News and social media research: Top 3 challenges

Laptop and print newspapers

News and social media searching is a big part of most of our investigations. Without the news, I wouldn’t have learned about a company’s legal issues that never made it to the courts. Without social media, I wouldn’t have seen what our due diligence subject did during a two-year gap in their work history. Without any of it, I wouldn’t have been able to answer a lot of my clients’ questions.

As with any type of research, online news and social media has its challenges. It takes time to cover your topic broadly and deeply, and there’s often a lot more involved than just a few quick searches.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges of news and social media and how to work around them.

It’s hard to find
There isn’t one database that works well for news, and you’ll likely need both free and fee-based sources. For social media, you’ll come across lots of sources with lots of promises, but one source won’t cover it all. Other issues that make online news and social media hard to find are paywalls, date restrictions, and private accounts.

Too much information
Especially with big stories and breaking news, you’ll be inundated with results. It’s difficult to sort through all the misinformation, disinformation, and deep fakes and identify what’s relevant. For social media, the information stream can quickly turn into a firehose, and with so many platforms, checking them all can be tedious.

Too little information
With some topics, you may find little to no news or social media content. Perhaps your subjects aren’t covered in the news, and not everyone’s on social media. Many companies prefer privacy over telling all, and emerging industries and niche topics often translate into fewer search results.

Now that we’ve covered some of the biggest challenges of searching news and social media, now what?

  • Budget plenty time to find the right sources, construct the right searches, and sift through the results.
  • Learn how to evaluate your sources and everything that you find. Yes, that also takes time, but have a checklist or system, and know what to look for.
  • Save some time with aggregators, sources that collect news from lots of different places, but know their limitations. They don’t include everything, and you might miss something important.
  • Take advantage of your library’s free news databases. All you need is a library card. Be sure to check the usage agreements or with a librarian, though, to see they can be used for your business.
  • Identify the most likely social platforms, because you can’t do it all. If you’re not experienced with a particular platform, consider bringing in an expert.
  • For the best coverage, try Google for social media and then search the platforms directly. Again, you need to take a multi-pronged approach.
  • Manage your and your clients’ expectations regarding coverage, budget, and timeframe. This is probably the most important tip, because you don’t want to promise more than you can deliver.

Online news and social media searches have their limitations. Make sure you know what they are and how to work around them.

If you’d like to learn more about news searching, check out my online course, How to Search Online News for Due Diligence and Background Investigations.


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