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Five Guidelines for Managing Social Media Risk

June 3, 2013
by Jack Reynolds

If you, your family or your business use social media (perhaps LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook) then this article is a must-read. Social media might be a new phenomenon, but it is here to stay.

Further, social media is not just for kids. As the technology matures more people and businesses are adopting it, and it is having a larger and more immediate impact on our lives. So, even if you are not Tweeting, Facebooking or LinkingIn (so to speak), you should adopt some basics guidelines about managing social media. Having social media guidelines will help you manage its associated risks and maximize its potential value for you, your family and your business.

What is social media anyway? Social media is simply another way to share information over the internet. Social media websites (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest) are specifically designed to share information, opinions and images with others, quickly, easily and effectively (hence the term ‘social’).

Because information is shared over the internet, anything that you post on a social media site has no physical boundary or expiration date. That is, once you post something to a blog, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn it is largely written in ink, not in pencil. What do I mean by that? Unlike Las Vegas (it is said that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”), anything that you post on a social media site is meant to be shared with other people, some of whom you may not know. Furthermore, what you post (or what others may post about you) is also extremely difficult, or impossible, to erase. This may be all well and good if what you post (or what others post about you) is positive. However, it can also be devastating if what you post (or what others post) about you, your family or your business is negative or not meant to be shared publicly. Bear in mind that what one family member may think is positive or amusing, another may view in a different light (or in a couple of years the originator might feel differently about it).

In prior articles, I have advised you how to maximize the value of your investment portfolio and manage risk. This week, I want to encourage you to take a close look at your social media policy, so that you can maximize its value and minimize its potential risk to you, your loved ones and your business. Here are five guidelines to help you minimize social media risk, while enhancing its value to you and your business:

  1. Have a social media policy.  Have a social media policy and write it down.  Ask every member of your family and/or business to review it and agree to it.  Be sure to review your policy and update it regularly, as social media is a dynamic environment.  You may even want to engage a consultant to help you with your social media policy (I can refer you to specialists who can help you).
  2. Engage and educate.  This is a nation of free speech, but not everyone shares a common perspective about what should, and what should not, be shared on line.  One’s openness about sharing photographs and opinions online today could turn out to be adverse to one’s best interests tomorrow. Talk about what is, and is not, appropriate and what can and cannot be shared online.  Reach a consensus.  For example, younger family members may not be aware that posting when, and where, they are going on vacation might be an invitation to burglars.  Talking online about trips and purchases can create distance, or even hostility, within families and among friends. What seems routine to one person can seem ostentatious to another.
  3. Choose life over social media.  I am not being melodramatic in asking families to “choose life over social media,” because texting and dialing while driving can be a matter of life-and-death. It is not only the distracted person who is at risk. Texting/dialing while driving endangers the safety of others too. Even something as seemingly innocent as playing video games while walking in a bustling urban environment can increase one’s risk of injury.
  4. Do not share your passwords.  As soon as family members begin sharing passwords with each other and persons outside their family, responsibility and accountability suffer unnecessarily. In addition to being cautious about sharing your password, you should use different passwords for different sites and change your passwords regularly. This might sound like a nightmare, but it need not be if you keep a journal of all your passwords in a safe place.  Lastly, do not make your passwords obvious. Avoid addresses, birthdays, initials, street names, any part of your social security number, etc.
  5. Use social media to your advantage. Social media can be a positive, invaluable tool for your family or business. Used thoughtfully, social media can help you promote a positive reputation for you, your loved ones and your business.  This is important both for those who may be applying to college/graduate school and for adults seeking clients or employment opportunities. Again, there are consultants who can guide you in the right direction by managing your social media risk profile and using social media as a positive force for you, your family and your business.

If you have any questions about how to manage social media risk for your family or business, or would like to share additional social media guidelines, I invite you to leave a comment below. If you prefer, you can contact me personally at or ring me at 617.945.5157.