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Tips to avoid potential social media pitfalls

Use technology to your advantage and keep the risk to a minimum.

November 4, 2013
Sponsored by Pearl Insurance

While new technology provides accounting professionals with additional ways to communicate with clients and colleagues, it also brings new risks—especially regarding privacy and confidentiality. This article will explain the risks new technology brings, and provide tips to effectively use new technological platforms to your advantage.

Breaching confidentiality

Accounting professionals have access to some of the most confidential information. It’s important that you never post anything that would even remotely suggest classified information about your employer, clients, or projects.

For example, you alert friends that you have to cancel dinner plans due to a meeting at XYZ Corp. through a social media post. This post may seem harmless, but it has the potential to inadvertently relay information regarding upcoming business transactions.

Further, you should not presume that the use of privacy settings on social media will provide protection of posted information. Even if you set your content to be visible only to your friends, if someone replies to a post, it becomes visible to the replier’s friends as well.

Miscommunication

In addition to restricting your content on social media, it is important to be clear when interacting with your clients through social media or text messaging. While these are ubiquitous forms of communication in our modern world, they can pose problems when it comes to clarity and understanding.

For example, you are in a rush and send a client a text message saying, “No problem!”
This reply may seem perfectly clear, but what did it mean? Did you agree to handle something? Suggest nothing needed to be done? Or were you being sarcastic?

It’s important to be clear when interacting with clients. If you think you have sent an unclear message, follow up with a phone call or email to ensure your message wasn’t misinterpreted.

Professional ranking sites

Some social media sites are geared toward the business community and ask participants to fill out profiles that include questions about areas of concentration, specialization, or expertise. On some sites, participants can receive rankings or recommendations regarding expertise based on their participation in question-and-answer forums. In some jurisdictions, answering those questions could cause professionals to be held to a higher standard if faced with a professional liability claim.

Managing social media risks

Ultimately, the most important risk control technique when using social media is to simply think before typing. Most information related your work shouldn’t be shared publicly.

When using social media, you should use the following list to safeguard yourself:

  • Examine the security and privacy policy of any social media website before deciding to participate.
  • Use available security and privacy protections to limit the reach and use of posts by others. This includes settings requiring prior approval of friend requests, or that provide users with alerts regarding who has chosen to follow updates or pages.
  • Regularly revisit the security and privacy provisions of the site to monitor changes and react accordingly.
  • Separate personal pages from professional ones.
  • Set written rules for posting by office employees and professional staff on both personal and firm pages, clearly directing that only appropriately public information be shared. Consider applicable employment laws in formulating the rules. Monitor all posts on a regular basis, and inform employees of this in the rules.
  • Monitor and adapt as the technology develops. The types of social media available on the Internet will continue to evolve. The ability to post data instantaneously and in real time from handheld devices continues to raise new challenges for lawyers. When a new type of social media becomes available, consider the need to revise firm rules regarding its use.

Even when using the privacy and security settings provided, recognize that no social media post is truly private. Be truthful and circumspect, remembering that anything posted online should be treated as a public statement that will remain accessible virtually forever—to friends and foes alike.

More information

In addition to practicing these risk reduction techniques, it’s also important to have a comprehensive professional liability insurance plan in place such as the one offered through Pearl Insurance. This plan features reputation protection, which covers unfavorable information made available through social media, the possibility of a complete deductible waiver, and more.

To learn more, visit Pearl Insurance’s Accountants Professional Liability Center or
call 866-809-5169 to speak with a Pearl Insurance Accountants Professional Liability Specialist.