social media how toFor many companies, the conversation has shifted from “why” or “should” we do social media, to “where” and “how” social media should be done.

A major component of answering those questions effectively is understanding in which social outposts your customers are concentrated, because there really is no benefit in beating your customers to the punch. Companies should follow, not lead, their customers across the social web.

At conferences, I’m often asked something along these lines: “My boss thinks none of our customers are on Facebook, but I think they are. What do I do?”

Here are 4 ways to find out where your customers are in social media:

#1: Hire a Spy

Update: Since the publication of this article Flowtown no longer offers these services.

Flowtown and Rapleaf are two of the leaders in the emerging field of social anthropology. It’s ingenious and a bit freaky (like Cirque de Soleil).

You provide a list of your customers’ email addresses and these services figure out how many (and who) among your customers are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and niche social networks, what their “likes” are and other important details.

Flowtown is perfect for small- and medium-sized businesses (see my review here). Rapleaf is for larger companies. My friend Kyle Lacy does a lot of consulting in this area, helping organizations with Rapleaf analyses.


#2: Ask

Perhaps the most obvious way of finding out where your customers are hanging out in social media is unfortunately the least utilized. Ask them.

If you have a “Contact Us” form, an online lead generation form, an email newsletter signup or a shopping cart, why are you still only asking for name, address and email address? Add data collection fields for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (at minimum).

#3: Email Behavior

Have you added links to your social outposts in your emails? Have you added the ability for email recipients to share content on Twitter, Facebook, Digg and elsewhere? If you send email routinely, you need to integrate email and social immediately.

Most quality email service providers give you the option of easily adding sharing tools, and you can then run a report showing which of your subscribers clicked your Twitter link and/or shared content on Facebook. Presto! Now you know that person is active on those social sites.

social media messenger

#4: Gmail Stalking

Twitter, Facebook and other social outposts have incorporated functionality that allows you to see whether your Gmail contacts are using the services and invite them to connect with you. While this integration is intended for personal use, you can use it for your business, too. Here’s how:

  • First, create a .csv file from a list of your customers’ email addresses (you only need email addresses, not names, mailing address, etc.).
  • Next, create a free account on specifically for this purpose (you don’t want to be doing this on an existing account).
  • Third, upload the .csv to your Gmail account.
  • Now, go to Twitter and create a new account using your special new Gmail email address.  On Step Two “Find Your Friends” of the Twitter signup process, select Gmail. Bam! Twitter automatically reads all of the email addresses of your customers stored in Gmail, allowing you to track the number on Twitter and/or follow them immediately.
  • Now, set up a new Facebook account using your new Gmail address. On Step One “Find Friends” of the Facebook signup process, indicate that you have a Gmail account, and follow the simple instructions. Bingo! All of your customers on Facebook are presented to you, and you should be able to become their “friend” with a single click.

I uploaded a list of approximately 2,000 subscribers to my email newsletter, and was able to track down more than 1,000 on Twitter and 500 on Facebook. Total cost? Zero dollars and about 30 minutes.


Create a free account on specifically for this purpose.


On Step Two “Find Your Friends” of the Twitter signup process, select Gmail.


On Step One “Find Friends” of the Facebook signup process, indicate that you have a Gmail account, and follow the simple instructions.

As the social web becomes more interconnected, understanding how your customers are connected (or connectable) to your brand in social media is a sizable part of the success equation.

Are you a social media detective? Let us know your thoughts and ideas below.

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  • I love the line “Companies should follow, not lead, their customers across the social web.”

    Otherwise, very crafty 🙂

  • I think it’s great that you mentioned to ask Jay because so many people forget that, not matter how simple or easy it is.

  • I like the strategy for leveraging gmail to find all of your customers online. Well done!

  • I like the Gmail idea. I might be missing something here, but what if your company already has an existing Twitter and Facebook Business Page? How do you transfer the newly acquired connections to your exisiting business pages?

  • Even though many B2B customers may have accounts on Twitter or Facebook often they are using personal email addresses or not very active on these networks. I like the idea of a social media anthropologist.

  • Gmail is a good one didn’t think of that one. How about Ubervu? Thanks, looking forward to listening to you #SMSS10

  • deelirium

    This is a great idea for Twitter, but on Facebook I can’t “friend” anyone on behalf of my business page, and they would have no reason to friend my personal profile because they don’t know who I am. So maybe it’s best for personal brands, not business or organizations on Facebook.

  • Done! I used my exisitng Twitter account and existing FB account, but a new gmail adress. Great idea! Tracked more or less half of my subscribers on twitter!! (And 20% on FB). This was again a great tip!
    PS. I sent out a newsletter to tell my subscribers that I had tried to find them, so they know where the friend request or follow comes from.

  • Thanks Dino. I’m working on craftiness.

  • That’s the paradox of online. So easy to reach customers, yet it also creates distance.

  • Thanks much. So simple, but rarely done.

  • yeah, that’s the one problem. if people are using different email addresses for business and personal. I don’t have a solution for that one yet.

  • Indeed, that’s a good point. I wonder what the rule is for community pages on that.

  • Really good idea to let them know, so they aren’t TOTALLY freaked out!

  • I got amazing nice and friendly reactions already: People think I have found them personally by hand, and are really responding in great ways. So nice… Reconnected already with some wonderful peeps tonight. Thanks so much Jay for this trick. It’s another step in creating trust and real interaction with my list.

  • Blaine Jeffery

    Hmmm, it’s probably me but Twitter isn’t connecting with my Gmail account when attempting to import my contacts. I see comments addressing this about a year ago, has Gmail changed something that is causing the issue again? Anyone else getting this ” There was a problem importing your contacts from Gmail. Please try again.”

  • Blaine Jeffery

    FYI, I’m on Firefox and Chrome, neither import is working.

  • Wow, that Gmail tip is pretty slick! As much as I dislike the term, it definitely qualifies as a ninja move. Thanks!

  • Great post. Love the gmail move. How do I become a spy?

  • Great idea thanks for sharing!

    I found it defeated the purpose when having to create a new twitter and FB. You can actually just upload directly through your current FB and Twitter.

  • Jay, this is awesome! Just found out from Flowtown that most of my customers are on Facebook & LinkedIn (it’s a tie)! Very cool…

  • Yes, I really liked this tip as well. I tried to do something like this once but poorly executed it.

    Do you think your customers would be upset if you started following them based on this strategy?

  • While you can’t automatically friend them from your fan page, you can see who is on there and then send personal messages to those that aren’t currently on your friends list. If there are thousands of people, this might be tedious. But, you might be able to find some worth targeting.

  • Kip

    In this country (UK), transferring that data and then using to find contacts on Twitter breaches various Data Protection laws.

    I’d also suggest that you look up the term “ethics”. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

  • I had this same question. It seems like there is a step missing at the end. You create these new accounts so you can find people and then you’re supposed to friend these people with the bogus account??

  • I don’t think you can just “see who’s on there”. You’d have to be willing to friends all these people from a separate account just to get a look.

  • I thought this was pretty creative too. My customers are small business owners, and I think they would be happy that I took the time and am following them. May be a little different for consumers, would be interesting to get some stats on that.

  • If they’ve already opted in to receive information from you, why do you think it’s unethical to offer to provide them information on a second (or third) platform?

    We’ve talked about some of these things at the non-profit I work for mostly because our database trends older (baby boomer or older). While there are lots of services that have offered to take our mailing database (street addresses, etc.) and provide us email addresses for those contacts, we’ve stayed away from that because of the uneasiness we know our donors would have.

    I’ve also seen that there is a definite B2B / B2C split in this thinking. B2C companies seem to err on the side of only providing information / contacting customers with the information they’ve already given you. Where B2B companies seem to be more aggressive in tracking down other ways to contact an individual (including paying money to get phone numbers, emails, etc.)

  • Consumers and also the age of consumers seems to play a factor. I know that people in GenX, and especially GenY, seem to almost expect multi-touch from brands that they interact with but that baby boomers and older seem to want to be more in control of the experience and only have you interact they way they originally contacted you.

  • Definitely some awesome tips here! Using social networking sites is key, as places like Twitter and Facebook can actually show you statistics based on your readerbase.

  • While these are brilliant tips, I don’t feel comfortable spying on them. The Gmail tip is definitely pro! But why not just ask them?

  • @Megan Zuniga, I totally agree with you. Firstly becasue I don’t feel the need to stalk my clients, just to make healthy relationships with them, proper and effective in business terms. Besides, I don’t feel all these tips are news for the majority of us who have been using social media sites for both, personal and business purposes for a long time now. Anyways, you never know…it might be of some help for someone.

  • I really liked Gmail tip. And I tested with a free account. Pity but failed to execute twitter (& facebook) accounts for 2 e-mail addresses I provided.

  • Differentiating customers from potential customers.

    It’s probably a broader question but can one determine niche presence / usage on social media?

    If you don’t have email addresses (which you wouldn’t if you hadn’t captured leads from somewhere) then the research methods described would not be possible.

    Can we determine if a market is using social forums all as a prerequisite to launching into a social media experiment?


  • Hire a company to spy on my customers? And trust that spy not to divulge any of that information else for a profit?
    Giving a third party any information collected by my company clearly violates my privacy statement. I would like to think that my customers trust me more than my competitors which is one of the reasons that they are my customers. I think you can do better than this, I hope so.

  • Great advice! Going to try that email tip later this afternoon.


  • Those are some pretty sneaky tips. More evidence that your online activity is not as private as some would like…

  • Hi,

    Love it BUT how do you get them to ‘like’ your Facebook page?

  • Hi I like the Gmail idea. I might be missing something here, but what if your company already has an existing Twitter and Facebook Business Page? How do you transfer the newly acquired connections to your exisiting business pages?
    Flash Designers UK

  • re: Gmail Stalking – I assume the Facebook Gmail connection only works for presonal accounts as opposed to Fan pages?

  • Hi Naomi! How is Flowtown? Do you like it? Is it worth paying for it?

  • Akhil

    How do you find out who your (real) customers are within a customer segment?
    These tips are great if you know the email addresses, names etc of your target customer; but what if as a start-up we only know that our customer segment is people who are divorced/widow and don’t have any customers yet?

  • I liked your all of idea’s, but asking them I feel is the best way to get honest customer. Web is now shifted to Social site’s and it is must you should be aware with what all are the platform’s your customer are using.

    Great Article 🙂

  • I really like Tip #4 I use it all the time. Thanks!

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  • Isn’t it against Facebook policy to have 2 personal profiles ? 

  • Nhung Quang

    Good one .Thanks

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