The Competitive Intelligence Potential
of Social Media
Senior Consultant, Competitive Intelligence
Social media is a hot topic within technology, marketing and public relations. In less than six years, Facebook has acquired half a billion subscribers and become a major platform for social marketing. Major news events are as likely to break on Twitter as on CNN, since Twitter turned into a global conversation channel. LinkedIn has become a vital platform for professional networking. Along with other programs, these social media sites give competitive intelligence professionals unprecedented access to information about companies, their employees and their customers.
To make the most of the competitive intelligence (CI) potential of social media, first become familiar with each platform’s value proposition, particularly with respect to the “public-ness” of individuals’ activity on that social network. Also familiarize yourself with each platform’s user interface and search functionality. For this article, I’ve targeted each social media platform and defined its specific applications for CI.
Many companies have an official presence on Twitter managed by marketing, public relations or customer support teams. Individual are on Twitter to share their interests, including employees of your company and your competition. Customers of your company and your competitors are on Twitter sharing their joys and frustrations with products and services.
The simplest way to capture data
from Twitter is to set up searches for
keywords. These include the name of your
company, your competitors, appropriate
technical terms and brand names in your
industry, as well as hash tags related to
topics or events that you want to track. Go
http://search.twitter.com/advanced to construct your search. By choosing the RSS feed option you’ll automatically receive all of the latest tweets that contain your keywords. This no-cost approach will track the relevant public conversation that can support your competitive intelligence activities. Twitter does not require you to have an account to search, and passive listening is a perfectly ethical practice.
Topics which have general consumer interest generate a high volume of activity on Twitter, while technical, B2B market information produces a manageable volume of chatter. You may want to check with your public relations or customer support group to find out if they subscribe to automated monitoring tools.
Most of those groups that track social media focus exclusively on the company and its brands. The competitive intelligence team can help them add value to their monitoring activities by showing them how to take a broader perspective on the social media conversation in exchange for a license to use their automated monitoring tools.
CI professionals use LinkedIn to identify and contact targets for primary intelligence interviewing. The advanced search capability allows you to find people based on their location, current or former employer, and profile keywords such as their area of expertise. LinkedIn members can indicate in their profile settings whether they are open to “expertise requests.” It’s definitely an art to write a good InMail or referral request that will generate a favorable response, so remember your elicitation basics as well as your ethics. A good way to encourage LinkedIn members to respond to your InMail is to offer to add them to your network. In particular, job seekers are eager to expand their LinkedIn networks.
Company profiles aggregate individual profile information including the number of employees, current employees, new hires, changes and promotions, recent departures, median age of the employees, median tenure of employees at this company and other valuable information. LinkedIn is an excellent place to start your research on a new company.
Any member of LinkedIn can create a Group that other interested members can join for discussion and debate about issues in their industry. Some groups are by invitation only. Following the chatter in these groups can be a useful way to obtain a view on the zeitgeist within a given industry. As an added benefit of being a group membership, you can directly send messages to your fellow group members.
LinkedIn provides subscribers the ability to “follow” companies and receive updates about hires, promotions and new job opportunities. While the Follow feature reduces the effort required to keep up with companies, the identities of those who follow a company is visible.
Facebook has become an important platform for marketing to consumers, particularly younger ones. Many companies, particularly B2C companies, direct much of their social marketing activity to Facebook by creating official pages that individual Facebook users can “Like.” Companies make announcements or share special offers via their Facebook page. It’s useful to “Like” your competitors on Facebook to evaluate their social marketing savvy.
What’s Next for Social Media?
The next wave of social media platforms are location-based services such as Foursquare and Yelp. These platforms allow people with GPS-equipped phones to “check in” at venues such as restaurants, coffee bars and concert venues. Currently these sites offer limited functionality for search and data aggregation. As these become a critical component of the marketing mix we will have new opportunities to gain CI insight.
About the author:
August Jackson is a senior consultant in competitive intelligence for Verizon. He applies competitive intelligence and strategic analysis to anticipate near-term competitive dynamics and long-term innovation and disruption in high-tech industries. Jackson has helped sales teams win major contracts, and senior executives make informed decisions for successful product launches, country expansion, mergers and acquisitions.