Social Media - a New Kind of Security Problem in Business
The Newest Threat to any Business: Social Media
Social media is one of the most significant changes that has come about in communication today. However, it can also have serious implications for business and for the privacy and protection of businesses and employees. Overall, social media is not something that can be ignored by businesses today, because it can offer worries and issues that were not thought of before it became so popular. Addressed here is the overall idea of social media, how it is used (and misused) by businesses, and what kinds of problems are appearing now that social media has become much more common for employees. Many of them use social media during their working hours, whether they are supposed to or they have just chosen to in order to pass the time. The conclusions drawn here indicate that social media may be a threat to businesses from a privacy and security standpoint, and more must be done to education businesses, business owners, and their employees on the dangers of social media in the workplace.
The Newest Threat to any Business: Social Media
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has become a way of communicating across great distances and has allowed people from all walks of life to get online and have their voices heard. Sometimes they talk to friends and family, and sometimes they join groups, get involved with others, and actively seek out new people. Because that is the case, they can reach large numbers of people who read what they have to say - and that can spell trouble for their employers. Companies want to keep their private information private, they do not want their reputations trashed, and they want to make sure that their employees are not criminals or engaging in inappropriate activities. When social media is misused, though, there can be serious problems for any business - and avoiding those problems or correcting them is often a struggle that is difficult for the company to win.
Once something has been placed on social media there is a record of it. Removing it later may not completely take it away. If someone has taken a screenshot or otherwise copied the post, there is proof of what took place. That proof could get employees or even an entire company into trouble. So, the question becomes whether a company can control what social media users are saying about it, and what it can do to combat some of the problems that can appear when it gets a bad reputation through the use of social media. Employees may be able to be banned from saying anything derogatory or inflammatory about the company, but what about past and current customers? The company cannot control what these people are saying about it, so the company must look at ways in which the damage can be mitigated when people do say negative things about the company through social media. This is a completely different avenue and different concern from what was seen in the past.
Social media is a great way for businesses to reach out to their employees (Kietzmann, et al., 2011; Li & Bernoff, 2008; Johnson, 2005). It allows them to have enjoyable (and generally free) interaction with people who buy their goods and services - or people who might do so in the future. It also gives the businesses an online "presence" that they can use to attract more people and showcase what they have to offer to customers. But, what happens when social media "goes bad," or is used against a particular business? How much does that impact the business? Unfortunately, data on that issue is basically non-existent. The majority of literature available today on social media deals with how young people can use it, how it helps students, and how businesses can use their online personas to attract customers. Of course, getting customers is one of the most important and significant things that a business can do. It is vital to being successful.
Today, a large number of the populations of developed countries use the internet to do research into a company or business before making a purchase (Powell, Groves, & Dimos, 2011). If there are many negative things posted about that company, the customer may choose another company instead. That customer may also reach out to his or her social media contacts, asking whether any of them know anything about the company or have any experience doing business with it. Depending on the responses that come through social media, the customer may feel reassured or he or she may feel as though there are much better companies out there with which to do business. Not everyone makes their decisions this way, of course, but a surprisingly large number of people are involved with social media today - and they make many of their decisions based on the information provided to them on those sites (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).
There are also employees of companies who are unhappy, and they will go on their social media pages and post rants and negative comments about those companies. They may threaten the company or just complain, but they are definitely setting a poor example for anyone who is curious about the company. Employees must remember that they are still representatives of the company for which they work, even when they are off the clock. By posting ugly tirades and complaining about their bosses (or the customers), they make themselves and the company look bad. Some workers have been fired because of that, but then have complained that the company is violating their right to free speech. There is clearly a gray area in business when it comes to social media, and it is an area that can and should be more thoroughly explored in an effort to reduce problems between employees and the companies for which they work where social media is concerned (Benkler, 2006; Gentle, 2009; Scoble & Israel, 2006; Shirky, 2008).
Another issue that is not thoroughly addressed in the current social media literature is whether social media poses a security risk for companies. If employees have privileged information and decide to leave a company in a big way, is there a possibility that they will take that information and make it available through their social media outlets? They could see legal action for doing that in many cases, but that would not change the fact that the information was made available and that other people now had information that was supposed to be private. That "outing" of information was not something that could be "undone," and it could cost the company customers, money, reputation, and many other problems. Overall, however, a company really cannot ban an employee for using social media on his or her own time (Golder & Huberman, 2006; Surowiecki, 2004; Tapscott & Williams, 2006). But can that company control what the employee says to his or her contacts when it comes to the company itself? That is another area for which there really is no precedent - and one that should be addressed. Ignoring the problem will not make the problem go away - and it could even cause more issues for companies that assume what is being said about them over social media will not matter.
The specific research problem to be addressed is whether social media is a danger to businesses, and what can be done about it. Also important to consider are the different ways in which social media may become problematic, so that companies can consider the policies that they have on social media. If there are no policies in place, should companies institute policies that reflect what is and is not acceptable on social media when it comes to the posts that their employees make? That may depend on the company, but there are many specific issues to consider when attempting to answer that question. These issues must be explored, so that recommendations can be made. Without a clear understanding of the actual issue, it can be very difficult for anyone to say where the problems lie and how those problems should be corrected. Many businesses at this point do not even realize that there is a potential problem, but they will soon discover it if one of their employees leaks sensitive information or begins berating the company through social media.
Research problems such as this one are complex, because there is very little literature that pertains to the problem. That means it will have to be studied without the benefit of past information by which to plan a new study. That opens the door for many different types of studies and provides options, but it does not give the researcher a clear idea of what he or she should be doing when it comes to a specific direction to take. There are no past studies on which to draw or…