DIY Due Diligence
The word is spreading that companies are using Internet search techniques in a sort of do-it-yourself background check. The message is directed most strongly at college students, who may be posting pictures and stories about their youthful indiscretions that can come back to haunt them at job interview time. The same technique can provide valuable information in other business relationships, too.
A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 35% of all internet users have posted content online (via Emergence Marketing). It's even higher among younger users and home broadband users (and broadband penetration is still increasing). So, in addition to the information already available from corporate web sites, trade show speaker bios, and trade press articles, the people you interact with are becoming more likely to publish something about themselves.
That suggests that an increasing number of the people you interact with in business have posted original content somewhere online. Spend a little time with some search engines, and you can gain insights that you wouldn't get from the usual, guarded business contact. You might find the types of problematic content referred to above, but you may also learn something about their interests, hobbies, or professional lives. In other words, you may learn about the human being you're dealing with.
Of course, it's useful to check up on candidates in the hiring process (and assume that they do the same check on you). I recommend doing the same with the other people you interact with—customers, suppliers, partners. You'll learn more about them professionally, and you may discover just the right personal connection.