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Small business owners wear a lot of hats, and after all the time spent on running the day-to-day operations, managing employees, and keeping track of the financials, paying attention to social media may not be a priority. Ignoring your online presence, however, can be detrimental to your business. Many businesses create websites, Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, enthusiastically populating them at the outset, but over time letting them languish on the internet. Ignoring your own online platforms leaves them ripe for hijacking by someone who is paying attention.

Let me first say that there is a difference between digital hijacking and hacking. Hacking is when someone takes over your online platforms by bypassing your security. The intent here is to cause some disruption to your business, or more seriously, to commit crimes like identity theft or hold your computer system hostage to extort money from you. That’s a serious criminal offense, and a topic for another article. Hijacking, on the other hand, occurs when users post negative comments and spam your online platforms. You still have control over the media, but the image that media is projecting is not the one you had in mind when you set it up.

Recently on Facebook, I was looking at some of our local businesses’ pages. I came across one I knew whose reputation was respected in the community. The postings on their Facebook business page both surprised and concerned me. The most recent entry, about a year old, was made by the company itself, but most of the entries were made by an employee of the organization. I don’t think the employee set out to disparage the company, but the entries were negative in nature. For example, there were complaints about having to work, profanity-laced posts, and sarcastic comments. Most of the posts were what I imagine would show up on a person’s personal Facebook page, bemoaning the fact that it’s Monday and a workday and TGIF, the workweek is over. In other words, the posts did not speak directly against the company, just work in general, still giving an overall negative feel to the page and therefore, the business. It made me wonder what the company was thinking. I mean, the fact that the company had posted something on the page surely meant someone was aware of all of the other posts from an employee of their organization.

In another example of online hijacking, I manage a website that allows anyone to post in an area created for those interested in the website’s subject. The idea is to encourage active participation from users who are social media adverse, who aren’t on Facebook, Instagram, and the like, and who won’t give you the personal information needed to create an account. Privacy is a concern; at the same time, visitors want to keep updated on the website’s topic. Opening up comments to everyone, however, invites spam posts, and that’s what happens once or twice a week. These posts make the website look unprofessional and are not related to the intended purpose of the site.

What to do about these forms of hijacking? Here are my thoughts. For the Facebook page, I would suggest the company start bombarding the page with posts. And photos. At the beginning, I would do this multiple times a day, then taper off to what I felt was a reasonable social media schedule (which should be in place anyway). Doing so will push the negative and unprofessional posts so far down that no one will see them when the page comes up. Or at least it will take a lot of scrolling to view them. Sure, they’ll still be there, but you’re essentially rendering them harmless with your massive amounts of posts. When people see all the posts of your happy employees, employee recognition events, and entries that indicate how much you value your employees, if they do see those negative posts, they’ll figure that was just a fluke unhappy employee.

In the case of the website, I would set an alert to be notified every time a new post is published. Actually, that’s what I’ve done, and I receive an alert via email when any new posts appear. This gives me notice to monitor and review every post. Most of the time it’s obvious from the title what’s spam and what’s not. I can then delete the posts that are not appropriate for the website and relevant to its users.

Taking control of a hijacked social media platform is easier than you think. Staying alert and paying attention to your own online presence will help you create a positive business reputation, grow customer trust, and in the end, contribute to the success of your business.