread and reach an audience of anything from 10 to millions of people in a matter of hours.

"How many organisations have received a complaint on customer complaint Web site I have never seen an organisation that had a higher rating than two stars on the site. How many people globally have viewed these complaints online?

"The worst thing is that sometimes the complainant could share their story with five million followers on social media, or they could fabricate the entire story, leaving businesses with high reputational risks to mitigate."

He referenced the recent Momentum incident, where the insurance firm was criticised on social media for refusing to pay out a widow's claim against her late husband's life insurance policy.

"After a public outrage and being bashed on social media, Momentum backtracked on its original decision and decided to pay out the R2.4 million claim to the widow. This illustrates the power of social media."

From a human psyche perspective, it takes an average of three positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction, he continued. "So, one bad move from an unhappy client could cause significant reputational damage."

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