There are 128 mentions of “Tim Altom” in Facebook. A lot of them aren’t me, of course. There are other parents as discerning in naming as mine were. But there are some surprises in there, too. One Facebook user in the Philippines actually cited me as an authority on search engines based on a previous column. I’m flattered, but a little nonplussed. A lot of the occurrences of my name are mysterious, shrouded in a dozen foreign languages.
Twitter shows a lot of listings for me, too, but they’re my own tweets or they appear in lists of followers. Not as ego-enhancing, but perhaps a little more appropriately humbling. Nobody on Twitter is tweeting about me, it seems. And considering how many people have gotten in trouble lately with Twitter, everyone from Jim Irsay teasing fans about hiring Brett Favre as his quarterback, to the humor site The Onion panicking followers with bogus tweets about gunshots coming from inside the Capitol Building, perhaps that’s just as well.
How do I know these things without even going to Facebook or Twitter? I used Google. Want to look yourself up on Facebook? It’s easy. In Google, type sitefacebook.com “your name.” In my case, it was sitefacebook.com “Tim Altom.” I had to use quotes around my name so Google would use both words. And there can’t be a space between “site” and “facebook.com”. You’ll have access only to Facebook pages that are open to the world, but a great many are. Look through Twitter in the same way.
Who hasn’t Googled himself? Those of us with unusual names have this easy, while those with common names may need to add a little additional information to narrow the search. “Bill Smith” may want to add something like “architect extraordinaire.”
While finding your name has a certain egotistical appeal, the real value of looking yourself up on social media sites is to find out what people are saying about you and your company. Today, “marketing” includes generating some buzz on social sites. You might generate buzz without intending to. Social sites are places where customers air their opinions in perfect safety, and you should be tuned in when they do.
Add more terms in the search and you’ll narrow it down faster. When you just add a keyword, Google assumes it’s to find both terms, not just one or the other. If you add an OR (with capital letters) between terms, you’ll get all the listings for one, the other, or both.
Social sites aren’t the only places that can help you do business reconnaissance or drive business. Blogs are helpful, too, if you can score a link or a mention on a few. Google can help you find out who’s linking to your Web site, too. Do this by using “link:” in your search. The query link:ibj.com, for example, found more than 2,000 links to Indianapolis Business Journal.
Now, when I added my name (“tim altom”) as a search term, it brought the results count down to a more manageable 59. Many of them have the IBJ domain, so they’re just links from IBJ to the article.
Google can help find people, too. I searched using site:linkedin.com “tim altom,” and, lo and behold, my listing there appeared. To find IBJ Managing Editor Greg Andrews, however, I had to use site:linkedin.com “Greg Andrews” ibj to differentiate him from the two dozen other Greg Andrews teeming throughout LinkedIn. The same trick found my name on other sites, too. You can, of course, just search for people on their various sites, but Google is a little more efficient because you need use only the one search engine, rather than several of them.
Realistically, if you have only a microbusiness, you’re probably not going to find a lot of social sites talking about you. Despite the monstrous size of the entire Internet, almost all of us are still largely unknown out there. That’s OK with me.•
Altom is an independent local technology consultant. His column appears every other week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.