Image courtesy of (chanpipat)/

Image courtesy of (chanpipat)/

“Just as most businesses put in place technology measures more than a decade ago to combat email phishing of their employees, I believe many will come around to the idea that a similar approach is needed to address social media risk.”

James Foster, Chief Executive of Zerofox, a social media security company

Despite its already gargantuan size, social media continues to grow exponentially. By next year, businesses are projected to spend nearly $36 billion advertising on social websites. That same year, users of social media are expected to skyrocket past 2.5 billion, with a whopping 90 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans occupying various platforms.

And just about everyone knows that where money is spent, fraud is sure to be prevalent.

Cyber-security is a major concern for any individual or organization that operates online. But many fail to recognize the threats posed on social media. Every day, brands, and the customers they serve, fall victim to a variety of malicious schemes designed to hijack personal and professional identities and monetary assets.


Social Uncertainty

It is more important than ever that brands pay attention, and become savvy to, the tactics deployed by hackers and fraudsters on social websites. It is not enough to merely focus in on the conversations taking place, but how scammers are leveraging the medium to deceive customers, cloaked under the guise of your brand or its representatives.

An August 2016 study from Proofpoint, an IT security firm, revealed that nearly 20 percent of all malware infiltrations come from sources on social media. The study also uncovered that 40 percent of Facebook profiles, and one in five Twitter accounts, that seemingly speak for Fortune 100 companies were not authorized by those organizations.

Hackers often take to social media disguised as customer service reps for brands, or as brand pages themselves, in order to bait an organization’s clientele with fake offers, gifts, discounts, coupons and so on, which require an individual’s personal information. Needless to say, these false promises are never fulfilled, and your brand can be significantly tainted.

The reverse scenario is commonplace as well; consumers reach out to fake profiles with an issue or concern, only to have sensitive information fall into immoral hands.

Additionally, if one of these digital desperados generates a fictitious brand profile, there is a good chance such a bad actor will produce PPC ads leading to harmful links for consumers. And as we head into the holiday season, these threats will become more prevalent.

The fact that people on social media are more ready and willing to share personal details than most anywhere else puts brands in a precarious situation. They are left to deal with the backlash if they are targeted by one of these fabrications. In such a situation, a brand’s reputation can be deeply tarnished, if not outright destroyed.

While this information might shock and scare you, there are a variety of measures that a brand can take to fortify its social presence and protect the consumers it depends upon so dearly.

Safeguard Strategies

Battling online predators is certainly a challenging task; and a full-time one at that. In order to help prevent social hijackers from sullying your brand’s image, the first step is to register your company on every social media website, old and new. Whether your brand actually intends to leverage the channel or not is irrelevant. By taking proactive measures in this way, you help to minimize the risk of deceivers “brand-jacking” your company, unbeknownst to you; if you are limited to just a couple social websites, you have no idea what may be happening to your brand on other platforms.

It is also ideal to get your brand page verified on any social portal that supports authentication so as to provide social proof to consumers about which company pages are legitimate. On these profiles, be sure to include links to your homepage or affiliate landing pages to ensure that traffic is directed to the correct destinations. And be sure to review any affiliate links that you promote to ensure the absence of harmful portals.

It is equally important to research your brand on social to become aware of any potential posers that are occupying the space and to report those pages immediately.

One of the single most decisive shields that your company can deploy is a thorough policy regarding social media activity that directly speaks to partners, employees, affiliates, and distributors.

The aforementioned Proofpoint survey exposed that an unacceptable number of organizations have failed to implement documented policies pertaining to social media. Of the mid- to large-sized organizations that were queried, 49 percent had no written policies in place. Of the 51 percent who did, only 48 percent had “a policy about the use of public social networks when employed for work-related purposes.”

This is deeply troubling considering that it is widely-known just how ubiquitous security breaches are online. Over the course of the past several years, a vast number of online businesses and retailers, both major and minor, have succumbed to dereliction.

Lastly, if your company’s budget permits, it is incredibly wise to hire an Internet security company to employ a more advanced system of monitoring social networks and their activity for fake profiles of your brand or its agents. As the threat grows to be more widespread, an abundance of companies are stepping up to fill this need.

Brands must intimately understand that there is no safe destination online. Any portal that is accessible to the public can, and likely at some point will, be infiltrated by hackers and scammers. As a company, it is your responsibility to protect the trust you have built with consumers by securing their personal information. It’s also crucial that you protect your brand’s contact points across social media, and the rest of the digital landscape too.