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Posted on 06.06.2011

Web 2.0: Research Treasure Trove or Corporate Land Mine?

If you’ve followed our blog for long, you’ve read some persuasive arguments for increasing your company’s presence in social media.  With the right research, implementation and maintenance, tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can be powerful resources in your PR and marketing toolbox. But beyond the obvious promotional platform afforded by social media, research and information gathering on the Web 2.0 has become commonplace for many professions. Business development officers, college admissions professionals, HR recruiters, market researchers, police investigators, divorce attorneys, debt collectors … the open book of social media is proving useful in many lines of work. PR and communications blog using social media to research Journalists – and their distinctive subset of “investigative reporters” – have taken a card from the HR recruiters’ deck and are using LinkedIn to find sources for stories.  With only a “basic” (and free) membership, a reporter can easily troll for current and former employees of a company they may be researching; with a quick click of the mouse, they can send a message and open a dialogue with those employees.  An upgrade to an “executive” account allows that reporter to capture lists and additional contact information, which could include full names, email links, Facebook links and Twitter handles. Similarly, journalists can scour Twitter feeds and the blogosphere for comments referencing a company or current issue. Employees often Tweet or make posts about job changes – good or bad – leaving an obvious trail for investigative reporters to follow.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys, class action organizers and labor representatives closely follow these paths as well. Google, of course, is always a first stop for reporters (and PR consultants) trying to assess a company’s reputation on the Internet. Beyond the simple company search, Google gurus will go Boolean in their investigation and search for a company or individual along with terms like “sucks” or “scandal” or “crime.” You can imagine the satisfaction a reporter experiences when an internet search of a company’s name and the word “subpoena” returns a few hundred results. And speaking of subpoena: content on social media platforms is, of course, fair game for investigators and law enforcement officials. The government can issue subpoenas to third party sites such as Facebook or Twitter … and the target of their interest may be completely unaware of the surveillance.   Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, arguably the world authority on using the internet for nefarious research and release of information, has stated, “Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them.” So does this use of social media give you personal or professional concern?

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