In a recent study completed by Fletcher/CSI, we noted that social media is already becoming old hat and that most companies have dynamic programs in place to leverage social media for communication and strategy. For competitive intelligence (CI), social media has also matured as a source of insight into competitor actions, and is a source that many CI professionals use as part of both tracking and ad hoc research.
What I like about social media as a source of CI is its openness and ease of access. With the wide variety of sites to choose from, there is sure to be one where competitors’ employees are posting about the highlights of their day. If you engage in primary data collection, many of the social media sites allow you to identify potential sources of insight in the competitor organization. Some also allow you to construct organizational and relationship maps for the competitors. Aside from identifying potential information sources and mapping out competitor relationships, social media can also track when a competitor is about to make a major move.
From my perspective, the CI professional can use social media sites for two main purposes. One is for tracking the activities of employees at the competitor companies. The other is for tracking company issues such as organization and messaging.
Employee activity tracking can be both short- and long-term, and involves following employees who blog or post to other sites such as Facebook, foursquare, Myspace (yes, there are still some people who use it), blogger, YouTube, and so on. What is hard about using social media for this purpose is that much of the day-to-day postings are rather banal and off-topic. However, once in a while a post talks about the new equipment in the plant, or the new product that will be released, or even traveling to visit key customers or a major product-related event. When that happens, it is a great finding and often comes before the news is made public.
Tracking company events on social media is a bit easier. Generally, companies use social media to reinforce specific messages and announce key events, so these posts are not hidden in the same way employee activity posts are. A limitation of these types of posts is that they are often less current and present information that is already known. This limitation makes the company event tracking more useful when building the baseline on a competitor, learning about its organizational structure, key value proposition issues, identifying hiring patterns and open positions, and staying current on personnel changes.
So how does all this tie into determining if a competitor is about to make a major (or even minor) move in the marketplace? That involves integration and analysis, plus a lot of patience. Exercising patience is in many ways harder than the integration or analysis. Of course you can look backwards in time and retrieve old postings and news. Once that’s done you have to wait, patiently, for something interesting to pop up. And when something interesting does pop up, that’s when the importance of integration comes into action. The item that pops up may in and of itself be of little value, but when integrated into other items a more complete, and potentially interesting, picture can emerge. To determine if there is something potentially interesting, you need to be able to apply your analytical skills. But that’s a subject for another posting.
Fletcher/CSI uses social media in our CI efforts for clients and we will be happy to discuss how we can support your CI needs with effective social media tracking. To learn more about Fletcher/CSI, please contact us.
– Erik Glitman, CEO