As the number of social media users continues to grow, and more brands use the channel as part of their marketing mix, so do social media risks.
Let’s face it: the “bad guys” aren’t dumb – they go where they’re likely to have more success.
The benefits of social media are widely known.
- Over half of the total population (7.8 billion) are active social media users.
- On average, users spend 144 minutes per day on social media.
- 90% of people buy from brands they follow on social media.
But social media risks, less so.
In this guide, we’ll highlight the most common social media risks, dangers, pitfalls, and traps that you could fall into, along with how to mitigate them.
1. Unmonitored social media accounts
Social media accounts that are left unattended or no longer used are a target for hackers. Once they gain control, they can post fraudulent content, misinformation about your brand, and virus-infected links or malware.
2. Imposter accounts
Imposter accounts are those accounts that look like they’re genuine, but under closer inspection, turn out to be fake accounts.
LinkedIn’s latest transparency report (July – December 2019) shows they took action on 11.2 million fake accounts. Most (93%) were blocked by automated defenses, but more than 85,000 fake accounts were only addressed once members reported them.
Likewise, Facebook estimates that fake accounts represented approximately 5% (1.5B) of their worldwide monthly active users (MAU) during Q2 2020. They blocked 99.6% before users reported them.
3. Privacy settings
Many users, including brands, accept their social media account’s “default settings” when creating a new profile or page for their business.
But in a 2017 survey by Statista, users said they were not very confident that the privacy settings selected on their social media accounts worked as expected:
4. Vulnerable third-party apps
Even if you’ve secured your social media accounts, there may be back doors in third-party apps that hackers can expose.
For example, hackers recently accessed FC Barcelona’s Twitter account through a third-party analytics app:
FC Barcelona will conduct a cybersecurity audit and will review all protocols and links with third party tools, in order to avoid such incidents and to guarantee the best service to our members and fans. We apologise for any inconvenience this situation may have caused.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 15, 2020
5. Human error
We’re all human and prone to mistakes. Nowadays, we’re more careful with dodgy emails, but not so smart with social media. It only takes one innocent click or download to expose a company to hackers, fraudsters, and scammers. (See below for types of attacks).
Also, people on your team could inadvertently post confidential or sensitive information.
6. Phishing attacks and scams
A phishing scam (also known as vishing, smishing, or pharming) aims to get users to disclose login credentials for their work account, bank account, credit card, or other private information.
The latest figures from Kaspersky revealed that Facebook was subject to 4.5 million phishing attempts between April and September 2020.
7. Malware attacks and hacks
Malware attacks and hacks are one of the biggest security threats to brands on social media.
Every day, the AV-TEST Institute registers over 350,000 new malicious programs (malware) and potentially unwanted applications (PUA):
Attacks can be focused and targeted, where ‘cyber gangs’ go after organizations with advanced malware campaigns. For instance, one cyber gang built trust with oil and gas professionals on LinkedIn before sending them an Excel file containing malware that stole login credentials and other private information.
Hackers can also gain access to individual accounts and post harmful messages. For example, the Twitter account of NBA Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks was hacked and used to post racial slurs and other profanities:
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s social media accounts were hacked this afternoon and have been taken down. An investigation is underway.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 7, 2020
8. Unsecured mobile phones
Many users have social media apps on their mobile phones. If it gets stolen, then thieves have access to social media accounts where they can post damaging content, plus send phishing and malware scams to your connections.
Consider using social media policy guidelines (in conjunction with IT) on how to:
- Create a secure password and how often to change it.
- Keep software and devices updated.
- Identify and avoid spam, phishing attacks, and other security threats.
- Report social media security concerns.
- Avoid social media platforms’ default privacy and security settings.
- Avoid social media activities that ask for personal information.
- Share on-brand and approved content.
- Adhere to copyright and confidentiality rules.
- Engage appropriately on behalf of the brand.
9. Legal and HR issues
It’s surprisingly easy for brands to publish unauthorized content that breaches the law. Potential issues include privacy laws, content ownership, and intellectual property (IP) infringement. Plus, there are potential HR issues such as harassment, discrimination, and defamation.
10. Data privacy and protection
Collecting, processing, handling, and storing data is a hot topic, especially as the rules and regulations for each country are different. Global brands need to comply with local data protection regulations when they post social media content and also share assets across borders.
With more than 10,000 rules and regulations governing electronic communications in the US alone, brands have to comply (and provide proof of compliance) with industry regulations, especially in the finance and healthcare sectors.
Financial Risks and Costs
Any mistake on social media can have a negative impact on finances, including:
- Fines from industry regulators
- Penalties from data protection enforcement agencies
- Decreases in share price
Although it’s free to create social media accounts, there are associated costs, including:
- Social media advertising costs.
- Social media management tools.
- Social media employees, including a social media manager.
- Social media agencies, if you choose to outsource activities.
- Freelance writers, designers to develop content.
- Legal experts to work through governance issues.
Without the right operational processes in place, there’s a risk that the wrong people get access to social media accounts, or the wrong content gets published at the wrong time.
Firms need the right amount of resources to develop, manage, and supervise social media programs. As well as creating and publishing content, social media workflow approvals require professionals from all departments in the company, such as:
- Sales: to check the correctness of any sales messages.
- Product: to check the accuracy of product information.
- HR: to ensure the updates are in line with company policy.
- Finance: to ensure there are no budget issues.
- Legal: to ensure there are no liability issues.
- Third-Parties: any clients, agencies, or contractors you may be working with.
There is a risk that employees will spend too much time on social media, which reduces their productivity and impacts an organization’s business operations.
Brand Reputation Risks
As social media content is published on platforms outside of an organization, there’s an immediate risk that a brand’s reputation can be damaged. Whether it’s a human error, an oversight, or a security hack, it can have a negative impact on the brand and lead to a loss in confidence of customers and investors.
Content Strategy Risks
Executives expect a return on investment from social media marketing.
Mitigation: Define your social media goals and metrics, so they align with business goals. For example:
- Business goal: increase customers
- Marketing goal: increase leads and conversions
- Social media goal: increase followers and engagement
Measure your social media performance and adjust the strategy accordingly to meet your goals. Loomly Advanced Analytics empowers you to measure your success in a clean dashboard.
Brands often fall into the trap of publishing content on social media without any research or plan of action. Posts get published in an ad-hoc manner, which results in over-publishing or under-publishing, plus the tone, voice, and style of content are inconsistent.
- Plan your content ahead of time.
- Create a regular publishing schedule.
- Tell a consistent and compelling brand story over time.
20. Negative feedback
Social media platforms allow you to interact directly with your audience in real-time. But it also gives those same people a public forum to voice dissatisfaction, which can be damaging to your brand.
21. User-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) can be dangerous if you make it too complex. Inviting users to share content with a campaign hashtag is usually fine. But brands who use auto-generated content can hit problems.
For example, the National Lottery found people sabotaged their World Athletics Championships hashtag campaign by using disparaging profile names:
We are aware that some people are maliciously targeting our British Athletics Twitter campaign with offensive and abhorrent content. (1/2)
— The National Lottery (@TNLUK) August 15, 2017
22. Organic-only content
If you rely entirely on organic social media posts, you may not achieve your goals and objectives.
23. Getting left behind
Social media is a dynamic medium that’s always changing. New platforms emerge, algorithms change, and audiences swap allegiances.
Social Media Risks in a Nutshell
Social media is a great marketing channel, but brands also have to be aware of the associated risks.
Taking the necessary steps to plan and protect your brand against security, legal, financial, and operational risks of social media is the best way to future-proof your business.