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Social media changes and improves with age. Recently Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have all updated their layout and image handling capabilities. Now you can have larger, higher resolution and more adaptive images on your pages and profiles. But hunting down all those aspect ratios and dimensions can be a challenge.
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Blending BI and Social Competitive Intelligence for deep insight into your business.
Business intelligence tells you what happened at work. Good business intelligence tells you what is happening now. Competitive intelligence tells you what your competitors and the market did. Good competitive intelligence tells you where they’re headed. Both BI and CI crunch big data to deliver answers to the questions, “what happened?” and “how did that happen?” Only a social and deep web competitive intelligence framework can answer the most important question, “so what?”
In order to be actionable, intelligence must answer the “so what?” question. The answer to “so what?” describes the impact of the information. It describes assumed and presupposed context. It fills in the rest of the statement that starts out, “we care about this because…”
Social competitive intelligence is a new discipline. It is emerging now and will continue to grow over the next decade. Some solutions exist already. But they and their marketing cousins – social media management software – are still largely focused on listening to and tracking social mentions and sentiment activity. While these are important, the solutions today are overly simplistic. They can list changes to competitor websites, report on where competitor PPC (pay per click) ads are run and measure generic brand sentiment. However, rather than exerting a contextualizing force on the already massive volumes of available business and social information, they add to the data tsunami. When your cup is already running over, it makes little sense to put it under a faster faucet.
The better solution is to put into place a framework that gathers, filters, synthesizes and analyzes social competitive intelligence and deep-web analytics (i.e. the web beyond Google indexes). Then use that framework as a lens through which to view your existing BI and CI data. Then you will be able to answer the all-important, “so what?” question.
Here are several real-world examples and a free flowchart to the right to show you exactly how to locate and use your competitor’s social and web postings.
The Call Center Cost Hole
BI reporting shows increasing costs and increasing churn in your call center; overall a bad trend. If that were the only information you had, the “so what?” answer would be to kick up call center recruiting a fill the gaps and some stricter MBOs for call center managers on employee retention. However, with a social competitive intelligence framework in place, it is revealed that social media, blogs and discussion boards are full with blistering criticism of your call center escalation processes. The withering criticism is poisoning the work environment and making a tough job even more unpleasant. Viewed through this lens, the correct answer to “so what?” is not to step up recruiting. Rather, it is to fix the poison call center environment and re-engineer the escalation processes while empowering call center employees.
Not only does this save substantial time and money, it actually boosts net productivity by empowering knowledgeable employees and eliminating training and the ramp up to full productivity required for each new hire.
The Outside Expert
You are ready to launch a new product into an overseas market. But there are a host of regulatory issues to navigate. While you have plenty of “independent” research and case studies validating your approach, you still want an expert in your technology and the foreign market to help guide you through the approval process. The regulators don’t look kindly on experts who are among your paid staff due to potential conflict of interest. You want an external expert but you want to avoid someone who regularly works for your competitors or who has expressed harsh opinions of your company or product in the past.
Traditional competitive intelligence will not provide expertise location like this. Traditional BI only tells you that your new market has a lot of potential. If that were the only information you had, the “so what?” answer would be to get some internal recommendations and do a Google search and hope the person is available and credible. But hope makes for a poor strategy, especially with something as big as a new foreign market launch.
With a social competitive intelligence framework in place, you are able to perform a social network analysis to first locate the influencers on the topic area, measure their credibility and influence relative to one another, and finally screen them for competitor interaction and engagement. This approach yields not only a deeper, more highly qualified “short list” of available experts, it also reveals a large and rich set of topic influencers who your team can target for engagement and awareness of your new product. Ultimately, this delivers not only the help navigating new regulatory processes in new markets, it also identifies a new set of up and coming influencers who will help your product remain successful after the initial splash.
The Competitor Customer List
Your internal BI tells you that sales are plateauing despite the fact that you have a better product with more features and a better history of quality. Your competitive intelligence tells you that competitors are facing similar slow-growth periods. It looks like the market is reaching saturation and new opportunities are small. If that were all the information you had, the answer to the “so what?” question would be to switch over your sales strategy from a hunting to a farming operation. Marketing would shift to promoting small incremental improvements and the grind of upgrades/maintenance/renewal would become the core of your revenue model.
However, with a social competitive intelligence framework in place you would reveal a gold mine of new accounts that you can hunt while dramatically boosting your competitive advantage. The framework would reveal your competitor’s customer lists. First, realize that all customers – yours and your competitors – are interested first in solving a business problem and only secondarily staying with a particular vendor or service provider. Staying with a particular provider tends to be more a matter of convenience and trust than inherent and continued ability to deliver value. This means there is opportunity to knock out your competitor or at least to come alongside them and establish a beach head; but only if you know who they are and how to approach them. This is what a social competitive intelligence framework delivers.
That they are your competitor’s customer means that at one time in the past, they got a better deal or had a better recommendation or were simply aware of your competitor at the time they needed a solution. In the B2B world, there are few things that lock in customer. Sure, they exist; big computing platform and enterprise application decisions tend to have at least a 7 year life cycle. Similarly, being a Mac, Windows or Linux shop tend to be about corporate culture. But as the recent Samsung mobile vs Apple iPhone campaigns demonstrate, even the most loyal customers can switch to a completely different platform if the reason to switch is compelling.
A social competitive intelligence framework makes developing a target list of your competitor’s customers easy. First, perform a social network analysis of your competitor. See who is commenting, following, liking and (re)tweeting about your competitor. Then filter that list by companies and contacts you’d like to target. Perform this analysis again around the time of your competitor’s big events like conferences and trade shows. The cadence of social activity spikes during those times. Additionally, your competitor will trot out their favorite case studies and customer testimonials during that time to add credibility to their pitch. What they’re doing for you is validating the customer need, interest and ability to pay. You just need to get them to switch or try out your product too. Finally, mine your competitor’s website for their customer information. Companies routinely post logos and ROI or case studies online. Even if competitor brag sheets use unnamed customers, there will generally be enough information to make a very educated guess and narrow it down to only one or two possible companies (your potential customers!) in the area.
My company, BloomThink, recently performed a social competitive intelligence engagement designed to create a competitor customer list. During one trade show, the target competitor was demonstrating an unbranded intranet system. However, the layout, color scheme and look/feel of their demo perfectly matched an educational YouTube video posted at about the same time by a large local health care organization. The health care company was added to the “competitor customer target list”. Only a social competitive intelligence framework and strategy could have revealed the connection that was publicly available but buried in a mountain of previously unrelated social data.
As the old saying goes, “text without context becomes pretext”. No matter how good your BI data is alone, without the contextualizing force of a social competitive intelligence framework, it becomes justification for gut feelings, political games-playing and flights of fancy. That is no way to run a business.
Enterprises and especially CIOs, CMOs and Sales EVPs need to implement a social competitive intelligence framework that understands how to do the following:
Collect & Gather deep web and social information
Filter & Categorize information to keep what matters and cull what doesn’t
Analyze & Synthesize that information with existing BI & CI data
Report & Act so that actionable intelligence can deliver meaningful business impact
Billy Cripe’s BoomThink is at the forefront of this new social competitive intelligence wave. By not simply focusing on competitor marketing, but rather on internal BI and CI, competitor behavior, deep web (beyond Google) and social media streams, BloomThink’s social web intelligence framework and tactics – SWIFT – program delivers deep insight with actionable results.
Check out the graph from Indeed trends. Sharepoint job openings / needs are at their lowest point since 2008. There are several ways to interpret the chart. It could mean that:
1) we’ve reached sharepoint saturation and business are happily using it with loyal and skillful administrators/developers to keep it running OR
2) SharepPoint is cratering due to 2013/365/Azure missteps and an inability to tap into the actual working model for enterprise collaboration (as opposed to the volume sales/give-away model that got it installed).
What do you think? Does the precipitous drop in demand for sharepoint skills mean that everyone is happily collaborating or that it is gathering dust?
Send me a note to schedule a conversation about your enterprise collaboration and social business strategy!
Here is a quick, real life example for how to estimate your competitor’s event marketing budget and get a hint as to when they’re going to launch a new product or service in 10 steps:
1) List your key competitors. You know your market and the main players in your space so make a list.
2) List key industry events. You also know your industry has several “main events” each year. These might be conferences, meet-ups, or trade shows. List those events.
3) Most big events from the past several years have their own Twitter hashtag, Facebook page, Pinterest Page and even conversation threads in relevant LinkedIn Groups. Make a note of those.
4) Search SlideShare.net, Scribd and other presentation / document sharing sites for presentations from your competitors at those events. See our list of “sources and signals” for a great starter of places to visit for social competitive intelligence research.
5) Make a note of how many presentations your competitors had at each event and the number of different presenters they had delivering those keynote and breakout sessions.
6) Make a note of whether or not there is a “visit booth #12345” in the presentations.
7) Now you’ve got your data, start the synthesis.
Estimate a cost of $500 – $1000 per presenter per conference.
Estimate a cost of $10,000 per small booth at a trade show and up to $100,000 for large conference sponsorship.
Remember that you’re not trying to re-create your competitor’s budget, rather you’re trying to determine if they’re ramping up to a big announcement or simply staying in maintenance mode or struggling to stay above water.
Did they have more presentations, more staff, bigger booth, new sponsorships this year than they have in years past?
Who is tweeting with the event hashtag from your competitor? Who is re-tweeting them? Who are they re-tweeting? What are they saying on their Facebook Page? What are they saying on the event’s Facebook page?
8) Combine the data you’ve overlaid to produce the intelligence. Is your competitor ramping up their spending? Is the increased spending significant for them? If they’re a small or medium sized company or a large company that has been struggling recently, a big marketing spend is a significant flag for upcoming activity. Remember that employees will tweet, post and blog about items they know and that they think will help the company. So a competitor’s retweet of a keynote speaker’s point may hold much more competitive significance than mere interest.
9) What should you do about it? Is there a way you can pre-empt your competitor’s announcements? Is there a bandwagon that you should be on as well? Do you need to take a legal action? Speed up your own R&D? Or maybe just continue to pay attention?
10) Compile the key points, synthesis and recommendations into an easy to digest report, dashboard or brief. Make sure that every point you make is backed up by hard data that you found. If you say your competitor is ramping up for a big product launch because of increased budget spends on conferences and increased chatter then make sure you can show that there was actually an increase over previous years. Strive for Actionable Intelligence and you will bring traditional CI into the new reality of social business.
Traditional Competitive Intelligence is in a rut. Books, websites, whitepapers and presentations all echo the same techniques and priorities that defined the practice 10 years ago. Research public filings, read credentialed analyst reports, talk to employees and former employees if you can, be careful of blogs they might not be trustworthy. Social media? Be extra careful of that too.
Traditional CI process and practice has largely missed out on more than a decade of change in the way businesses and employees communicate. The reality is that we are producing more information more quickly than at any other time in history. According to Google we produce as much information every two days as we did in all of history up to 2003! Some of this information is machine data and metadata. Much of it is user generated content. These are things like Tweets, Instagram photo uploads, Facebook or LinkedIn status updates as well as blogs, web pages and shared presentations.
The problem is not that the traditional CI focus on interviewing employees and reading web pages was wrong. Rather, the venue has changed. Instead of needing to track down employees to get juicy details, the CI professional simply needs to listen to the public conversations that are already going on through social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and numerous other socially enabled sites. This is called Social Competitive Intelligence.
Of course there is an art to the practice as well. Where in years past the traditional CI pro needed skills in finding and persuading employees to talk, the new Social CI pro requires superpowers to filter and categorize the flood of information we’re all producing. The new CI pro requires less sleuthing ability and more synthesis power; the ability to bring different facts together to form a complete picture.
Part of this synthesis means combining social competitive intelligence with traditional CI as well as traditional business intelligence. Both traditional CI and traditional BI do an amazing job of helping organizations understand what is happening. But it is Social Competitive Intelligence that provides the market, competitive and social media context in which business operates. When you correlate BI, traditional CI and Social CI insights, you understand the “why” of performance along with the “what” of your BI analytics.
Understanding the “why” is vital if you’re going to ever achieve the end of any CI or BI practice: figuring out what to do next. Data is not insight. Getting more data has never been the goal. Deriving insight from data is what makes intelligence actionable. The goal of any all CI practice is Actionable Intelligence.
Actionable Intelligence spots trends before they take you by surprise. Actionable Intelligence spots gaps in the market that mean opportunity for new products and offerings. Actionable Intelligence gets you out front of competition and moves your business from a reactionary to a proactive starting point.
Competitive Intelligence and Business Intelligence Professionals Must Learn to Incorporate Deep web and Social media data into their evaluation and findings. BloomThink’s SWIFT – social web intelligence framework and tactics – program helps companies do just that.
Take a look at our Source and Signal table below. This is just a few of the sites and tools that can be used by the SWIFT practitioner or any savvy CI or BI professional to help bring meaning and context to the flood of data that is out there. This is how you create actionable intelligence rather than simply another data report!
Social media, sentiment, top users, top keywords, top hashtags, top sources.
25 sources for aggregation including RSS feeds, Bing, Google, Google Blog, Flickr, WordPress, YouTube, Technorati
Fee based dashboard
Northern Light Search
Research aggregator and dashboard
Wildfire Social Monitor
Corporate & Market ComparisonsOverall sentiment analysis – trending market perspectives and background context on whether your market views you positively, negatively or ambivalently
Network & Relationships– degrees of separation, network reach, geography, work history, education, competitor connections in network
Competitor Projects – competitor staff areas of responsibility Competitor Roadmap – job openings and hiring trends as leading indicatorsIP Tips, Drips & FUD – group participation, interaction, surveys & polls participation, publications & patents on profiles.
IP Tips, Drips & FUD – marketing focus, roadmap, conference participation, travel & marketing budget (e.g. booth # listed in presentation –> 10K minimum spend), viewing / reach stats, best practices, trends
Profile Development – targeted likes, hobbies etc of specific person and/or his/her network. Photos, places, apps, travel conferences etc.
Network & Relationships – Degrees of separation, network reach, connections
Twitter via tools like follwerwonk, NexaMe, Twiangulate, trendsmap.com etc.
Profile Development – targeted likes, hobbies etc of specific person and/or his/her network. Photos, places, apps, travel conferences etc. Geographic Trends Mapping – for overall market awareness in specific countries and cities (e.g. popular & breaking twitter trends in Shenzhen, Beijing or Nanjing)
Network & Relationships – RT’s, favorites,travel, interests, influencers, IP Tips, Drips & FUD – find followers of competitors and co-opt them for counter intelligence or feed FUD
Fierce Medical Devices
News Feed – tagged with St. Jude Medical, tagged with Boston Scientific, tagged with Medtronic, tagged with X,
News Feed – tailored alerts for anything Google crawlers pick up. Dial in sensitivity based on scope of query.
Klout, PeerIndex, EmpireAvenue
Marketing & Product – reveal competitor buzz building efforts, enable rapid response. Profile Development – identify Industry influencers and gravity wells
Google Keywords + Trends
Marketing & Product – Trends & Buzz Building. Keywords & related terms collected then entered into google trends
Market Trends – Research library, primary research, consumer insights
Advanced Search Engine Work
Using Copernic Agent or similar
Profile Development – [“full target name” +GeographicLocation:website ] narrows in on specific name at specific geography on specific website IP Tips, Drips & FUD – filetype: search for PDFs and PPTs, allintitle:,allinurl:
Published Journal Search
Marketing & product- current trends & focus areas tailored to industry audiences
Profile Development – track authorship and citation trail of published works by targets
Market Trends – hiring as a leading indicator of focus and industry movement
IP Tips, Drips & FUD – published and available research, papers & presentations
Pinterest is powerful, lots of traffic. Average time on Pinterest approx: 10 minutes, far more than other social sites.These allow you to get a message when someone pins something from your website. You can set up for alerts on competitor sites, too.
These days everything, it seems, is something-as-a-service. Software as a service has become familiar. We use web mail like Gmail, online CRM like Salesforce.com and tools like Quickbooks to mange accounting. Platform as a Service with tools like Amazon AWS, Windows Azure and Rackspace have gained speed.
But what about people as a service?
People as a service actually has a long history. Temp and staffing firms are the old legacy model of people-as-a-service. They provided skilled labor on demand, usually for prolonged periods of time. Often the goal of the temp was to get hired permanently. More recently, offshore, rapid prototyping and consulting shops provided people-as-a-service. These engagements were governed by large SOWs (statements of work), multiple, waterfall-style project management and long development and production cycles.
But now the situation has changed. People are more highly skilled with deeper expertise and narrower areas of focus. Skilled contractors are not mere staff-augmentation where any warm-body will do. They are entrepreneurs unto themselves. On the flip side, businesses large and small are increasingly favoring focus over full value-chain control. That means they’re shedding jobs, departments and products once a vital part of their business. The advance of technology – from value chain management, to just-in-time inventory to the opportunities of remote workforce has changed the ecosystem of work.
The advance of technology, connectivity, expertise, telecommuting and big data all mean that people-as-a-service is a reality today.
Companies like Field Nation are making people-as-a-service personable. They are doing a good job of humanizing human resources and ensuring that the social is kept as part of social business. Field Nation encourages contractors and the businesses hiring those expert services to connect – even if remotely – and share experiences, recommendations and ideas for ways to make business better.
With so much focus on how businesses can leverage the cloud to save on operating costs, it is important that we never lose sight of the people that make people-as-a-service a cornerstone of our new cloud economy.