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Social Media Analytics: a Tool Ignored in Corporate Investigations

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Prolific social media use is generating an ever-increasing amount of publicly available data. Just about every tweet, Facebook like, and instant message leaves a digital trail. And data analytics is growing increasingly skilled at mining that information in order to provide important insights, not just to marketers and government spies, but to corporations conducting internal investigations.

Unfortunately, many corporate investigations are ignoring those tools. Most companies fail to make use of social media analytics, according to a new survey by Deloitte, leaving in-house legal teams without potentially beneficial information.

And the Survey Says ...

Deloitte asked over 2,400 professionals the banking and securities, investment, retail, industrial, and other sectors "what types of information does your organization use when conducting investigations?" The results were telling. Only 38 percent of respondents relied on a combination of traditional information sources, such as news media, proprietary databases, and government websites, along with publicly available social media data.

Of those who make use of social media data in investigations, only 12.6 percent applied analytics to the data. Further, many respondents, 25.8 percent, weren't even aware that analytics tools were available for publicly available data from social media accounts. (About 20 percent didn't know whether they knew.)

When social media content was used, it was primarily HR-focused. HR purposes accounted for 21.6 percent of social media use, followed by transaction-focused uses at 10.5 percent, regulatory compliance uses at 8.7 percent, and litigation at 5.2 percent.

Lost Opportunities

Social media analytics works by scanning the Internet for unstructured, publicly available data relevant to an investigation. Algorithms can quickly analyze that data, drawing inferences and insights from a vast amount of "low information density" but "huge volume" data.

What benefits can social media analytics provide? Analytics could be useful "in the context of pending litigation, fraud and corruption investigations, regulatory inquiries, M&A due diligence, and cyber threat sensing," Deloitte's Wendy Schmidt said in a statement. When it comes to high risk terminations, for example, analytics can help identify violent or disturbing messages posted online, even when a user's identity is shrouded. It can be used as evidence in benefit claims and in internal investigations of everything from insider trading to theft of proprietary information.

Lack of budget, understanding, and skill were the major roadblocks cited by respondents -- but corporate legal departments aren't the only ones taking their time when it comes to analytics. Law firms too have been skeptical of data analytics claims. It's not lack of funds they cite, but lack of independent verification of analytic firms' claims. Without third-party verification, it can be hard to tell if the great insights that analytics promises are as legit as the companies assert.

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