Business Situational Awareness & Social Media

Weapon loadout of the AH-64 Apache
Image via Wikipedia

How can your employees’ social media usage be compromising your businesses’ assets?

I have said it before: business and warfare are one in the same. The objectives are the same and the tactics are the same. Both require an understanding of situational awareness.

What is situational awareness?

Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you

That’s the military definition and it works just fine for the business world: knowing what is going on around you. Knowing the definition is one thing, but understanding how to apply it is quite different. Do your employees — or even you — appreciate the many ways that using social media can compromise your businesses’ assets because of a lack of awareness of what is going on around you?

An example of how a lack of social media situational awareness in the military led to the destruction of 4 $20 million AH-64 Apache helicopters — on a base in Iraq!

In 2007, a fleet of new Apache attack helicopters arrived on base in Iraq and one of the soldiers took a picture of them that was then shared through social media. (See U.S. Army Warns That Social Media Can Kill. Literally.) The picture contained a geo-tag that embeded the latitude and longitude coordinates of the helicopter right in the photo. The enemy was monitoring the Internet and discovered the photo, pulled the coordinates from the photo, and used them to conduct a mortar attach that destroyed 4 of the Apache helicopters valued at $20 million each. Yep — that was essentially an $80 million photo! Ooops.

Now let’s think about how these principles can apply to your business.

  • Have your employees listed their customer contacts — those “trade secrets” that you pay to much to protect — on their LinkedIn contacts?
  • How about your prospects — those that you are hoping to snag away from your competitors — has anyone in your organization recently “added” or “followed” them?
  • That new strategic location you’re planning to open — do you think anyone noticed that 4-Square check-in or found the geo-tag coordinates from the pic from the inside?
  • That new strategic alliance your company is secretly developing … was it really a good idea for your receptionist to tweet “nice to meet you” to them after they left your office?

Please feel free to continue the list. You get the picture. Do you still believe that your competitors are not monitoring your and your employees’ social media?

I love social media and I think it is an amazing thing that holds an amazing amount of promise for virtually every kind of business. I want to see businesses use it more — I want to see you use it more. You know this. You also know, by now,  that I’m a social media lawyer who practices social media law — I try to help you and your business plan for as many things as we can and put them into policies to help protect your business from known and unknown risks. So what, right? Would I have ever imagined that one picture would result in 4 destroyed Apache helicopters? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows.

We can’t anticipate everything and we can’t put every potential risk into a policy. It’s just not possible. But, what we can do is teach our people to think — to understand their situational awareness — and to appreciate the fact that for everything they (we) are putting on the Internet, potentially someone who we wouldn’t want to read it is reading it and, if they have a chance, will use it to harm our interests or further their own. The best protection for you and your employees: (1) know what is going on around you; and (2) think before you post.