Breaking the law: study shows that big business is failing to stay compliant over social media

The marketing power of social media mean corporate investment in building brands’ social presence is growing more than ever, but most organisations still don’t have a proper grasp of the scope and scale of the risks, according to new research.

Over the course of a year, researchers from social media compliance specialist Proofpoint Nexgate looked at over 32,000 Fortune 100 companies’ social media feeds including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and used natural language processing to examine how frequently regulated and sensitive information was exposed.

The average Fortune 100 firm has more than 320 branded social accounts, found the study, with thousands of employees and hundreds of followers involved in large-scale social media interactions.

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But regulations designed to protect consumers from misleading forms of public communication weren’t always strictly adhered to – each company had an average of 70 compliance red flags turn up, all of which remained on public social pages and went virtually under the radar for internal compliance staff. Added to this, an unknown number of incidents occured but were removed before the study could inspect them.

Out of all the non-compliant companies, financial services firms, which had the most stringest social media standards, turned out to be the worst, accounting for over 5000 incidents or 250 per firm.

Legal issues triggered nine different U.S regulatory standards risks, with many others updating existing regulations to include social media provisions. But as the study states, ‘organisations seem to be struggling to adapt their compliance processes to these dynamic, larger-scale communication forums.’

As the researchers continue, ‘the informal, fast-paced nature of social media discussions create an environment where employees and customers are far more likely to unintentionally make misleading statements and share data that should not be shared.’

Though best practise social media compliance controls exist in just about every example in the study, they were shown to be enforced inconsistently at best. Only 47% of posts were actually routed through content publishing platforms designed to catch out these mistakes before they become public, despite the fact that a majority of the firms owned the tools, suggesting that employees are either unaware, ignoring or deliberately circumnavigating approved publishing workflows.

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According to the researchers, even the biggest companies still struggle with the social media compliance challenge because the informal culture, pace, scale and complexity of it is so far removed from more static public communications channels such as press, web, and print.

‘Ignoring these differences can overwhelm compliance staff and become a barrier to social success,’ warned the report. ‘As social programs grow within any organisation, compliance staff needs to consider more dynamic, automated compliance processes.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...