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Should you “like” social media less?

By Charles Lankester, Senior Vice President, Reputation Management, Ruder Finn

April 19, 2016Posted InNext Gen and Wealth Advisory

Foreword by Money K, Global Head of Next Generation, Citi Private Bank:

As part of our programs to prepare the next generation of our clients for succession to the family business and to be able custodians of their family legacies, we delve into various topics related to investments, entrepreneurship, family governance and so on. Lately, we have included reputation management, which has become especially challenging in an era of social media. The heirs of our clients are taught about the dynamics of new media, the risks they entail and some best practices to adopt. Our guest writer, Charles Lankester, Senior Vice President, Reputation Management, Ruder Finn, explains.

Many wealthy individuals think the answer to this question is ‘yes’. Consider a recent Wall Street Journal story about a 19-year old who posted on social media about an upcoming family vacation in Hawaii. The family home was then ransacked when they were away and his post is believed to have tipped off the thieves. Add to these examples the growing incidence of the wealthy being stalked online and there is a simple message for 2016: treat social media like your home and don’t let strangers in.

However, this is easier said than done. Social media is part of the fabric of everyday life in 2016 for people of all ages. So, it is unrealistic to ask family members not to be “on” social media. But it is important they use it wisely nevertheless.

In 2015, my firm polled a group of 18-22 year-old sons and daughters of Citi Private Bank clients. The results were fascinating. All of them believed social media could damage personal or business reputations. Sixty-five percent had been to social events when smartphones were banned. More than 80% would consider banning smartphones from their own social event. And half had friends or family members who had been embarrassed or upset by content or images posted on social media.

Clearly, many wealthy families perceive significant risks from social media. But despite our findings, just a third of respondents had been briefed by an industry expert on the risks of social media. Less than 30% had a family social-media policy in place and only 25% had a crisis-management plan for a serious social media privacy breach.

So, what does best practice look like? A good place to start is to define your family’s privacy aspirations. Do you wish to be invisible? Many wealthy families have this as a primary objective, but it requires work. Do you wish to allow family members to be active online but to have clear policies in place? That’s reasonable, but needs all participants to understand, and play by, the rules.

Once you have decided upon active management of your social media presence, it’s smart to monitor carefully what is being said and to plan in advance for risk scenarios. An absolute priority is to keep those around you clear about what you expect. Ensure they understand and respect your privacy. Int the same way, control the circulation of your images – especially at public events – and be careful about discussing travel plans or sharing vacation pictures until you are home.

When considering social media sites, make sure you have applied the highest level of security – or ‘privacy settings’ – and keep prying eyes away. You may trust your friends, but what about their friends? One of the greatest sources of security breaches is through “friends of friends”. 

A smart technique is not to be “you” at all. Celebrities often stay in hotels under pseudonyms. Consider this for your social media – only those you really trust will know it is you.

As with everything online, and in life in general, common sense and good planning help a great deal. Be clear what your goals are, what you expect from those close to you and, most importantly, who to call if there is a problem.


Charles Lankester (@CA_Lankester) advises individual and corporate clients in the areas of reputation management and digital risk. He is located in Hong Kong and works at Ruder Finn, an international communications consultancy with close to 800 people located in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America.