Social media has only been around since the early 2000s, but no one really remembers a world without it. It has become our everything, including the channel for businesses to connect with customers conveniently and quickly. But amid the deluge of information available online, how do you find the specific data you need? For some cases, the key is social media scraping.
Maybe you want to create a list of all the customers who have complained about one of your competitors on Twitter. Or maybe you want to follow up with everyone who liked one of your particularly spicy posts on Instagram. In either case, social media scraping has become the best way to collect this type of important info—about your competitors, potential leads, and customers.
But scraping is a double-edged sword. While it can be used to refine your strategy, it can also be abused to invade people’s privacy. That’s why it’s important to abide by best practice and stick to only ethical scraping.
In this article, we’ll explore how to use social media scraping tools to collect valuable information effectively, both ethically and easily. We’ll also take a look at each major social media platform’s rules on scraping.
What is social media scraping?
Social media scraping is when you use software to automatically collect information from social media platforms. It’s usually done via a dedicated social media scraper, although scraping is also possible with scripts and custom code as well.
People scrape social media to collect lots of different information: usernames, information on followers, company details, and much more. You can also perform more general scraping operations—like scraping comments that contain a particular keyword.
While the scraping aspect is invaluable on its own, social media scrapers also make things that much easier by compiling and organizing the information they collect.
Let’s say you’re scraping different types of information about a LinkedIn page’s followers, for example. You’d probably want to include their usernames, job titles, number of followers, etc. The scraper will compile the information under the respective headings and let you export it, usually in a CSV, MS Excel, or Google Sheets format. Talk about handy!
The ethics and legalities of social media scraping
In most cases, scraping public information from social media platforms is legal. The key term here is public information. It’s unethical, and typically illegal, to scrape private information or copyrighted content.
However, for scraping to be ethical, it’s also important to consider what the information is used for. For example, it’s unethical to scrape people’s contact information with the intention of spamming or scamming them.
It’s also important to avoid scraping data and selling it for personal gain. Some companies create—and sell—entire databases with scraped information, subjecting them to legal action.
1. Is it legal to scrape Facebook?
Yes, it is legal to scrape public information on Facebook that isn’t copyrighted. While Meta has been cracking down on scraping, it’s still legal to scrape the platform—although it may violate Facebook’s terms.
If you’re planning to scrape Facebook, it’s best to avoid collecting private information like addresses or contact information. There’s still valuable data that you can collect ethically, like the number of followers of a page, information on your competitors, and likes and comments.
2. Is Instagram scraping allowed?
Yep. Like Facebook, it’s legal to scrape public information from Instagram that isn’t protected by copyright. Instagram is also owned by Meta (the company that owns Facebook), so it has similar rules and measures around data scraping.
3. Is it legal to scrape Twitter?
Yes, it is legal to scrape public data from Twitter—i.e., any data that is accessible without being logged in. You can also collect information using Twitter’s API, although this method is more time consuming.
4. Is it legal to scrape LinkedIn?
This one’s also a yes. As with other platforms, it’s legal to scrape public data from LinkedIn. However, like Meta, the platform has cracked down on scraping and has many precautions against it. To scrape data from LinkedIn safely though, you need to make sure you follow the right methodology and use the right tools.
How to scrape different social media platforms
The process for scraping different social media platforms is quite similar. A scraping tool (stay tuned for a couple of examples) automatically extracts the data in different formats and organizes it. Since it’s automated, this process is relatively easy.
Depending on the social media platform in question, you’ll have different available data to scrape. Here are some examples of the data people scrape from major social media platforms:
- Facebook. Scrapers gather the data available from Facebook profiles, and from the members of Facebook groups.
- Instagram. Scrapers can help you collect an Instagram account’s followers, posts linked to a particular hashtag, the accounts that have viewed a particular story, and other available data.
- Twitter. With a scraper, you can extract a list of the followers of Twitter profiles and the accounts that they follow. You can also extract information on a specific tweet, including the users who have liked it, and other tweets that an account has liked.
- LinkedIn. Here, you can scrape a profile’s available data, results from a LinkedIn search, information from a company page, and Sales Navigator search results.
Choosing the right social media scraping tools
Social media scraping tools typically work in one of two ways, and sometimes both:
- Some come with pre-built automation “recipes” for scraping different information from specific social media platforms. For example, one recipe might scrape a LinkedIn page’s followers, while another may collect comments from a public Facebook post. These types of social media scraping tools are really easy to get started with and don’t require much setup.
- Some may require a bit of preconfiguring. These tools need more input—about the type of information you want to scrape and the platform—to function. They’re typically easier to customize, but require more setup.
There are loads of tools for scraping social media, but here are two excellent ones to get started with:
PhantomBuster is one of the best, and most versatile, social media scraping tools. It requires little to no setup, and it comes with a whole library of pre-made automation recipes for every major social media platform, from LinkedIn to TikTok. It also supports scraping for many other platforms, like Google Maps.
PhantomBuster comes with a free 14-day trial that lets you run five “Phantoms” (i.e., automation recipes) at a time, with some restrictions. The trial is more than enough to determine if the tool is right for your needs, and when you’re ready to commit, the paid plans start at $59/month.
The company has also committed to following ethical scraping standards by only supporting public data scraping. And to protect your social media accounts, it encourages users to stay within rate limits (these are the limits on how much data you can extract in a day from the social media platform, as imposed by the platform).
Magical is a simple, no-code task ambient automation app that’s free to use. It has different features to automate repetitive tasks, including a very customizable text expander, and data entry automation (and scraping) functionality.
With Magical, simply select the variables for the data you want to extract, and keep the relevant tabs open. Magical then teleports the data from your open tabs to your spreadsheet or CRM with just a click. (Oh, and did we mention it’s 100% free to try? All you need to do is add the Magical Chrome extension.)
For best results, you can also combine these two tools to automate your entire workflow, and reach out to of reaching out to these new social media leads. For example, some sales pros and recruiters combine PhantomBuster and Magical to reach out to lots of prospects or jobseekers at a time.
PhantomBuster takes care of the data collection, while Magical helps automate outreach. Check this video out to see the two tools in action:
Social media scraping: the bottom line
Social media scraping is a great way to collect valuable information on autopilot. The thought of collecting so much data manually is almost unthinkable. Can you imagine copying the details of a Twitter account’s followers, and organizing them into a Google Sheet yourself? No, thank you.
But while scraping opens up lots of opportunities for sales pros, marketers, and recruiters, it’s important to scrape ethically and responsibly. Scraping public data is legal, but mainstream social media platforms discourage it. This is why you should make sure to choose a scraping tool that respects each platform’s rate limits.
If you follow best practices and respect people’s privacy, social media scraping is an excellent tool for achieving many business objectives. It’s really helpful for outreach. (And keeping tabs on the competition. 🤫)