While the term “stalking” has a sinister ring to it, there are legitimate reasons to stalk people online. I’m not talking about keeping tabs on your ex or monitoring what your teen is doing on social media. I’m talking about using online investigation techniques for valid business-related reasons like:
- Vetting job applicants.
- Tracking down email addresses for guest posting opportunities.
- Getting background information on potential clients.
- Preparing for a job interview.
- Keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing online.
- Monitoring what information is publicly available about you.
Perhaps the most pervasive (and acceptable) use of online stalking is among employers looking to see what potential hires are really like. Up to 91 percent of employers now use social networking sites to screen prospective candidates. There has even been academic research done on how social media postings can reveal important personality traits in job applicants. According to researchers, “these data [social media posts] offer a glimpse of employees in settings free from the impression management pressures present during evaluations conducted for applicant screening and research purposes.”
In other words, a person’s social media posts can provide an objective view of what he or she is like in real life.
Researching an individual or company online can save you from a number of unfortunate situations. It can also give you a leg up on the competition by allowing you to access contact information for important media and PR opportunities. Over the past four months I’ve used the following tactics to help find exactly the right people I need to help grow and protect my company Due.
1. Use Facebook and Twitter lists to keep a (private) eye on your competitors’ posts.
Fortunately, both Facebook and Twitter allow you to follow a person or company’s public posts and tweets without actually following them. On Twitter, create a private list of your competitors’ tweets; you won’t be listed as a follower, so no one will ever have to know (although, there’s really no harm in publicly following another company!).
On Facebook, you have a couple of options: If you don’t mind being a public fan of another company, go ahead and like their company page, then add them to an interest list. If you want to see public posts from a person, but don’t want to send a friend request, you can do this too: simply click ‘Follow’ at the top right hand side of their profile. You’ll now be able to see all their public posts in your feed.
To find out which Facebook pages you should be following type the following search query into Graph Search: “Pages liked by people who like [competitor]” or “Pages liked by people who like [your page].” Add these pages to a private interest list and keep a watchful eye on content your competitors post.
2. Use Facebook ‘Pages to Watch’ to automate your sleuthing.
This is very useful feature that allows you to automate the tracking of your competitors’ pages. It’s easy to set up: Go to your Facebook Insights, and then scroll down to the Pages to Watch link. You should see some suggested pages, but you can also search for and add your own using the Graph Search query above.
And don’t worry: While the admins of the pages you add can see that they’ve been added, they won’t be able to see who did the adding. Your secret’s safe!
3. Find hidden photos and posts using Facebook Graph Search.
While searching someone’s Facebook profile can be useful, most savvy social media users will have taken steps to remove incriminating photos and information. This is where Facebook’s Graph Search comes in handy: simply type in “photos of [insert name here]” to view all Facebook photos that your subject has been tagged in.
Sometimes it can also be helpful to see what kinds of photos your subject regularly posts, (drunken party photos every weekend, anyone?) To see these photos, type in “photos uploaded by [insert name here].”
If you want to find past posts the person has made, there’s a query for that too. Type in “posts by [insert name here].” Keep in mind that unless you’re friends with the person, you’ll only be able to view public posts.
If you’re investigating a potential employee, here are some red flags that may indicate trouble ahead:
- Negative posts about a past employer.
- The regular use of graphic or unprofessional language.
- Excessive typos or poor grammar.
- Frequent party/drinking photos.
- Constant negativity or blaming.
- Any posts or images that contradict facts or history from resume or interview.
In general, it’s important to look for behavioral patterns rather than one-off posts or images. All of us have skeletons in our closet; it’s not the occasional party photo that’s cause for concern, it’s overarching attitudes or lifestyles that may indicate deeper problems.
4. Search LinkedIn profiles under the radar.
Viewing an individual’s profile on LinkedIn can give you a wealth of information about his or her professional qualifications. A standard profile will reveal education, experience, skills, certifications and groups, all of which can be useful pieces of information.
Note: If you’re trying to view someone’s profile and are only seeing an image, job title and location, you’re probably not logged in to LinkedIn. You must be logged into your account to view detailed information.
One potential issue you may face when investigating someone on LinkedIn is the notorious “Who’s Viewed Your Profile.” There will likely be times when you want to do some professional stalking (you don’t engage in personal stalking, right?) but want to do so anonymously.
Fortunately, there’s a way to ensure your name doesn’t show up on your stalkee’s “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” page. To search profiles under the radar, go to Privacy Controls under Privacy and Settings. You should see the option to “Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile.”
You can now choose what information you want to be revealed; you’ll likely want to choose “You will be totally anonymous.” Now you can stalk away and no one will be any the wiser!
Bonus Tip: If you want to dig up more dirt on your LinkedIn connections, try using a tool like Newsle. It will scour through your LinkedIn connections (and Gmail contacts, if you like) to find news stories and blog posts that they’ve published or been mentioned in.
5. Use Rapportive to get insider information delivered to your inbox.
If you use Gmail, Rapportive can streamline the sleuthing process by importing social media info for your contacts. When logged into your Gmail account, this free browser extension will replace Google ads with information about your contacts. Information like:
- Shared connections.
- Google products used.
- LinkedIn profile information.
I can see this being a very useful tool at the outset of your research. You’ll likely want to dig deeper, but Rapportive gives you a great starting point for your research.
6. Track down email addresses for guest posting or PR opportunities
While not technically social media stalking, there are bound to be times when you need to find an email address and the usual methods just aren’t panning out. If you’ve ever tried to track down an email address for a PR or media contact, you know that this information isn’t always readily available. To keep spam and unsolicited pitches to a minimum, many large media sites refrain from publicly displaying email addresses.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to potentially hunt these addresses down:
- Start with checking out the person’s LinkedIn and Twitter bios. You may luck out and find a link to a personal website that lists their email address.
- Do a Google search for [subject’s name] email or [subject’s name] [@domain name]. For instance, if I’m looking for the email address for a journalist at the Washington Post, I would type in “John Smith” @washingtonpost.com or just John Smith @washingtonpost.com (without quotations).
- If you have access to the email address of someone else at that organization, you’re ahead of the game. Many IT departments will structure all company email addresses the same way: for instance, email@example.com. If you can find one company email address, you have a good idea of the structure you need to use (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org).
- If the person you’re investigating has his or her own domain, try running a WhoIs search. This will often reveal the email and even street address the person used when registering the domain.
7. Use advanced search queries and strategies.
A basic Google search is a great way to start your research. However, you’ll quickly find that basic search queries don’t get you the detailed information you’re after. This is where more advanced strategies come into play. Here are some ways to make the most of your Google searches:
- Google the person’s email address, not just their name.
- Find photos of your subject by typing his or her name into Google Image Search.
- People are predictable: Find out the person’s Twitter handle, and then run a Google search for it. Chances are they use the same handle on multiple sites and social networks, giving you additional fodder for your research.
- Not having any luck turning up relevant images? If you have at least one image, use a tool like TinEye to run a reverse image search.
- If you know the workplace or media outlet your subject is connected to, try using the site: URL operator (e.g., site: mashable.com “John Smith”).
- If you have need for ongoing sleuthing – for instance, staying on top of online mentions of your employees – set up Google Alertsfor the full names of your employees.
Social media has given us unprecedented opportunities to research people and companies online. A little bit of sleuthing can go a long way; saving us from making huge mistakes in the hiring process and giving us a competitive edge when it comes to job hunting, guest blogging and PR.