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A survey by top law firm Slater and Gordon has found that one in five small businesses have fallen victim to social media hacking in the last three years – often with grave consequences.

Social Media Ransom and Ruin

The survey of 500 UK SMEs revealed some worrying trends.

Over half of the SMEs who had suffered hacking of their social media accounts admitted it had caused ‘significant’ damage to their business and nearly two thirds said the hackers had demanded a cash ransom for returning account control back to the business.

However, despite these figures, the survey also showed that many SMEs have little awareness of the potential risks of social media hacking and their severity. Many also take a dangerously causal approach to running their social media accounts and little idea what to do if their accounts are hacked.

No Process in Place

More than a third (38%) of the companies surveyed admitted they had no processes for dealing with hacking. Even more astonishing were the 42% admitting that despite suffering from hacking, they had not reviewed their processes since.

“We see all too often that SMEs only identify the risk once it’s too late, after they’ve suffered a hack or some sort of serious reputational damage because of a careless or malicious post,” warns Steve Kuncewicz, business advisory lawyer at Slater and Gordon.

“Almost no one is immune from these risks. Even the biggest and most secure organisations in the world have at one point suffered serious damage due to failures to safeguard and control their digital or social media assets.”

The survey also found that 16% of SME bosses didn’t know how to access their company’s social media accounts, with 25% admitting they had had been locked out of the company’s social media account on at least one occasion because staff who knew the login details had either left the company or were on annual leave.

“Increasingly, a business’ greatest asset can be its digital and social media presence. But it can also be its greatest vulnerability,” says Kuncewicz.

“It can take years to build up a following, but a few seconds to destroy it with a careless tweet or post or not being able to respond quickly enough to negative comments and feedback or a hack.

“It is concerning that so many business leaders don’t know the login details to their firm’s accounts to prevent this from happening.”

Business Reputation Online – and On the Line

It seems the main problem is SME owners and managers who don’t appreciate the value or danger of a social media presence. Not regarding it as important, many do little to oversee or take responsibility for it.

Only 40% of the SMEs surveyed had a dedicated social media manager, while 25% left the task to younger or junior members of staff – with 6% even leaving it to people on work experience!

Steve Kuncewicz surmised this may be because managers feel they have insufficient knowledge about social media themselves and presume that younger and/or more junior staff will be more digitally-savvy – and therefore better suited for the task.

One in four managers said they checked rarely, if at all, to see what their firm was saying on social media – or what people were saying about them. 60% said they didn’t check popular review sites, such as Trip Advisor and Glassdoor, either.

“This is a serious mistake,” warns Kuncewicz. “Implementing a process to sign off content, manage who has access to accounts and react if you suffer a social media incident is vital in this day and age.”

More than a third of respondents said their business did not have a social media policy and 40% gave staff no training or advice on discussing the company on their personal social media accounts – something which also has the potential to bring a firm into disrepute.

Almost two thirds of SME managers were not familiar with the Advertising Standards Authority’s CAP code of conduct and one in ten had fallen foul of it already.

“We have seen countless examples of how incidents can be amplified by social media which can cause major long-term damage to a company’s reputation and bottom line,” says Steve Kuncewicz. “The speed with which potentially damaging events can develop or go viral in the digital age highlights how important it is to be prepared and have robust processes in place.

“Five hundred million people are using LinkedIn now including 23 million in the UK alone, which shows how fast-growing and far reaching just one platform can be. Social media can be a very powerful tool for those who know how to use it, but failure to recognise that and take it seriously could have potentially damaging consequences for a business.”

Protecting Your Business

If this has made you feel uncomfortably aware that your business’ social media accounts aren’t as well-protected as they could be, check out this advice from Team Organic: Six Ways to Protect Your SME Social Media Account from Hacking.



About The Author

Karl Bilby

We work very closely with our expert accountants to bring you the latest factually correct tax and accounting news. We also enjoy writing about small business news that we hope you find useful!

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