A Gizmodo piece entitled “This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account” went around social media this week. The headline was certainly catchy and several people I follow expressed admiration for the effort and train of thought that went into collecting a series of seemingly disparate threads into a reasonable conclusion.

Understandably, the article sparked a conversation on the PRSPCT-L with regards to how the author’s work compares to ours in prospect research. Lynn Lazar, chair of Apra’s Ethics and Compliance Committee, shared this statement:

The Ethics and Compliance Committee, who absolutely appreciates a good sleuthing technique, reminds prospect development professionals the steps undertaken by the author of the Gizmodo article are not in line with Apra’s ethics statement and Apra’s social media ethics statement, which states you must be at all times who you say you are and also one must comply with social networks’ terms of use and conditions of service.

In this case, she referred readers to Apra’s ethics statements and standards as well as Instagram’s terms of use. I encourage you to read through the rest of the thread on the -L.

Ethics aside, the story highlights the power that a researcher can wield. Computers and algorithms can’t yet take the facts that a prospect has two children, a home held in a trust, a newspaper story announcing the purchase of a second home, and tell me that my prospect owns that home. The computer can’t know that when the second home is in the name of a different trust and has a different mailing address. But a prospect researcher might find all those scraps and realize that the two trusts are just variations of the prospect’s children’s names and suddenly the key slips into place.

Each of us embarks on similar searches in the course of our work. As you undertake your own research, remember that before this past week, you couldn’t go to Google or Twitter and ask what James Comey’s Twitter handle was. Today you can. Embrace your value as a prospect researcher. Every day we answer questions that can’t always be Googled. In doing so, we open doors, unlock new capacity ratings, and enhance the store of knowledge at our respective organizations.