When you’re actively pursuing leads through social media outlets, whether it’s simply updating our status or reporting about current projects, the last thing on your mind are the consequences of some of your actions.

You may not be aware of it but talking about your business can affect it ways that are beyond your understanding.

Disclaimer: What I’m going to show you is only an experiment and I wouldn’t want you to use these tricks for evil intentions. This is just an example of the threats involved when you expose too much information on the Internet.

The Start

It all began a couple of months ago. My business partner and our development team had just finished a massive social media campaign for a new international brand and we were amazed at how much information people were talking about out in the open.

We all had a nice chat and laughed at some of the stuff people had revealed (sadly, no naked stuff).
It fascinated me that these people could be tracked so easily by geolocation, so not only would we know about their job titles, but also what bars they drank at and who they were dating.

I remember thinking, “I bet we can snoop on our competition!” moving slowly from just an experiment with social media tools to full-blown corporate espionage.

What We Acquired
The point of all of this was to see how active our competition was, who they were talking to, and what kind of deals they were making – and if it’s possible to gather all this information through public channels – specifically, via social media.

To protect the company we performed the investigation on, we shall call them “Business 123.”

We were able to scrounge up:
  • Their existing clients
  • Their potential clients
  • Who were the major players
From our viewpoint (I’m pretty sure most will agree), all of the points listed above is considered critical information – that if shared with the wrong people – could put a major dent in their day-to-day operations.

Here’s the routine we followed throughout the experiment.

Good oll’ Google + LinkedIn

We ran a Google search for “Business 123” and found them on LinkedIn, another social networking site for business professionals.

This initial phase was to build up basic information about the business.

Blogs + Facebook + Twitter = Goldmine

We then scoured any information relevant to key personnel: names of employees, their personal blogs, and Facebook profiles or Twitter pages.

Once we gathered enough information, we added them to our fake social networking profiles using a separate account we created.

To quickly summarize, this is what we’ve acquired:
  • Names
  • Business addresses
  • Email addresses
  • Twitter activity
  • Family members
  • Cell phone numbers
  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • License plate numbers
  • Home addresses
  • Driving patterns
  • Unconventional sexual conduct
  • Prostitution
  • Recreational drug use
  • Narcotics traffickers
  • Illegal immigration

This is where it gets pretty interesting. After discovering their email addresses and usual contact information, we simply added them to Foursquare, which is a location-based web service, and in our case, our work was cut in half because some people used it with their Twitter accounts.

For Business 123, we simply watched their activity and it matched up with their other social networking profile updates.

This was amazing!

We were able to find out where they were holding their meetings, who their connections were, what bars they frequently visited, and so forth.

Trust us, we wouldn’t dare listen in on the conversations at one of these meetings. However, it would be fairly easy to give their client’s company a ring to confirm our theories – and in turn, cause a disruption to ongoing negotiations if a contract was about to be signed.

We could talk to their prospects marketing department, and submit a last-minute proposal to destabilize Business 123 and grab the contract ourselves.

Clearly, we didn’t go through with this tactic; it’s morally wrong, unprofessional, nor how we run our operation.

But don’t forget: there are millions out there who wouldn’t think twice about moral dilemmas such as this.

Enforce Social Media Policy

This case shows that you must enforce a strong social media policy within your organization.

Employees have a habit of not only forgetting about harmful personal exposure, but also highly sensitive company information, all of which are easily picked up by a nefarious individual or organization.

For small businesses and well-known companies in the digital and mobile age, privacy should be your number one priority – especially when contracts are signed and worked on.

Have your lawyer draw up a formal documentation to be passed around to your employees that goes over not only the risks involved in revealing too much information on the Internet, but also show to them how it can also affect the business on a day-to-day basis.