Manessa, Ninjutsu, and MySpace

In December 2007, I had the privilege and honor of being invited to participate in a search effort for Manessa Donovan, a 15 year old niece of Christopher Wilson, the host of Answers for Freelancers. Manessa went missing just before Thanksgiving, and regular search efforts were not generating results. Chris reached out to his network, and within 5 days had found her.

My part in this epic was small. Almost all of the credit for finding Manessa goes to Chris Wilson, who answered call after call, email after email, and endured torrents of junk and spiteful comments from petty people with nothing better to do than to slag on others.

What happened in my part of Manessa’s recovery was based on an old ninjutsu strategy called joei no jutsu. Chris knew that Manessa had a MySpace account and kept in touch with a lot of her friends there. While other search efforts were underway, I took it upon myself to create a separate MySpace profile just for this campaign, with as many photos and other information on it that I could find from Manessa’s profile, as well as the information Chris had compiled about the people she was with.

The next step, after creating that profile and ensuring the information was clear, with a sense of urgency and obvious call to action, was to start grabbing Manessa’s network. I invited every one of her friends that she was connected to, which was about 300 or so, to the profile.

Chris knew the rough geographic area that Manessa was in, so I recruited folks in her age range in those zip codes as well. Whether or not the people knew her, they had clear images and information if they ran into her in a fast food place or other public location.

The third category I recruited was the media – there were a decent number of media personalities and media outlets in the general geographic region where Manessa was reported to be.

The final category I recruited was anyone who self-identified as a member of law enforcement in the geographic region, sort of an informal, unofficial Amber Alert.

All of this took about 3 hours to do, from start to finish.

Almost immediately, within hours of setting up the profile, information began to flow it rapidly. At this point, I disconnected from the accounts and turned over all the login credentials to Chris so he could manage it directly.

Joei no jutsu is a ninjutsu strategy for managing a network in a time of war. The premise is that during a time of crisis, the enemy will recruit just about any able-bodied person into its armies because they’re short, and in doing so, they relax background checks and other procedures that they’d normally use to find infiltrators.

Ordinarily, on any social network, trying to “infiltrate” a network is difficult because outsiders are not necessarily welcome to a person’s social circle. Joei no jutsu in the age of MySpace means setting up a credible, truthful, informative, and urgent campaign, and then messaging other existing networks rapidly. People are more likely to respond, especially in a missing persons case like this, if you present a clear, unquestionable case. This tendency let me get connected rapidly with folks, get the message out, and encourage network members to spread the word to THEIR friends.

If you’re a parent of a child who participates on social networks like MySpace, you owe it to yourself and your child to learn how to use these networks and how to leverage them in a time of need.

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