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Social Media and Competitive Intelligence: What You Need to Know

August 19th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

When you’re posting information to your Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook accounts, anyone can see it. That includes your customers, of course, but it also includes your competition. Social media can provide incredible levels of competitive intelligence — information on what clients you’re working to land, where you’re traveling and even new products you’re going to roll out.

In most cases, it isn’t obvious information. Rather, it’s a case of someone looking at what you’re doing and making a few assumptions. But if you’re traveling to a city where a big client resides, you may be broadcasting what you plan to do in that city without ever saying a word.

Don’t Give Up On Social Media

Using the tools available to gather competitive intelligence isn’t something new — most business owners still scour the news looking for information about the competition. It’s just a case of the tools changing. The big problem is that analysis has improved. We know more about social interaction: we can make an educated guess about why someone changed jobs (whether they were fired or they quit) just by looking at how their LinkedIn profile changes.

You can’t let that sort of improved analysis throw you, though. The benefits of using social media to reach out to potential customers are incredible and worth the chance that you’re broadcasting information your competition can use. But you can minimize the information that your competition can act on by carefully considering what you’re sharing. There’s no particular item that you should avoid posting, unfortunately. It’s a matter of thinking about the whole picture you’re portraying with what you’re posting.

Turning the Tables on the Competition

Especially if your competition is just getting into the social media game, you may have some opportunities to learn about what they’re up yourself. Make a point of following their activities across social networking sites as well as their blogs: that sort of information can help you plan how to respond to their new products or even get a head’s up if they’re in town to try to poach one of your clients. Since this information is out in the open — they’ve posted it themselves — it’s worthwhile to make use of it and learn from it where you can. Don’t let it turn into more of a focus than accomplishing what you need to on those same social networking sites, however: your marketing should come first

It can be tempting to post information that would lead a competitor astray on your social networking profiles. That may be taking things too far, however. Remember that you must balance the needs of those followers who actually want to buy something from you and your concerns about competitors. You want to post the best information you can for your followers and even something that is a little off can turn into a big problem as far as your social media efforts go.

Image by Flickr user Tony the Misfit

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View Comments to “Social Media and Competitive Intelligence: What You Need to Know”

  1. I agree completely. In fact, that's what our SXSW presentation “Shattering Secrets with Social Media” is about - ;)

    I spoke with an attorney today about some related concepts and he was stunned about what some competitors had put out there. And he said that once it's published.. well, it's up for grabs.

  2. Great topic which I hadn’t seen covered until now. I guess like anything else social media is a balancing act and there are pros and cons to its use. In my opinion the benefits far outweigh the possibility of a competitor gaining an advantage through reading your social media updates.

  3. To stay up to date about things I find very useful to save well-crafted searches in my CoTweet search pad and check them often, with terms regarding my field of business, or competitors, or technology keywords and so on.
    It’s a good way to stay on top of things without wasting too much time with manual searches, and having everything available to you with a quick glance.
    I am not much fussed about posting “dangerous” stuff, not like I post any sensitive material, but I think people should relax a bit more when dealing with social media.
    Things must be taken seriously of course, but a little fun doesn’t hurt.

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