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Jan 2011

Can small businesses trust their social media-using staff?

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

Today, Small Business UK reported that more than two in five business owners do not trust their employees with company secrets. Putting aside the gardening leave scenario, and the issue of less-than-watertight contracts when it came to copyrights, patents and design documents, there must be something else making them nervous.

The answer? Social media.

If you’re working at the White House and feel like changing your status or posting that photo of Obama eating a bagel, then think twice, because they were one of the first well-known work environments to ban the site. Social media, when you’re working with multiple accounts, is a serious risk. Tweet from the White House Twitter account, and your job becomes ash and the press have a field day at your career’s expense. But from the perspective of your boss, it’s even more difficult.

If you’re running a small business, chances are your work environment might be far more familial and informal than the majority of larger organisations. However, the problem this carries with it is that issues like internet usage rules within the workplace tend to be infinitely more lax, as do contracts. Establishing a business based on trust and word-of-mouth may work well in the beginning, but as your private company information begins to build up as time goes on and you expand, you’re going to have to face facts and grow up a little.

Contracts are extremely important, and the sooner social media is included in an NDA specifically, the better. Even now, there are people being legally hit for libel via Twitter, such as the Scottish Football Association’s move to enforce new rules preventing the ridicule of referees on player’s social networking accounts. Personally, I think it’s best just to chat with your staff about their use of social media, and think smart.

For example, I use multiple Twitter accounts, each attached to a different project. Now, you can use software that allows you to run multiple accounts, but if you want to be absolutely safe (and we all make mistakes, sometimes), why not use the program for one, and a browser for the other? It’s not infallible, but it does help, and it should calm your boss down. The old version of this issue was plugging in your personal and work email addresses into the same email client, then firing over last year’s numbers to your boss from and wondering why their eyes are now trying to pin you to the wall.

It all refers back to the Wikileaks issue, and how an organisation protecting sensitive data needs to watch who they trust. That a 23-year-old had access to this much data is nothing short of ridiculous. It doesn’t matter how talented someone is, or how fast they rise up the career ladder, their access to data should expand with seniority of age, not the shift upwards in the organisational food-chain. Had the American government not played fast and loose with Rebellious Boy Wonder over there, they wouldn’t be in this mess, though you’d be hard-pressed to find WikiLeaks or Assange in the news now.

I’m young yet, and I’ve an interesting career ahead of me, I’m sure. But in today’s climate, the stress that can stem from tweeting to the right account is enough to make you second-guess the worth of multiple accounts, even for business purposes. It’s a tough gig, being a social media rep and a blogger, because you’re ensuring that you’re always keeping everything up to date whilst constantly providing commentary of a timeless nature. Can you balance that against keeping your company’s secrets safe? Of course you can – just keep work talk at work, and play talk everywhere else, because all talk and no confidentiality puts Jack on the dole queue.

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Dec 2010

Has Wikileaks triggered a new age of digital security?

Posted in Blogging | 1 Comment »

BBC's crop of the Wikileaks Logo.I remember a time, not so long ago, when the collective UK public gasped in shock at the unsurprising news that journalists from major news outlets were hacking into phones to gain access to hot gossip. Most British papers didn’t even cover it, simply because they were guilty and to throw stones in this particular glass house would be a little crazy, even for the ever-reliable News of the World.

But Wikileaks reveals a ton of stolen information from the USA vaults, and we’re practically celebrating. Sure, I’m one of them – it’s nice to watch people like Hilary Clinton squirm as they’re forced to face up to the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t like the USA’s “world police” tactics as much as the US government seems to think they do. But at the same time, it’s also made me consider how secure our networks really are.

You’re a small business, and you’ve got a big supplier. All it takes is one grouchy email sent to the wrong address, and that supplier will vanish. It’s a struggle, but of course, if you’ve not got the funding to set up a firewall system reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress, then you’re going to have to start monitoring your communication.

Let’s take a closer look at the info we gained from Wikileaks. US ambassadors and other major figures were doing what a lot of people do in life – moaning about the difficult people at work. The key difference? They’re representatives of a global superpower, and those moaning, whining colleagues are in fact entire nations and/or world leaders.

Firewalls are obvious, and you’re not looking at major money just to encrypt servers and use an SSL internal email system. But when it comes to your staff, you have to ensure you’re hiring the right people.

Don’t give responsibility of your company Twitter account to the guy who keeps using his own to tweet inappropriately during working hours, because he might confuse accounts (and although it’s usually a lie, many companies point at these people when their social media campaigns go to pot). Don’t grab that intern who’s always making tea and give them a major email marketing campaign either, because you’d be surprised how many people forget which account to use when they’ve got six plugged into Outlook.

When writing about the Wikileaks, well, leaks, Evening Standard journalist Roy Greenslade asks a few valid questions about the nature of the journalist:

“It’s the major reason so many are wary of journalists. Can we be trusted? Are we ever off duty? Do we lack a sense of responsibility for our actions?”

Personally, I don’t think journalists ever stop being journalists. After working in that field, it’s pretty difficult not to see the “angle” on any particular event, and just like members of the Metropolitan Police don’t hang up their helmets at the door, we don’t put our notepads down. Ever.

And it’s for this reason that online security is going to have to change. We’re prepared for attacks from cyber-terrorists, foreign Google hackers, and the occasional virus or key-logger. But we’re not protected against the increasingly aggressive tactics journalists are using to get their stories. There was a time where not a newspaper in the world would’ve published the Wikileaks cables, but now it’s hard to stop them. We’re finally taking freedom of speech and pushing it into every mould we can.

But what does this mean for small businesses building their enterprise up in the age of the tweet, the email and the FourSquare check-in? More security and better staff. If you’re releasing expensive add-ons, for example – and it’s justified, don’t ever back away from charging for software expansions – ensure there’s no one snooping around your IMAP server.

Wikileaks will eventually turn its eye to the other half of the problem, because when Wikileaks ceases to have anything to criticise (it won’t, but let’s be positively hypothetical for a second, here) it’ll turn on the corporations and the businesses who it might have a problem with. Wikileaks has set a rather far-reaching precedent – if you’re doing something people disagree with, it’s no longer just illegal to dig into someone’s server and get it, then release it as news. It’s now both illegal… and heroic.

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Dec 2010

Will we ever see a Wikileaks-type site targeting the marketing sector?

Posted in News, Online PR | 0 Comments

I’ve been saying this for the last day or so, and I’ll take this opportunity to say it again: anyone who’s passionate about the exposure of clandestine government activities (read: myself) must feel like every day is Christmas Day these past two weeks or so. Wikileaks has been an impressive site for years, but this time it’s really hit the jackpot.

You ever wondered why those poor people died during a helicopter attack on foreign soil, two of them Reuters employees? Well, point your fingers at terrorists no longer, the culprit was revealed in a video that was one of seventy-six thousand files leaked to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning, a man I can only refer to as a hero from this point forwards. Why is he a hero? Because he, as many other people have since said, upheld the constitution which maintains he must protect his country. And he did, by exposing the rat-like scoundrels running the show.

It’s hard to compare this level of government exposure to anything else. Watergate was largely focused on Nixon – a two-faced failure of a President, but a single individual nonetheless. This time around, there are a lot of people implicated. The responses, however, have ranged from bizarre to nothing short of hilariously dim-witted. Some government representatives have claimed this will put people’s lives at risk, which is nothing short of ridiculous. But my favourite comes in the form of America’s favourite Crazy Politician, Sarah Palin.

Her Twitter account called Wikileaks founder Julian Assange guilty of treason. As another site recently pointed out, quite rightly, treason was not quite the word. Treason, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government”.

Julian Assange is Australian, and his servers are based in Sweden. I’ll let that one sink in for a minute.

Arguably, the second definition proposes that treason “the action of betraying someone or something”. But who was he really betraying? No one, really, just exposing a government that for too long has hidden behind vague statistics and a “for the greater good” mentality that’s more dangerous than helpful. Of course, all governments are guilty of this, but as America is the country targeted by Assange, and their identity as the “world’s unasked-for police force” is everlasting, seemingly, it’s nice to see them panic.

But what if this hit the marketing sector?

Imagine the exposure of companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, on the same scale. Of course, I’m fairly confident Steve Jobs isn’t the head of a company responsible for a six-figure death toll, but to leak this much confidential information, communication (“cables”, to use the recent governmental jargon for “messages” we’ve had to absorb to follow the Wikileaks stuff in the news) especially, is astonishing. This would wreck most major corporations, and it will be interesting to see how the diplomats representing the USA around the world will recover.

But if we exposed a corporation, would the reaction be different? We knew Coca-Cola released the Dasani water brand (tap water, just less safe – at one time anyway – and no longer as cheap as your water bill), but we all still consume their products – I drank a can of Sprite less than four hours ago. Our reliance on major corporations is becoming more crucial to our continued happiness than our reliance on the government that dictates a lot of our daily freedoms. We assume the government is a corrupt, bloated, power-hungry monster, and we go about our day, most of us, without giving it too much thought. But corrupt companies we do care about.

Now I think about it, I suppose it’s a tad hypocritical of most people to start caring about the corruption and dark side to the United States government, as most people didn’t care as much before Wikileaks hit the big one. The sad fact of the matter is, it took this much information all at once to get most people’s attention, and I’d wager the same would be the case when it came to the marketing sector. Recently, I wrote about the Beatles finally sticking their music on iTunes (I say Beatles, I mean Yoko, McCartney, Mrs. Harrison and Starr), and I noticed that even the BBC was gearing their programming towards the Fab Four.

Does this disturb us? Not one bit, and we’re happy to ignore that little advert for the Beatles on a supposedly sponsorship-free channel. Why? Because it’s easier. Don’t get me wrong, marketing is an essential part of all our businesses, but problems come in the execution. Be brazen, be open, be cocky, but never attempt to distract people from prying too deep into your inner workings. Why? Because soon a Bradley Manning will start as an intern at your company, and within months you’ll be spread across the global news network like a bad stain.

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