MORE companies are recognising the benefits of being on social media and are leveraging on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Their strong presence in social media allows them to better engage with their customers, employees, partners, distributors and the general public.

However, the Achilles’ heel of social media is the lack of accountability, and this has led to various challenges — one of them being fake social media accounts.

This involves individuals setting up false social media profiles, impersonating someone else or an organisation. Sometimes, this type of social media “hijacking” is done by mischief makers who make it clear to the public that the accounts were set up as a joke. The fallout, if any, from these fake accounts is limited.

In more serious cases, the hijacker has a malicious intent and abuses the social media profile, hurting the organisation’s reputation or stealing customers, data and connections with valued partners.

On a personal level, fake social media accounts can jeopardise an individual’s employment opportunities, ruin social and professional connections and cause significant emotional stress. 

Perception is often as powerful as the truth. If fake social media accounts are left unchecked and the identity of the hijacker remains the sole source of information, it is likely that the public will begin to believe any information being shared.

So what can be done to prevent social media accounts from being hijacked? Companies can take both a reactive and proactive stance on this.

Reactive stance

When a company has encountered an identity hijack, the main aim is to control the damage, before focusing on implementing preventive measures. The company must:

* Identify all official channels

Companies must list the official social media channels on which they are currently engaged. It is recommended that the list be available on a highly visible webpage of the organisation’s official corporate website. With companies clearly listing all their social media channels and activities, consumers will be able to know which source of information to believe.

* Take an official stand

Companies need to make it clear to consumers that any other social media channels not listed on the official website are fake and should be ignored or reported.

* Report hijackers quickly

Officially, most social media channels have avenues to report stolen identities, especially on big platforms such as Facebook. Do not delay this process and report the fake account immediately. Retrieving your stolen identity is an extremely time-consuming process, as you may need to prove your identity too. 

Even if you do not have a strategic plan to use social media as a marketing channel, it is still crucial to retrieve your identity.

Proactive stance

A company that has not yet been a victim of an identity hijack should not relax. It needs to be responsible in reducing the possibility of such an occurrence. A determined hacker and an unregulated environment is all it takes to create a disaster. The company should:

* Rope in consumers

Provide avenues for consumers to report suspicious social media activities  on the different social media engaged by the company, which are accessed by the general public.

This could involve feedback forms on the company website, a hotline number to call, or a general e-mail address. Consumer policing is one of the best forms of “on-the-ground” information, so do make use of this valuable resource.

How can the consumer spot a fake social media account? Most companies are strict with their social media communication channels. As such, it is unlikely that companies will announce stock market information that can provide anyone with an unfair advantage or that is illegal to circulate; anything defamatory about themselves or their competitors; sensitive or confidential information about the company, products or strategies; abusive information; sensational or gossipy material.

* Lay claim to your rights

Companies should prevent cyber squatting and identity hijacking by the preemptive action of laying claim to their brand names across all major social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook. You do not need to have a strategy to claim your rights. Claim it first and worry about developing a strategy later.

* Police popular sites

There are various tools available that help monitor conversations across the Internet. However, if budget is an issue, there are free alternatives, as search engines are closely integrated with social media platforms. A quick search is all it takes to see if a hijacking has occurred.  If it has, take action to stop it.

With the wide usage of the Internet and the proliferation of social media sites, incidents of identity hijacking will only increase in intensity and frequency. Because of this, it is the responsibility of organisations to take a proactive approach towards social media. Peace of mind can only be acquired through constant vigilance.