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Does Social Media Create New Risk for Small Businesses?

August 4, 2016

 

You may have heard the horror stories about small businesses being shuttered in the age of social media. One bad tweet, one wayward Facebook photo, it’s been said, can sends fortunes plummeting.

 

That is an alarming view, and one you needn’t worry too much about. For as the world becomes increasingly digital, more and more people are aware that their cyber footprint is everywhere – and like the child with his hands in the cookie jar, you bet that big mama is watching.

 

On the other hand, it’s imperative that one keeps herself in check. Don’t let the fired staffer with access to company files go off unhinged. 

 

LA-based Joe Kennedy, who operates two companies – QB-LA QuickBooks Los Angeles and Social 61, which does official social media background checks for companies –  says generally speaking, “small businesses are perceived as less able to defend themselves in just about anything, including social media.”

 

Yet, where the social media landscape lies today is in what he calls “the Wild, Wild West”, with unscrupulous lawyers trolling the Internet looking for juicy cases they can exploit.

 

“It’s the shakedown,” says Kennedy, who says the average small business is worth only $250,000 today, but if “someone spends $50,000 on the case, the attorney says he’ll settle it for $80,000, and that obviously pushes the owner out of business.

 

Of course, the flipside is that not all social media posts are created equal, and that’s both because the C-level execs carry far more sway than do the fast food workers manning Jenny’s Hot Dog Shack. Also, the Internet is so awash with Millennials posting their gripes that no one usually pays attention – unless the company’s CEO discloses that the CTO is having an affair with the Chairman of the Board.

 

The other issue, Kennedy points out, is “to what extent is the employee representing the business when they post?” So for example, “if someone says this is my opinion as an engineer of Raytheon, Raytheon would not want that to happen.” However, presenting oneself as just a regular person not affiliated with an organization is usually far less risky.

 

Putting it All in Perspective

While problems can occur with social media – everything from the aforementioned ex-employees ridiculing you to just spammers making your business look bad – these days everyone must adopt a social media presence. What if people were thrown by the advent of the auto and refused to give up their horse and carriages back in the day?

 

On the other hand, airing one’s opinions – even fairly innocuous ones – are costing people their jobs and reputations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter daily. This is why Kennedy swears by being über cautious, whatever the level of your organization.

 

Carefully monitor what you post, or even avoid it altogether if you are a top level exec. Many CEOs, he says, feel simply that “there’s no upside to doing it, even if you’re just saying the most bland thing.”

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