By Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates
I know that there are a lot of resources for prospect development professionals through social media out there but I’m not sure what to do with it all. Are there better social media sources than others? How do I decide what platform is best for my research purposes? Should I be using any information I find on Facebook or LinkedIn? Is it ethical to be using these platforms? Is it reliable? I’m wary of the potential effectiveness and ethical implications of using social media research sources but also have researcher’s FOMO (fear of missing out) by not utilizing these tools.
Social Media Confused
You are right. There is so much information out there that it is hard to know what to do with it all. You are asking the right questions about ethics and reliability. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to the use of social media in research. Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn in particular present specific ethical challenges for prospect researchers. You might first decide what social media sites you want to use. For instance, LinkedIn seems to be a fairly standard social media site used by fundraisers and prospect researchers alike. The purpose of the site is professional with job information, etc. Gift officers may even use it as a tool to supplement their regional visits. Facebook may be trickier since it contains much more personal information, beyond the job. Twitter even more so.
With whatever sites you choose to use, you should probably take the information with a grain of salt. Everything is self-reported and may not always be up-to-date. But then again, anything a prospect says to a gift officer or staff member is also self-reported so don’t shy away just because of that. I like to look for clues about the person by looking at their LinkedIn profile. I like to consider how much information is available? Do they list one job and that’s it? Or does it seem they are updating it constantly? That can provide some clues as to the reliability and potential usefulness of the information. That’s a first step. Second step is try to verify the information to the best of your ability. For example, if they work for the XYZ Company, it may be worth going to the company’s website and seeing if they are there. Some companies will have lots of information about their employees and some don’t. You can also look up companies and see if there is information about them to ensure they exist. You can see what’s in your database about the person and see if it matches. Basic attempts at verification like these can greatly enhance your confidence in using these types of social media resources and doesn’t stray too far from traditional prospect research work.
In terms of ethics, APRA International has provided guidelines about the use of LinkedIn that can be found here: http://www.aprahome.org/d/do/4884. One point that they are explicit about in this discussion is that it’s okay to look at a person’s profile even if you are signed in. You can even do it anonymously by adjusting your privacy setting. However, you cannot create a fake account or misrepresent yourself. That would be considered unethical.
Special note: There’s a lot of furor in the UK about data and prospect research. You can read a little bit about it here http://apraillinois.org/blog/5016608. If you are conducting international research it is important to remember to tread carefully and consider local laws in regards to privacy and data use. Ultimately, you may want to work with folks in your organization to put together a policy statement about how the information is going to be used. That way, everyone adheres to the same set of rules.
Hope that helps you manage the amount of social media out there and make use of it for your work! Good luck!
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