Magic APIs, Exploits, and other fairytales of social media

Social Media Monitoring practitioners routinely bear the brunt of command level frustration over what can and cannot be found online. After years in the discipline it is easy to see where frustrations occur. Much of the conflict is based in misconceptions about SMM technologies. Some of them are actually humorous whereas others are downright aggravating. Below are some of the most commonly encountered:

1. Vaporware: (n) a program that despite what your friend told you, does not exist. I lost count of how many times a discussion has started with, “I want a program that…” and ends with a modern iteration of “SKYNET.” The fact that such a program does not exist has caused many a police executive and security professional to hesitate before buying a product. It seems they are holding out for that one perfect, all-knowing, all-doing, super crime solving software. This is commonly referred to as a “Unicorn” among practitioners. The solution? Go with a program that provides what you reasonably need.

2. “Why can’t you find it?” This is one of the single most aggravating questions any SM practitioner can hear. The easy answer is, “There are approximately 1.2 million terabytes of data available on the commercial web and you want me to find one missing tweet? From six days ago?” Of course this answer will not win friends or convert non believers to the fold. The truth is finding information like tweets and status updates can be extremely difficult. As a rule you need at least two of the four dimensions (User, Content, Location, Time) to vector in on a specific item.

3. Secret APIs- Let’s be clear, even SMM platforms have to abide by rules. As practitioners we know one of the risks in this discipline is the loss of an API. Savvy practitioners will know enough about the various social media sites to “mainline” searches if needed. Ethical practitioners stay away from SMM platforms who claim to have “secret access” to otherwise unavailable APIs. Rumors constantly swirl of platforms negotiating back-room deals with social media sites. In the end, if the data is acquired through suspicious means, it is no good for law enforcement, and may even lead to litigation.

4. Exploit-O-Rama- This is specific to SMM practitioners who gather information for prosecution. As of right now, information obtained via a script or exploit, which would normally not be accessible without a court order, is poisoned fruit. Many a speaker will stand in front of a room and deliver amazing speeches on the power of hidden exploits, but at some point even they must admit their methods will not stand in court. The best advice, “when in doubt, get a court order.”

5. Free is Key- There are plenty of free SMM platforms out there. Some of them like Tweetdeck and Topsy are actually really good. However, at the end of the day nothing beats a paid platform. Competition in this space has benefitted practitioners more than many can imagine. Whereas a few years ago a platform would display information once every 10 minutes, today’s platforms can monitor in real-time, build heat maps, conduct link analysis, and so much more. The old adage truly holds up, “you get what you paid for.”