With the tremendous amount of information that is shared on social media, those who are in need of actionable intelligence must be prepared to have a structured approach to gather information from the rapidly expanding resource source on the web. Based on my experience in the field of competitive intelligence research using the internet, here are five quick tips for individuals who wish to use social networks to gather business related information to make the right decisions.
1. Have The Right Mindset
A trait of a good researcher is the ability to be inquisitive about the subject that they are covering. Not only should a researcher be “nosey“; but, have the right instincts to anticipate and ask the right questions (i.e., key intelligence topics) that clients will have. For example, a competitor has just launched a new software upgrade and personnel in marketing would like to know what users are saying about the recent version. Where would you turn to find such intelligence? With such social media outlets as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, researchers should have the natural instincts to conduct queries directly on these platforms instead of going straight to Google.
2. Know The Tools
Utilizing the social web for competitive intelligence gathering does not begin and end with simple searches of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It is important to know about lesser know tools such as Slideshare, Scribd, Followerwonk industry specific networks and even crowdsourcing applications that competitors may make available free on the web to engage their target audience. One would think that anyone competing for market share in the coffee house / cafe market would know about Starbucks crowdsourcing platform, My Starbucks Idea. The application can be an invaluable source to glean intelligence about beverages and food products that Starbucks’ network community members are putting forward.
3. Stop Depending On Google
Google is a great web search tool; however, when it comes to mining social network for strategic intelligence, it may not be the most efficient tool to use. Case in point: finding industry outlook reports or conference presentations.
For individuals that are not familiar with Google Advanced Search techniques, using Slideshare can save minutes when time is tight. By entering keywords relevant to the industry, documents with some pretty interesting insights can be discovered. Figure 1 presents the results for the query: “social gaming” + 2012. The results are filtered to provide the most recent documents that were uploaded to the platform.
The result that is highlighted is a link to a presentation that was given at last year’s ad:tech conference in San Francisco, United States. Using the same keywords, “social gaming” + 2012″ with Google supplies a broad set of results that will not lead to a report, nor a conference presentation.
4. Identify “Social Media Happy” Competitors
In haste of benefiting from a social media presence, some competitors and their employees will share too much information on certain platforms. Individuals that practice proactive competitive intelligence should identify which competitors are very activity on social media and are prone to let strategic details slip. One can only point to the Hewlett Packard LinkedIn gaffe where former VP/Chief Technologist and VP of Engineering, Scott McClellan shared intelligence about the company’s pending cloud service. (Please read, “Hewlett-Packard Shows Hazard of Sharing LinkedIn Profiles“)
Figure 2 is a screenshot of McClellan’s LinkedIn profile in which the vice president posted the details.
5. Identify Industry “Influencers”
Good researchers rely on their network of individuals that are “in the know” to gather information that can be hard to come by on the web. Thanks to social networks, individuals can broaden their networks to include people that they have not met in person including industry influencers. Although there are different ways to define a “influencer” and tools to identify them (i.e. Klout, PeerIndex, Empire Avenue), researchers should select the influencer who is very active in terms of sharing information regarding the industry. Once identified, researchers should add them to their network to access the information that is pushed out by the influencer. (Please Note: Google Plus users can access the information that is shared by circle members in personal results. Figure 3 is a screen capture of the personal results for: “social software” + trends where the first result is a post by social media guru, Jeremiah Owyang, which is a member of my “social media experts” circle on Google Plus.
According to Klout, Owyang’s score is 77 (as of March 6th, 2012) and he is classified as a “Thought Leader” that has influence over 81 000 individuals.
Social networks hold a tremendous amount of strategic intelligence for companies seeking to make the best decisions to compete their respective industries. Similar to the invisible web in the late 90′s and early 2000′s, searching social networks requires the right approaches and tools to be efficient to find the right information. Companies or organizations that fail to acknowledge the importance of collecting intelligence in a web 2.0 environment will weaken their ability to supply decision makers with the best intelligence available on the web.
Intelegia is a boutique consulting firm in Montreal, Canada that understands the need to be innovative and strategic in a business landscape that’s evolving at an incredible pace. The firm delivers social media strategies to efficiently engage with stakeholders in economic development, business to business and business to consumer segments. It assists clients by defining and executing sustainable social web strategies that will allow their brand message to stand out in a competitive environment where target audience engagement is a must.
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