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Rogue social media accounts a real threat to businesses

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Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about rogue Twitter accounts popping up for government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service and NASA.

Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about rogue Twitter accounts popping up for government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service and NASA.

Government agencies may have brought the existence of these rogue social media accounts to the forefront, but businesses are equally vulnerable to the threat they pose.

Rogue social media accounts are accounts that are created without the knowledge of management or proper protocol. These accounts can be created with or without malicious intent, but either way, they can quickly damage a business’ reputation, which is why smart business-owners and managers are creating a clear online policy for employees and carefully monitoring their social media accounts.

Regardless, rogue accounts inevitably occur. And if they do, it’s important for a business to react quickly by already having a crisis policy in place, by telling your audience what happened and by asking the social media platform to shut down the rogue account.

Public relations professional Tina Cantelmi Bradford defines a rogue social media account as one created without the knowledge (or sans any social media protocol) of a company, person, brand or government. Bradford is social media manager at GGA Global, Allentown, and principal at Tina Bradford Public Relations, Bethlehem.

Often, social media users – customers and potential customers – don’t even realize that what they’re reading is not coming from the business itself, and they may “follow,” “like” or comment on the rogue page.

Rogue accounts can be created with malicious intent by disgruntled employees, whistleblowers, people trying to damage an organization’s reputation or someone committing fraud through phishing or other social engineering efforts, according to Matthew Brannon, senior manager, public relations, SWBR in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Other rogue accounts are created benignly.

“Often, it’s someone in-house that meant well or a contractor, but the info was lost, or the staffer moved on,” Bradford said.

SOMETIMES CREATED BY FACEBOOK

Alyse Mitten, owner of Interlace Communications in Shoemakersville, has seen business owners create accounts but lose interest and misplace their password information.

Then, they’ll decide to become active on that platform again. Without password information, it can be difficult or impossible to access those accounts.

It’s even possible that Facebook may have created a page for your business. Mitten said that when Facebook started, it created pages based on information from online directory resources because it wanted to create a more positive experience for people searching for businesses on its network.

Mitten said these rogue accounts are easy to spot because they don’t look like a real page and usually have no profile image.

REPUTATION AT RISK

Because a brand takes considerable time and effort to grow, and rogue social media accounts can damage that reputation extremely quickly, rogue accounts are a potential major threat, Brannon said.

“Tarnishing an organization’s image can have far-reaching consequences, including customer relations, sales, recruitment and internal morale,” he said.

Even pages that are created by well-meaning employees may not be in line with the message – or image – your organization wants to send.

Plus, Bradford said, “Sometimes, countless hours can be spent backtracking who, why and when an account was created. Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram all have reporting methods. Results may be immediate or may take hours, weeks, even longer.”

HAVE CRISIS PLAN IN PLACE

If you discover a rogue account, Brannon said, it’s crucial to have a crisis communications plan that dictates clearly how situations are handled.

“Determining how you will handle an event before it occurs allows a business the ability to respond quickly and efficiently, following a preordained plan and not clouded by emotion,” he said.

According to Kasey Gray, office manager at Interlace Communications, if you have password information, it’s relatively simple to claim the rogue page or simply merge it with your official page, so you don’t lose followers.

If you don’t have the password information, and you want the page shut down, you can report the page, but it’s up to the social media platform to decide whether or not it wants to shut down the page, and it could take several attempts from you before it does.

TELL YOUR AUDIENCE

Brannon said there is potential to pursue legal action against rogue account owners, especially if they have used copyrighted imagery or messaging.

“This can be difficult to pursue, though, particularly if the offender has covered their tracks and maintained anonymity,” he said.

Depending on the situation, your only course of action may be to communicate with your audience and help it differentiate between your official page and the rogue page.

“This decision should be strategically considered, as doing so may provide more exposure for the rogue account,” Brannon said. “Messaging must also be chosen carefully.”

THREAT COULD GROW

Any company is susceptible to a rogue account.

“But odds for being targeted rise exponentially in correlation with size, visibility and notoriety, meaning that organizations embroiled in controversy run a higher risk,” Brannon said.

“Frankly, I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more of these attacks, and I anticipate that these rogue accounts will continue to grow more common.”

He said that in response, there will be clearer legislation defining penalties for such actions, although time will tell if they are enforceable, partly because of the ease of online identity-masking tactics.

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