One of the more interesting aspects of Facebook’s recent IPO was it’s release of it’s monthly usage figure – a staggering 845 million active monthly users, 2.7 billion likes and comments per day, 100 billion total connections between friends….the numbers are so large it’s impossible to overstate the reach and importance of Facebook, and by extension all forms of social media, and what effect this will all have on the future of the internet.

However, as with all emerging technology, it’s not without it’s risks. I was fascinated to read about the dangers businesses face from social media in a recent tech white-paper published by internet security firm Blue Coat, many of which might not have occurred to you. It’s easy to get caught up in the wonder of the internet at times and forget that social media is not to be trifled with.

Without repeating too much from the paper but let’s summarise the four main risks identified by Blue Coat – Malware (short for malicious software: viruses for instance), Data-loss, Bandwidth Consumption and finally Loss of Productivity. Most of these apply to employees using social media at work, rather than threat to businesses from social media. For instance, there have been cases where employees have accidentally revealed company secrets simply by tweeting something like “working crazy hours trying to get this bug fixed in time for the release date, and still not sure we’re going to make it”. In the tweeter’s mind, that’s only going to be shared among their followers and friends who will be sympathetic, but the whole point of social media is that you’re NEVER just talking to your friends, you’re talking to all of their friends, and all of their friends and so on and on – now that 100 billion facebook connections statistic comes back into play!

Which brings us to the ultimate risk associated with Social Media. Anyone on Twitter will surely have seen the #twitterjoketrial tags (if you haven’t, Google it right away) and, like me, I’m sure many of you will have been scared silly by the idea that some stupid throwaway comment on a twitter account could see me charged by the Crown Prosecution Service, but it’s happened. There’s too much to cover here, so I’ll leave it to you to check out the story yourselves, but rest assured (or uneasy!) twitter is definitely not a closed conversation. What you tweet can be seen by anybody, anywhere, so it’s like standing in the middle of Oxford Street and shouting a conversation to a group of friends, then wondering why everyone walking past can hear you, and why they’re all making comments.

I obviously hope this hasn’t put anybody off social media, that’s not my intention. What I would like to do, however, is raise awareness. The power of the internet is there to be utilised, but it must also be respected. For me, it’s yet another reason to lean heavily on expert opinion from people like our speakers who have made their living from understanding and exploiting this power, and who will give you all the advice you need to make sure there’s no heavy price to pay.

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