I have one of the world’s best points of brand differentiation — I’m the only business blogger you know old enough to have a daughter-blogger! Lauren is entering her senior year as a journalism major and has been having some intriguing social media experiences. When she told me the following story I was frankly a little weirded-out.   Let’s see what you think about using Facebook as an investigation tool after reading my daughter’s guest post …

Since my last post on {grow}, I’m a year older, I’ve aced all my classes, started my own blog and developed a fondness for coconut ice cream.  Hope you have all been doing well.

But my hiatus is beside the point. Today I am here to tell you a story of intrigue and revelation … a story that might forever change the way you think about Facebook.

This summer I’m spending my time as a development intern for a private, non-profit foundation. One day I was asked to research a professional sports player — who was associated with my foundation — as a potential target for donations. Through public information, a little resourcefulness and my best pal Facebook, you may be amazed at what I found …

The hunt begins

To protect the innocent, we’ll call the professional sports player Dijon Shmoogley.  Fundraising is a sophisticated process and my large nonprofit foundation subscribes to many lists, archives and search engines to determine who might have a “potential to give” (i.e.: who’s got property, boats, salary, stock,  etc.) After exhausting my search through these traditional databases, I reached a dead-end. I found no indication of Dijon’s financial status.

Turning to the Internet, I learned that:

  • His brother’s name was Reginald, and he also had played sports in college.
  • His mother and father, Sarah and Frank Shmoogley live in Minneapolis.
  • Dijon was newly-married to a girl name Jenny Smith from Minneapolis, MN
  • His Facebook page is private.

Although I could not pin-down Dijon’s financial status, once I found that he was recently married I immediately began to look for his wife’s assets (isn’t that a vow … “I promise to share my boat, stock portfolio, antique china…”?) as an indication of his economic status.

Facebook takes over

 

Turning to my best pal …

 

  1. I searched Facebook for “Jenny Smith”… Ha!  2,000 entries.
  2. I searched Facebook for Reginald, Dijon’s brother. Found him. His Facebook isn’t set to completely private so I can view his friends (Thinking that he would be friends with his sister-in-law). He isn’t friends with any “Jenny Smith” but he is friends with his mom, Sarah Shmoogley who, in her Facebook picture, is next to a blushing bride … I just found a picture of Jenny Smith!
  3. I returned to the search for “Jenny Smith” and quickly find a matching picture of my bride. I opened her profile and it confirmed that her hometown and current city is Minneapolis.

I then went to the online site for the Hennepin County Assessor’s Office (Minneapolis) to search for properties owned by Jenny Smith. (THIS IS COMPLETELY PUBLIC! Go see for yourself!)

There are about 20 Jenny Smiths in Hennepin County who own property, but 16 are registered with spouses who aren’t Dijon Shmoogley. I search the remaining four properties on Google maps and rule out at least three of them for various intuitive reasons. Finally I get down to one rational possibility. But it is a shared homeownership with another woman — Amelia Bedelia.

Hmmm… If the two women are close enough to buy a house together, wouldn’t they be Facebook friends too? I go back to Jenny Smith’s Facebook page and sure enough there’s Amelia Bedelia. I have now confirmed Dijon’s home and am on my way to discovering a significant portion of his net worth.

Game.  Set.  Match.

Even with a name as common as Smith and Facebook’s security settings, I was able to confirm Dijon’s home ownership, value of the home, and other valuable information about the assets of the couple. Social media status updates also can provide other important clues — discussions of vacations at the lake house, promotions, investments and purchases. With this information, I tailored an appropriate fundraising approach and suggested giving level for the Schmoogley Family.

Another fundraising friend of mine grabbed a list of over a thousand new potential donors because a competing charity posted the names of their 1,500 largest donors on a Facebook event page.

I admit this is all a little weird but it’s real and it’s time to wake up. Facebook is not just about social networking. It’s also about social investigating.

Are you feeling a little nervous about this?

Lauren Schaefer is the world’s greatest daughter and will be looking for a job in about six months. I can vouch for her.

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