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AP Hack Demonstrates the Power of 140 Characters #Twitter

 by Donna Ray Berkelhammer

Many small and medium business owners are overwhelmed by the social media choices available to them, and unsure of which might best fit their target clients and markets.  Twitter, being a relative new kid on the block, can be especially mystifying.

What is Twitter and why does it matter?

Twitter allows users to send 140 characters at a time to their followers. It allows you to target potential customers,  send them information that interests them and open a dialog.  Many in the B2B sector in particular don't understand Twitter's use, power or relativity in its market segment.

Surprisingly, the U.S. stock market, delivered a powerful demonstration of the power of 140 characters last week.

Consider this tweet from the Associated Press on Tuesday:  "Breaking: Two explosions in the White House and Barak Obama is injured."  About 2 million people received this alert.

Within three minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial average sank about 150 points.  It finished up for the day after it became clear that the AP tweet was a hoax.  AP issued statements that its Twitter account had been hacked and the message was fake. AP almost immediately suspended its Twitter account, but it took at least 24 hours for its followers to be reinstated once control was regained and the service was reactivated.

There have been a number of high-profile corporate hacks recently, including Burger King and Jeep.  While more unauthorized use than hacking, a fired employee of struggling British retailer HMV "live-tweeted" the layoff of about 200 employees.

What to do:

There are a number of steps companies of any size can take to minimize the risk of compromised social media accounts.

  1. Have social media policies that clearly define whether the company or the individual employee owns social media accounts.
  2. If they are corporate-owned, have safeguards in place so that one employee does not have sole access to social media login and passwords.
  3. Don't take social media passwords for granted.  They should be strong.  After the Burger King hack, people joked that "123Whopper" was not a strong password.
  4. Block social media usage or change passwords to social media accounts  immediately upon termination of employment for any reason.
  5. Train your employees not to respond to emails that ask for user names and passwords for social media accounts. It is possible that the AP account was hacked via an elaborate phishing scheme.
  6. Have a corporate disaster response plan in place that includes social media crises.
  7. Know how to suspend your social medial accounts quickly. This should be part of the disaster response plan.
  8. Pay attention to your online presence.  Many companies open accounts but lose interest.  If they are hanging out there, they could be at risk.  Hacking, unresponsiveness or unchecked negative comments could hurt your business

And if you'd like to learn more about Twitter in a B2B context:

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