Monday, 14 November 2011 21:03

The changing role of salespeople

A salesperson’s job is to make contact with those that are potentially in need of the products or services the salesperson has to sell. They need to utilize as many tools as possible to find a way to make contact with the “right” person.  Historically at Blue Technologies, our sales force would hit the streets, knocking on doors and talking with businesses within their territory to find out what they are currently using for their office equipment needs. Typically, they could find out enough information during that cold call and use that information to get a chance to show their products.

The rapid advancements in technology have given consumers and businesses the ability to connect faster than ever before. The fast growth comes with a downside, however — the options are now endless. Users must sift through mountains of white papers and case studies to determine what the best option is. A number of users seek out references and opinions on the best products and services on the Internet. But, users and sales forces now have a tool that can help them connect in ways they never could have before — social media.

An example of how social media has changed a salesperson’s role is our Managed Print Services (MPS) division. This group has recently gone through a transformation as to how they do their prospecting. MPS allows us to monitor and manage a businesses’ printer fleet. This has become an asset to companies, as it relieves the amount of time that their IT staff spends just maintaining their output devices. We have seen a change in how we need to approach and sell this service. The process begins with a list of companies that have a high number of employees, or more specifically sixty printers or more in their network. The MPS professional’s job is to make contact with the right person at these companies. They now utilize tools such as LinkedIn, Jigsaw and Twitter to find out as much information as possible prior to even making a phone call. The amount of research that can be done prior to the first meeting has allowed our sales professionals to already know something about the person, both personally and professionally. When a salesperson can make a connection with a prospect because they share an alma mater, colleague or friend, that is priceless. In an industry that is flooded with competitors, differentiating  yourself is one of the most important keys to setting you apart from the competition. The bottom line is that people buy from people. In today’s world, buyers would much rather buy from someone that they can trust, and if, for instance, their brother’s best friend knows the sales rep, then that trust bond can be built faster than ever before.

Social media channels allow the salesperson to become a consultant to their users. Our sales force now utilizes LinkedIn as much as possible. They are connecting with their customers and posting events. They are sharing their knowledge with their connections and providing a resource to buyers seeking out their products.

Knocking on doors to find out information still happens today and will not go away,  however, now when we knock on the door we can already have the ability to know who we need to ask for and possibly what problems their organization is currently experiencing. Knowledge is power — the more you know the better it is for both buyers and sellers.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Social media and marketing

Embracing social media

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 14 November 2011 20:48

Embracing social media

You are now officially out of excuses. Social media is here to stay, and if you're not on board, your business may be left behind. Even presidents and CEOs who previously had no idea of the major impact social media could offer are realizing the importance of timely and direct customer interaction.

Blue Technologies started incorporating social media in their business practices over a year ago. At first it was to have an online presence in each social media channel. However, they needed to get more out of it.

Blue Technologies brought in a recent college graduate to serve as a marketing intern. It was natural that they assigned her to take over the social media outlets, because she had already been using them in her personal life, and it was an easy cross-over to business social media. From there she was able to teach the staff how beneficial these programs could be to the company and how to utilize them in their sales efforts.

The social media world was meant to be fun, hip and young, but with its ever-growing popularity, all generations of employees must get on board. The ability to connect to current and new audiences and attracting them to your brands is priceless. Incorporating Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in your advertising materials and websites is a simple and cost-effective way to send your message to places you never could have before.

It's true that young people invented social media and are generally the ones that eat, drink and breathe it. And yes, they might be the only ones who truly get it and are able to use it to its full potential, but that's only because they have made social media a part of their everyday lives. All it takes is a little time and effort and you too can become proficient in social media.

It’s not a secret that younger generations want to showcase their social media skills — it makes them feel important; like they have something to offer since they don't have much — if any — real life work experience. Companies would be well-served to take advantage of this enthusiasm to enhance and grow business. Bringing in a younger person to spearhead your social media efforts is win-win. You get all the benefits of a social media presence, and for the employee, social media is not a job, it's fun.

Also, utilizing social media as a means for research has cut down the amount of time one has to spend looking for information to provide to current/future customers, as well as potential job candidates. Connecting the social media generation to the baby boomers allows for an easy transition of being able to share knowledge from one generation to the next.

Social media isn’t our future, it’s already here. Embracing social media is a way that all generations can come together and learn how to better understand and better improve business practices.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Social media and marketing

The changing role of salespeople

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:15

Social media and recruiting

Cleveland, Ohio-based Blue Technologies is the title sponsor for the 2011 Midwest Social Media Summit. As a part of that sponsorship, Smart Business sat down with Blue Technologies to see how they have implemented social media into their business.

In the video below, Betsy Meyerson, Sales Trainer & Recruiter for Blue Technologies, discusses how a company can utilize social media in its recruiting efforts.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and marketing

Embracing social media

The changing role of salespeople

Betsy Meyerson is the Sales Trainer & Recruiter for Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or bmeyerson@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:07

Social media and marketing

Cleveland, Ohio-based Blue Technologies is the title sponsor for the 2011 Midwest Social Media Summit. As a part of that sponsorship, Smart Business sat down with Blue Technologies to see how they have implemented social media into their business.

In the video below, Kelly Waite, the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies, discusses how a company can utilize social media in its marketing efforts.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Embracing social media

The changing role of salespeople

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 31 October 2011 20:01

Adrienne Lenhoff on becoming socially savvy

Often I’m asked, “What is social media?”

For businesses, social media are where technology and social interaction merge. It leverages Web-based and mobile communication tools to allow for the creation of conversations and the content between consumers and brands. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp and blogs are some of the tools businesses and consumers use to create and broadcast content and engage in social interaction.

These social media channels allow individuals and brands to shift fluidly between audience and author roles. Content generation and conversations within these channels utilize what is termed “social software,” to enable anyone without knowledge of coding to post, comment on, share or mash up content, and form communities around shared interests.

Think of an old-time malt shop at the mall. Conversations at these places typically took place on a one-to-one basis or within small groups. If a company wanted to “shake hands and kiss babies,” social engagement typically occurred one consumer at a time.  The hope was that they’d leave the conversation empowered, with brand recognition, and wanting to evangelize the actions the company was looking to generate.

Whether the dialogue took place between brand and customer, within social cliques or simply on a one-to-one basis, someone would eventually break away and begin pollinating other conversations with the information they just gleaned.

Fast forward to what I’ve coined “the pollination effect.”  Remember the shampoo commercial: “I told two friends, they told two friends, they told two friends,” and so on and so on?  Harnessed properly, the pollination effect will create lightning in a bottle. 

Don’t think that social media is going to be your business’ silver bullet. It takes time, dedication and strategy to create powerful customer relationships. Half the battle will be breaking through the noise bombarding your target audience for its attention. Today’s consumer has constant partial attention.

Imagine your target market. On the Web, they probably have multiple pages open, perhaps their iPod, TV or radio playing in the background, friends instant messaging and texting them, phone distractions, someone talking at them in person, browsing mail, and engaging on multiple social media channels — and you’re trying to attract their attention yourself.

Like a restaurant, social media has an endless menu of options. To reach your target market, the specials of the day change with hundreds of new social media channels developed daily.

The trick is figuring out which menu items will get your target markets telling their friends and returning for more.

Social media is public relations on steroids. Social media allow you to take your message directly to the masses and receive instant feedback. The tools to broadcast your message are endless.

Look at channels such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Sign up for accounts on most platforms and they’ll offer communication tools such as the ability to send e-mails to and from their platform, messaging, blogs, polls and content aggregation from other platforms such as Twitter.

To be successful, manage your time, have a solid game plan about what you’re going to say, whom you’re trying to reach and effective ways to reach them. Some platforms work well for one type of business and completely bomb for another. Blogs and LinkedIn typically work better for B2B businesses and platforms such as Facebook have higher B2C success rates.

To help determine the best platform for your business, research where the conversations relevant to your industry and target markets are taking place.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at getpr@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit
Friday, 14 October 2011 16:06

Tips to integrate e-mail and text marketing

Business leaders today are looking for opportunities to engage with customers and prospects in new ways that build stronger relationships, reward loyalty, and most importantly, drive sales.

There is no shortage of strategies or tools to enable stronger relationships — between the old standards of television, print advertising, out-of-home, direct mail, etc., that have been in the marketing plan for years and new technologies like e-mail, SMS/text messaging, mobile applications, social networks and location-based services that may be in the early stages of proving value. Marketing leaders have a lot to consider.

At Signal, we’ve developed a global solution for small, medium and enterprise businesses that simplifies digital communications via e-mail, SMS and social media. With a wide range of clients — from Sears and Redbox to family-owned businesses — we’ve learned a lot about what works and what does not.

Here’s a primer on how you can impact your bottom line with an integrated strategy leveraging SMS and e-mail to develop a direct line of communication to your customers and prospects.

1. Build a customer insights database, not a list of e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers.

So you have e-mail address and mobile phone numbers in your opt-in subscriber list — now what? Do you know if the e-mail and mobile number belong to the same person? What about the time of people are most likely to respond to your campaign, or whether they engage more with SMS or e-mail communications?

It is certainly valuable to build your subscriber lists for the purpose of sending messages, but consider the obvious benefits of transforming that list to a single “data warehouse” of customer insights and behaviors. Signal’s platform makes it easy to collect a wide variety of data then store it in a single customer profile, which can be used for segmentation and targeting in the future.

The more you know about your subscribers’ interaction with your communications across e-mail, SMS and even social media, the more efficient your marketing efforts become, allowing you to maximize spend.

2. Set expectations and deliver value.

Your customers and prospects already get enough self-promoting e-mail, so it’s important to offer content that adds value to your customers’ lives while also supporting your company objectives.

Have you ever signed up for a company newsletter because of a call to action like: “Sign up to subscribe to our newsletter for exciting company updates”? Though it may seem like a reasonable pitch — “exciting company updates!” — this prompt is generic and does not showcase the value that subscribers should expect from opting in to your database.

Instead, focus on the things that you know customers want: special offers, discounts, exclusive content, etc. Also, make sure that you are clear about how frequently they can expect to hear from you and what type of content you’ll be sharing. Make that content exclusive to that channel, whether it’s e-mail or SMS, and customers will want to subscribe.

By setting the right expectations that give subscribers a good reason to opt-in and stay subscribed, you’ll experience stronger growth and engagement, which in turn extends reach and ROI.

3. Affect buying decisions with timed offers and calls-to-action.

Understanding usage is an important step in delivering value to your customers and influencing their decisions through e-mail and SMS.

E-mail allows you to communicate with richer content as compared to SMS. However, open rates and click-through rates can change significantly depending on when your e-mail hits the inbox. If your content is valuable to your readers when they start their day at the office, a weekday morning may make the most sense. If you’re sending a promotion for a happy hour, then just before lunch is ideal so that customers can start to rally their friends during lunch.

SMS, on the other hand, is a much more immediate communication that can affect a buying decision in real time. About 83 percent of text messages are read within one hour, and open rates for SMS are typically 3 to 4 times higher than for e-mail. For example, a recent study found that 68 percent of lunch decisions are made in less than an hour or on an impulse. Timing is incredibly important if you want your message to impact a customer’s buying decision.

4. Prime the pump with e-mail; close the loop with SMS.

It’s no secret that better outcomes are the result of a fully considered marketing plan. However, too few businesses truly leverage their various channels to maximize the return. Understanding e-mail and SMS usage will help you execute a truly cross-channel strategy for maximum efficacy.

One useful strategy for syncing your SMS and e-mail actions is to use e-mail to build awareness or initial interest in your offer or content, then rely on SMS to prompt action at the moment of truth. For example, you can use your weekly or monthly newsletter or promotional e-mail to set expectations about an important upcoming event, then close the deal with a text message that reminds buyers about that promotion.

Marketing today is more integrated that it has ever been in the past. However, silos still exist — to the detriment of your business’ ability to leverage digital communications channels to their highest potential. Your path to successful cross-channel communications and increased ROI is to better understand customer behavior and preferences and translate those insights into campaigns that map most closely to what your customers want, when they want it.

John Sharry is an Account Executive at Signal, a Chicago-based company that offers a dead simple product that unifies e-mail, mobile and social marketing in a single platform. Recently named No. 108 on the 2011 Inc. 500 report, Signal offers more great insight on Twitter, Facebook and their blog.

Published in Chicago

For many employers, having to deal with employee use of social media is a relatively new phenomenon, and it can be difficult to know where to draw the line. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social sites are invaluable resources when it comes to marketing and interacting with customers, but these and other social networking sites can lead to uncomfortable situations if utilized inappropriately by employees, such as when used as a platform for sharing trade secrets or conveying negative thoughts about the company.

How can you protect your company without getting into legal hot water?

Smart Business spoke with Curtis Smolar, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC, to find out how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of social media policy.

Why should business owners be concerned with social media use in the workplace?

For the first time, not only do companies have direct access to customers, but individual employees are also put in direct contact with their customers. The widespread use of smart phones, all of which are equipped with social networking capabilities, is literally placing the outside world in the palms of the employees’ hands. In that regard, there are a number of different issues: marketing, privacy and company trade secrets.

How can a business owner protect the company?

Companies dealing directly with external customers should have policies regarding social media regulation. Companies in the banking, pharmaceutical and legal industries are highly regulated and should have policies detailing acceptable social media usage for employees, as well as regulations stating what can be said directly to the public. Policies should be industry-specific, yet broad enough to cover any current or future device or form of communication.

Internally, any e-mail policies should specifically discuss the use of cloud-based e-mail providers like Google and Hotmail, making mention of social media communications and informing employees that such communication may be monitored by the company. In regard to workplace device use, companies are going to have to look at what is private and what is corporate. This can be achieved by making certain websites password-protected and differentiating between sites that are hosted by secured servers and those that aren’t, with protected sites signifying employee use that is personal and separate from the business.

What legal issues should employers be aware of when putting guidelines in place?

If you’re planning to monitor your employees, do so with caution. Although workplace surveillance is legally acceptable to some extent, the more invasive the surveillance becomes, the more likely it is to be considered in discordance with privacy laws. Companies should have policy explicitly describing employees’ diminished expectations of privacy. Policies should state that any personal communication on social networking sites conducted at work is not private, that computers and any other devices are to be used solely for company business, that communications are monitored to ensure compliance, and that these policies apply not only to internal communications, but also to external cloud-based communications.

As a caveat, though, be warned that social media policies cannot uniformly discourage employees’ rights to concerted activity. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) actively enforces employees’ rights to discuss working conditions. People today use social media to organize, which can be associated with the right to unionize and the right to congregate, neither of which may be legally denied.

Restriction of offensive or rude conduct or discourteous behavior, disparaging remarks about the company or inappropriate discussions of the company’s management is also prohibited. However, this is true outside the workplace. If you do want your employees to be using social media networking to communicate with customers and advertise your products, qualify the distinction by stating that you can’t partake in personal social networking activity at the office during work hours.

What can a business owner do if an employee is abusing company guidelines?

Companies should have internal policies dictating the corporate response under these circumstances. Policies must be enforced uniformly. Otherwise, companies run the risk of claims of disparate treatment, inviting potential lawsuits. Abuse of company policy should be documented in detail, highlighting the incident and the official response. Make sure that you are following your company’s guidelines to avoid the perception that you are firing employees arbitrarily.

Curtis E. Smolar is a partner with Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC. Reach him at (415) 972-6308 or CSmolar@rmkb.com.

Published in Northern California

There’s no finish line in technology, and Brian Deagan loves it.

“Nothing’s ever done; something new is always being created and that just intrinsically creates opportunities to build companies,” says Deagan, co-founder and CEO of digital marketing services and software developer Knotice Ltd.

But along with that comes some growing pains. The company over the past five years has exceeded 500 percent growth in employees and annual revenue; however, the need to hire at a quick pace is not the only concern Deagan has.

“Keeping up with some of the basic changes and things that are going on in the market can be disruptive organizationally, but at the same time, you need to be able to stay ahead of everything, stay on top of it and stay at the pace you are at,” he says.

One of the keys is not just a business plan, but one that is derived from an operational model that is used and leveraged on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis.

“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.

The model should drive the plan, but it tends to be more operationally oriented than, for example, a 40-page business plan, which is used more as a communication tool.

“Don’t confuse something that is a communication tool versus an operational tool,” he says. “Have them related and driven by the operational plan but don’t try to have one be both.”

The business plan is important to be able to communicate the plan of the business to external and internal constituencies. The operational plan’s role is to be effective in defining growth targets, meeting those targets, and then modeling out what is needed to support that growth.

The operational model in synch with the business plan gives a one-two punch to fight threats to derail growth.

“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.

The term “on track” for Knotice means a five-year goal of going from $10 million in revenue to $100 million.

“The primary way to do that is just sort of keep your eye on the ball and build the company brick by brick,” Deagan says. “So often, when you are growing and you are building something, if you are not really focused on the here and now, you have to have an idea where you’re going.”

If you spend too much time worrying about the future and not just building the business the way it needs to be done today, you’re not going to go anywhere.

“There is a point when you are supposed to climb up to the top of the trees, get a good lay of the forest and understand where you need to create that path through the forest,” he says. “But at some point, you just need to get back down on the ground and start chopping down trees.”

Hire a complementary management team in terms of personal and skill sets, and it will serve you well over the years.

“It’s much different when you’re in a room with six people banging something out to take the company to the next level versus when you are closing in on 100 people and you need to take the company to that level,” Deagan says. “I think it’s important that as the company evolves, you are tapping the characteristics and qualities that are most important to company growth. I’m a firm believer that everybody can do that to some extent. You just need to be conscious and aware of it.”

Weighing feedback

Consumer trends rise and fall daily, and a company needs to be aware of huge shifts that may influence its long-term direction.

By evaluating customer feedback, it can help you sort out consumer behavior to see if it is a trend or just a fad.

“There may be a consumer behavior or a new technology that you need to address in the short term, and you work with your customers to understand how to help versus just reacting to a trend in a manner that might not be prudent or well-thought-out,” says Brian Deagan, CEO of Knotice.

Categorizing customers may involve some judgment decisions, but it is necessary.

“It’s critical to get feedback and engage customers that are both early adopters, as well as customers who aren’t, to make sure the things you are going to do have a broader appeal and don’t just focus on a specific niche,” he says.

Getting perspective from both is a key step.

“You may not necessarily want to do something for an early adopter ? and it could be indicative of the future, but it could also be indicative potentially of a niche segment,” he says. “Get feedback from different segments of early adopters and the majority users and balance accordingly.”

How to reach: Knotice Ltd., (800) 801-4194 or www.knotice.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Studies show that people are more likely to eat right or exercise if their friends, family and co-workers do so, too.

As an employer, that is something you can take advantage of to encourage healthy behavior in your employees. Many of them are already using social networking of some kind, so why not leverage that into your employee wellness program? Think of it as positive peer pressure.

“If employees are given access to a social platform as part of a wellness program, they feel more empowered to participate,” says Jamie Curts, vice president of business development with Spectrum Health Systems. “It adds a level of interaction with their peers.”

For example, employees could invite other employees on the network to a wellness event — such as a 5-K road race or a yoga class — then post photos or videos from the event, encouraging more employees to join them next time.

Smart Business spoke with Curts about how to change your employees’ status updates from “Just ordered a pizza” to “Just got back from the gym.”

How can social media tools impact participation in employee wellness programs?

There is more evidence than ever that shows peer support is a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care and sustained behavior change. Combine this knowledge with the fact that Facebook alone has more than 500 million users, and it just makes sense to incorporate social media tools into employee wellness programs.

According to research by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor at Harvard University’s medical school, people are more likely to eat right or exercise if family, friends and co-workers are doing so, as well.

How is this trend changing the way that employee wellness programs work?

While there is an increasing trend, only a small percentage of companies have actually put these tools in place. According to a 2010 survey by Towers Watson, only 9 percent of 588 companies surveyed use social media in their wellness initiatives. However, 42 percent of those in the survey plan to incorporate some element of social networking into their wellness initiatives by 2012.

We are beginning to see the engagement and the perception of employer-sponsored wellness programs shift among employees. With access to a social platform, employees feel more empowered to participate and share ideas among their peers, instead of just feeling as though they are participating in a company-sponsored ‘program.’ There will be more organically grown programs among smaller groups of employees with similar interests, needs and goals.

Which social media tools are particularly well suited to work with wellness programs?

There are many options available for employers; the key is finding the right platform for your organization. Many employers use Facebook and Twitter because they are already familiar with the functionality and capabilities. These are also inexpensive options for employers with a small budget.

If the employer already provides an intranet site, social media tools can be easily added to the benefits portion. Employees can be recruited to write blogs, Twitter feeds can be integrated, pictures and videos of wellness events can be posted and employees can post invitations to health and wellness groups and events.

Most wellness providers can also provide a customized platform for your organization. This platform can be branded to your organization, which will give it a special look and feel that supports your initiatives. This option appeals to many employers and employees because it is managed by a third party.

What are some examples of ways social media tools can be used with employee wellness programs?

One of the most popular worksite wellness activities is the companywide weight loss challenge. Participants are often encouraged and educated through company e-mails, posters and ‘lunch and learn’ presentations.

But very few organizations provide a tool for participants in these challenges to communicate their successes and struggles among each other. Not only will using social media as a tool to supplement the challenge help with the outcomes of the six-week-long weight loss program, the momentum can continue throughout the entire year.

How can social media tools be used to improve employees’ engagement with their wellness programs?

Social networking tools allow employees to directly invite and challenge each other to participate in wellness events, which are an effective way to increase participation. Senior leadership support is one of the most critical components of a worksite wellness program. However, employees are much more likely to participate if they see that their peers are involved.

What potential pitfalls should companies be aware of when adding a social media component to their wellness programs?

It is easy to add a company wellness group to Facebook and Twitter, but employers need to be aware of the limitations in regulating a public forum. There is less control as to who joins the group and the comments that are posted on the site. Employers can have more control by adding tools to an existing intranet site or by working with a third-party wellness provider.

Employers also need to know that social media tools are not the only solution to their wellness needs. This is just one tool that should be a piece of a larger strategy.

Jamie Curts is vice president of business development with Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at jamie.curts@spectrumhs.com or (317) 573-7600.

Published in Indianapolis

As social media moves to the forefront of the information security industry, many bloggers and information systems analysts have been working around the clock to promote what should be understood about the problems social media may pose.

Smart Business spoke to Chris Crane, a project manager with Hurricane Labs, about the threats involved in using social media.

What are the inherent risks in using social media?

Social media in itself encompasses all major forms of communication and ways to provide information, and in an incredibly easy way. It is available for use by anyone, with extreme portability, and welcomed by all. This may not appear to be a problem to the random users who finds its ability to make and keep connections as a very handy tool, but what is missed underneath the surface are the doorways to intrusion that it carries along with it.

Attacks such as the Zeus Trojan or the evolving Koobface can be easily be manipulated and provided to others via social networking sites. Information provided ‘at will’ can be gathered and used for social engineering purposes. I do not promote myself to be someone who can socially engineer information, but even I have learned about aspects of people’s lives and their jobs (remote user accounts that just happen to form ironical humor) that should have never reached the pages of regularly used social networking sites.

How can users protect themselves?

Social media exploitation will continue to pose threats to the IT community, but when an evolutionary threat presents itself, knowing a good stance or having the right mindset from an individual user’s perspective is a good starting point. This should be a good base to implement a solid policy that can be watched and reacted to. From there, gather what information is needed to re-evaluate the policies that you want to enforce.

Here are some ideals that every user should be acquainted with to better secure themselves:

Self censorship. Know what it is that is being posted when it is posted. To be aware of any potential threats this information may cause to the user or to the user’s place of employment. This is in no way a means to destroy individuality. The user must be aware of the ease of access to anything that is posted via the Web. The information being spread, no matter the depth, can be used by anyone willing to spend the time gathering a personal database against the user or the company the user works for. For example, think of the security questions answered while setting up a personal e-mail account. Answering with the name of a favorite pet and then flooding a Facebook page with pictures and posts of ‘Socrates’ does not leave too much of a challenge to those interested. Especially if the personal e-mail address you answered that question for is listed as a means of contact on a blog/Facebook/etc.

This may be thought of as a long shot towards affecting a company, but how many times does one recycle personal passwords? How often is personal e-mail used in the workplace as a work-around when accomplishing a task involving sensitive material?

Trust. Create a personal social networking cloud and understanding the threats they may offer. These are the people that will be reading all of the data that is provided by the user. Outside of the information that will be shared out, these are the people that will be providing the information coming in. Not everyone has malicious intent, but everyone is vulnerable to malicious attacks. Common attacks to social media are intended to spread easily and quickly, so that by the time it is noticed as a threat, a significant amount of damage has been done. This means understanding what is being offered as a link, what the intent of a message is, and what may be offered as something beneficial, but in turn is potentially harmful. Just because it comes from a picture of your mother doesn’t mean that it is necessarily her behind the wheel.

Become a super-user. Know what the application or site can offer. Know what can be done with the application or site to tailor it to provide what is intended. What social media offers is not something to be afraid of. Like all things, there needs to be a level of control, and these sites and applications provide the tools and configurations necessary to maintain a level of privacy. It is always a best practice to fully understand the capabilities of any application, website, or communications tool.

Training and understanding of the social media landscape should not be overlooked. It is something that will have to be dealt with as this landscape moves and reshapes itself. To quote a former instructor of mine, ‘They asked me what would be the No. 1 thing I would do to help secure their network. I told them: remove the users.’ As comical as that sounds, it holds truth. Hopefully educating everyone on social media security will allow for some ‘give’ to that statement.

Chris Crane is a project manager with Hurricane Labs. Reach him at (216) 923-1330, ext. 3.

Published in Cleveland