During investigations, it is pertinent that we work smarter, not harder. One of the tricks we have learned is to find sources which aggregate social media profile and website information. It decreases the time spent identifying individual accounts and allows us to devote more time to data analysis. There are four major sources we use: websites & blogs, social media profiles, social influence sites, and checkusernames.com. To illustrate how it works, we chose to research Britney Spears.
Websites & Blogs
Many individuals and organizations now maintain their own website and/or blog, even if it is something as simple as an about.me page. On these sites, individuals tend to identify social media profiles and other additional sources of information. In the case of Britney Spears, the header of her website links to her Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr, and iTunes profiles, and slightly down the page is a link to her Instagram profile. The front page of the website clearly identifies seven additional data sources.
Social Media Profiles
Today, most Americans maintain at least one social media account. However, many people maintain more than one account. With the advent of apps, there is a wealth of data from linked accounts and cross-posted application data. In the case of Britney’s Tumblr, six data sources were clearly labeled: her website, YouTube, Twitter, SoundCloud, Google+, and Facebook profiles.
If none of these accounts are clearly labeled, you also can identify profiles in two easy ways. First, you can look at the listed connected accounts on the profile, such as a Google+ profile listed on a YouTube channel. Second, you can identify profiles from posts pushed from another data source, such as an Instagram photo pushed to a Facebook feed.
Social Influence Sites
An often-overlooked source of information is social influence sites, such as Klout and PeerIndex. These sites allow users to measure their influence by connecting social media profiles to their account and gain perks for topic and network influence. As researchers, social influence sites allow us to quickly harvest links, establish connections between users, and identify topics of interest.
On Britney’s Klout page, there are six linked social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, and Tumblr.
Once you have identified usernames for an individual, a quick and simple way to see if it is used on another network is to run it through checkusernames.com. If the site identifies the username as registered, it is possible the same user has a profile on an additional site. However, as some usernames are popular, it is important to thoroughly vet the profiles to ensure the same user maintains the accounts.
While Britney Spears is more plugged in than the average individual, the methodology still remains true. Capturing connections between data sources fundamentally expedites the identification process. Because there is no master tool which identifies profiles and websites, using disparate data sources to capture this information is the key to building and analyzing an individual’s complete digital footprint.