While technology gives accountants new ways to communicate with clients and colleagues, it can bring privacy and confidentiality risks. So, let’s dive into the pitfalls of new technology and how to effectively use social media to your advantage.
Accounting professionals have access to highly confidential information. Never post anything that would even remotely suggest classified information about your employer or clients.
For example, you shouldn't use a social media post to tell friends that you have to cancel dinner plans due to a meeting at XYZ Corporation. This post may seem harmless, but it has the potential to inadvertently relay information regarding upcoming business transactions. You should not assume the use of privacy settings on social media will provide protection of posted information.
It's 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.
Let's say you're in a rush and send the following text to a client: “No problem!” This reply may seem perfectly clear, but what did it mean? Did you agree to handle something? Are you suggesting nothing needed to be done? Or, were you being sarcastic?
It’s important to be clear when interacting with clients. If you feel 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 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 to your work shouldn’t be shared publicly.
When using social media, you should use the following six rules to safeguard yourself:
- 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 “following” alerts and page updates.
- Regularly revisit your account’s security and privacy provisions 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 when formulating the rules. Monitor all posts on a regular basis, and inform employees of this in the rules.
- Monitor and adapt as technology develops. The types of social media channels available will continue to evolve. The ability to post instantly from mobile devices continues to raise new challenges for accountants. When new types of social media become available, consider the need to revise firm rules regarding their use.
Even when using the privacy and security settings provided, recognize that no social media post is truly private. Be truthful and cautious, remembering that anything posted online should be treated as a public statement that will remain accessible virtually forever—to friends and foes alike.
This article was written in conjunction with GenStar and is not to be taken as legal advice.