Scams & shams: The trouble with social networks

By Robert L. Mitchell, Computerworld |  Security, Facebook, MySpace

Social networking sites can be a launch pad for reputation attacks from competitors, customers or disgruntled employees. Jeff Hayzlett, chief marketing officer at Eastman Kodak Co., says he has seen competitors try to hijack conversations -- sometimes anonymously -- with customers on the company's Twitter and blog sites.

In one Twitter exchange between Kodak and a prospective customer, a competitor jumped in and "inundated" the inquirer with negative comments about Kodak's product while promoting his own company's offering. It was, Hayzlett says, "a rude way to participate." He has a name for Twitter users who employ such tactics: He calls them "twankers."

Any time you sell a product or service, you're going to have issues like this, Hayzlett says, so Kodak hired a "chief listener." That person monitors all conversations and routes problems to the appropriate group, be it legal, IT or marketing, so that the company can follow up. When a customer is publishing negative comments, he says, his preference is to have a private conversation rather than use a public forum.

Other threats can be self-inflicted. Hayzlett himself admits to prematurely posting a tweet about the impending retirement of a product. "I accidentally hit Send instead of Save and tweeted out what we had worked six months to protect," he says. In the time it took to delete the tweet, four people had retweeted it. "I had to reach out to them and beg them to [remove it]." Even then, the tweet may have shown up in Twitter searches.

Gartner Inc. analyst John Pescatore says a client that runs a campground chain had an employee who thought he'd be helpful by posting a spreadsheet on Facebook that showed which sites were available and which were booked -- but it included the credit card numbers campers had given to reserve their sites. Data-leak prevention tools won't find such data when it's posted outside a corporate firewall. With social networks, "periodically looking at content has to be part of the cost equation," Pescatore says.

Some threats come from inside. In an April survey of more than 2,000 U.S. employees and executives by Deloitte LLP, nearly three quarters of the employees said that it was easy to damage a company's reputation using social media -- and 15% said they would post comments online if their company did something they didn't agree with.

That could be a big problem for WWE, since employees who know the storylines of its scripted events could spill the beans. "If those outcomes were revealed, it would destroy the experience for the fans," Dienes-Middlen says, so all WWE employees are required to sign confidentiality agreements.

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