Hack Attack? -- Preparing for a Social Media Crisis
On April 23, a story went out to two million followers on the AP official Twitter account that there were two explosions at the White House and President Obama was injured. The stock market plunged by almost 150 points in a matter of seconds. The result of a hacking by the Syrian Electronic Army, the false statement was quickly corrected, the compromised Twitter account was shut down and the stock market soon recovered.
Malicious mischief or an issue that should be a major concern throughout any organization? In the case of the AP, the hackers are clearly raising the level of threat by going after the very nature of the brand itself – the credibility of the institution as a trustworthy news source.
As social media becomes a significant part of the organization’s brand, the risk of a crisis looms. Some warn that it is no longer a question of if it will happen, but when. In December, it was reported that a cyber-attack emanating from the Netherlands broke into at least 2 million accounts and stole passwords at social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google. More than 93,000 websites were compromised, along with 8,000 Fortune 500 Automatic Data Processing Accounts. Passwords were changed but the damage has not yet been assessed.
How do you prepare against a threat from an enemy that is faceless…that could reside anywhere in the world…whose motives are unknown and whose tactics change faster than the technology used to combat it?
The first defense is to upgrade your overall approach to social media security and your operating procedures. Make sure you have a robust security platform with a two-step authentication process for all social media outlets. The list of those who have access to your accounts should be limited to a few specific people. In the rush for immediacy, don’t circumvent the approval process. All images and statements should be pre-approved or at least adhere to guidelines before they go out.
Monitor what’s being said about you and be ready to react. Twitter has become a powerful tool not just for marketing and customer service, but also for financial communications.. Bloomberg LP has Twitter feeds that are closely monitored by traders. One false tweet can damage your stock market valuation as well as your reputation.
Schedule posts for a specific day of the week and time. If something appears at an unscheduled time, it is worth investigating the source.
Have a social media crisis communications plan in place and be ready to spring into action. Prepare statements, get immediate turnaround approvals, and use both social and traditional media. Be sure to include some of the newer, emerging social media sites as well as the ‘old’ favorites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Scan the external environment. Some social media crises result from our own doing rather than from a malevolent hacker. When the New Town school shooting occurred, Mutual of Omaha had posted a pre-planned tweet about life insurance and the NRA posted a holiday giveaway tweet about – yes guns. The instant a tragic event occurs, all posts deemed inappropriate or offensive should be pulled.
Finally, make social media an integral part of your risk management plan. With a carefully planned strategy, the risk can be mitigated and the potential reward for your brand can be magnified through new and emerging social media.
Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK and Chair of the Firm’s Digital Communications Practice. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.