During the course of a normal investigation, a social media investigation may be necessary as employees can now interact with others outside of work through social media. In 2021, 98% of employees used social media for non-work-related reasons. This means that in instances of bullying, harassment or other misconduct, a social media investigation might need to be carried out to ensure that enough evidence is gathered to come to the correct conclusion. 

A social media investigation can uncover fake or anonymous accounts, image metadata, deleted posts and modified videos of photos.

Tips for a social media investigation

If you are not familiar with the process or you are just looking for advice, this is the right place to start. Before you initiate the investigation, you need to consider the following tips:

  • Hire an experienced social media investigator
  • Think before you start – Set goals
  • Choose the right case management system 
  • Develop a clear process

Hire an experienced social media investigator

During a social media investigation, the investigators will ask the parties involved to share with them any relevant evidence they have. This could include media posts, images and videos that went online as well as messages. The investigators will also use different types of software to look through personal social media accounts and the images and videos that the employees provided them with. The software can show whether posts were modified, where messages were sent from, if the photos provided are real and what devices videos were filmed on. 

The investigators can gain more insights depending on the software type. Even in an anonymous post, an investigator will usually be able to tell who the real user is and even get the date the account was created. Deleting a post can make life slightly harder for them but once something is on the internet, it can’t be deleted. 

Think before you start – Set goals

Before starting a social media investigation, it’s important to take a step back and consider what you’re trying to get out of the investigation. Are you trying to establish credibility? Or are you trying to uncover whether an incident happened or not?

A social media investigation may not always be part of a big process. A company could carry out a social media investigation before a high-risk employee is hired to ensure that they don’t have anything worrying going on online.

Knowing what you’re trying to achieve through the investigation can let the investigator know what to look for. Instead of looking at a big list of data and details, they may be able focus on what’s important for the specific case.

When setting your goals keep in mind that a social media investigation could show whether an employee has engaged in:

  • Violent/Abusive behaviour or threats
  • Risky activities such as gambling and excessive drinking
  • Discrimination against others through posts or messages
  • Harassment 
  • Behaviour that doesn’t align with company values or policies 
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Drug and illegal substance abuse

Sometimes, thinking the opposite way, instead of thinking about the problem, thinking about what the outcome you want to get at, can help shape the investigation process. Obviously both mindsets need to be combined and assist in creating a more effective investigation process. Keep in mind though that the ‘outcome’ you’re thinking of should not bias the investigation. For example, it should not be ‘find a reason to fire/not hire someone’, it should be ‘find out if there is any concerning behaviour from them online’. It should leave open the possibility that there is nothing to be concerned about.

social media investigation

Choose the right case management system 

Companies nowadays have very limited resources and if a social media investigation becomes necessary, the HR team will most likely struggle to manage everything. They will need to focus on finding the right investigators, getting all the necessary details from the party, follow up for case updates and more activities that will overload their plate. This is why it’s important to choose a case management system that will help both the HR team and the investigators.

Polonious is trusted by many organisations worldwide, not only because we reduce investigation times and costs, but also because our system can be integrated with a range of software. This helps the team control all information from one place. 

The purpose of the case management system is to automate case progress updates, help the investigation team store evidence securely, conduct online interviews, set reminders and more. All these functions can reduce the risk of human error and take the pressure off the team as by automating tasks, there are fewer things for them to keep in mind. 

Develop a clear process

The social media investigation should be split into different parts:

  • Profile search: Once the investigator has all relevant information, they will start looking through the person’s social media accounts, even those that were not provided. When they find their social media profile for every platform, they move on to the next step. 
  • Gathering evidence: Most investigators (if not all) use tools to gather evidence as it’s less time-consuming and more successful. Social media investigation tools can very quickly search through the platforms’ records and can even use criteria to filter through any irrelevant information. They could collect months worth of information in a couple of hours. When using a social media investigation tool, the investigator should ensure that its practices are legal and compliant with the laws and policies of the company and the country which the investigation is taking place in. While collecting evidence from social media can be beneficial, there are other risks that may complicate the process.
  • Interview with all relevant individuals: The investigator may start the process by having an interview with the company and/or the people involved in the investigation. They will collect personal information, such as their name, date of birth, email address, personal address and potentially more. This will assist the investigator in authenticating profiles and evidence later. If the whole incident took place online, the investigator may ask the parties involved to provide their own evidence before the social media investigation starts. This could include personal messages, social media profiles and even hashtags used by the employees. 
  • Analysing evidence: Similarly to gathering evidence, the investigator will use tools to analyse all results. These tools can assess a person’s digital footprint and authenticate images, videos and more based on the metadata, their activity, geotags etc. They could indicate that an employee has hidden or deleted certain posts. They can also discover if their account went private and when and highlight any threads with key terms related to the incident. This saves the team a lot of time as they don’t have to manually check each piece of evidence.
  • Prepare a report: After the evidence is collected and analysed, the investigator will prepare a report based on their findings. The report will include:
  • Who the parties involved are
  • The background of the investigation
  • What the allegations are
  • What happened during the investigation process
  • If there were any witnesses
  • The findings of the investigation
  • The conclusion

The challenges of a social media investigation

There are many legal and ethical concerns surrounding a social media investigation. How far can an employer go? How thin is the line between what is right and wrong? One of the main reasons why an experienced investigator is needed is because they will be aware of what is legal or not and won’t jeopardise the reputation of the company. They will remain neutral through the process and know how to store all evidence in a secure and confidential manner. 

A big challenge during an investigation is the authentication of the files or posts provided. It will be difficult for the investigator to recover photos or videos to their original form and if they do find their original form, then they have to save it so it can’t be altered. 

Due to how social media platforms vary in nature, without reliable software an investigator could struggle to gather evidence. There will also be a lot of data they will need to sift through to find the correct information. Whether it is a case management tool or a social media investigation tool, technology is the investigator’s best friend through this process. 

Are you starting a social media investigation?

At Polonious, we pride ourselves on offering a reliable, secure and high-quality system. We have been ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certified for many years and will continue to be as it emphasises our commitment to an effective and efficient system. Through Polonious, all reports are consistent, communication is standardised and all comments made during the investigation are automatically included in reports. 

If you are looking for optimal workload management, want to create dynamic dashboards and are looking to cut investigation costs, then give us a demo! We will be happy to show you how our system can help you achieve a better investigation.