10 Steps for Social Competitive Intelligence

10StepsToSocialCompetitiveIntelligenceHere 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.

Social Competitive Intelligence

BloomThink does Social Competitive Intelligence
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user kortunov

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.

SWIFT Source and Signal Table – Updated

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!

Source Signal
Feed Stitcher Site, blog and PR aggregation. http://feedstitch.com/
Yahoo Pipes Graphical tool for combining web sources. http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/
SpyFu Competitor Keyword Analysis
Search Monitor monitor competitors, affiliates and trade markets
Google Trends Traffic and GEO trends
FeedCompare Compare numbers (strength) of your subscribers vs your competitors
GroupHigh Monitoring and tracking for your market. Turned around it can deliver keen insight on the competitive marketplace
MySiteGrader website grader Grade your website against your competitor’s sites for the keywords you select. http://www.mysitegrader.com/
socialmention Social media, sentiment, top users, top keywords, top hashtags, top sources.
Addict-o-matic 25 sources for aggregation including RSS feeds, Bing, Google, Google Blog, Flickr, WordPress, YouTube, Technorati
NetVibes 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
LinkedIn 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.

SlideShare 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
Facebook 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

Competitor Strength  – Likes, Engagement Level, Sentiment, Content Strategy, Effective vs ineffective messaging

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,
Google Alerts 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
ThinkWithGoogle.com/insights 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

Indeed.com/jobtrends Market Trends – hiring as a leading indicator of focus and industry movement
Scribd IP Tips, Drips & FUD – published and available research, papers & presentations
Competition Blogs, Forums & Community Profile DevelopmentIP Tips, Drips & FUDMarketing & Product
Deep Email Miner IP Tips, Drips & FUD – internal email social network mapping to explore nascent social connections buried in an email corpus.
Deep Web Analysis using Maltego, Casefile, Social Network Visualizer, AutoMap, scirus.com, brightplanet or similar Marketing & IT Ecosystem – discover associated IP addresses and TLDs (top level domains), discovery and association engine.
ClipBoard.com WebClipping manual aggregation dashboard tool
OutWit Technologies – http://www.outwit.com Web Scraper programmatic human triggered web scraper for larger data volume collection.  Can export collections to files or SQL
Newsle.com Human Data Feed Aggregator – follow users who are in a network to see what they’re up to.
Pinterest Analysis Tools: PinAlerts Pinpuff Pinerly is good for tracking analytics data on Pinterest

Repinly helps you find influencers

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. 
Rapportive search for information online
Disruption Analysis Sources: Crunchbase www.whogotfunded.comSeekingAlpha CORI Business & disruptor informationis a good tool to find information.SEC and other money-related findingsPublic Company Data

Contract Database

www.copyright.gov Copyright and IP search
ThomasNet.com product information on manufactured goods.
Domaintools.com Paid service.  Alerts based on domain registrations.  See competitor domains
www.indeed.com Hire/Fire/Openings  – overarching jobs trend analysis.  Find out who is staffing up
www.similarsites.com –Find out who competes with whom
Boardreader.com Find out what people are talking about. Also searches LinkedIn groups.
www.competemonkey.com  –set up alerts when a competitor’s site changes

Social Web Intelligence Framework and Tactics

Businesses desire to augment and amplify their competitive intelligence capability by integrating information from social, web and other publicly available sources. They seeks to develop an internal competency program around the discipline of web intelligence. This program has the goal of producing actionable intelligence using available web, deep web[1], social media and darknet[2] information.

To this extent, BloomThink has created the Social Web Intelligence Framework and Tactics (SWIFT) Program. BloomThink’s SWIFT Program is a uniquely designed business process and method for capturing, categorizing, analyzing and reporting on vast amounts of disparate unstructured data. This program and framework, as well as related technologies, are designed to be deployed as in-house solutions.



The emphasis of the SWIFT Program is the structured and deliberate synthesis of targeted intelligence and contextual intelligence. Built on commercially available technology and leveraging your organization’s existing resources, targeted intelligence is developed through intentional and focused search across available web, deep web, social media and darknet collection vectors. Contextual intelligence is collected through the implementation and monitoring of social listening and alerting technologies then stored in the SWIFT platform. The SWIFT Program guides practitioners through the steps to collect, categorize, synthesize, analyze data and then deliver meaningful, actionable intelligence in easy to read and evaluate templates. Templates for regular intelligence reporting, on-demand profile development and ad hoc threat assessment are included as part of the program.

Your organization’s SWIFT Program practitioners are educated through a program of training modules, simulated and real-world practicum delivered by BloomThink. SWIFT Program pulsing and assistance is provided on a quarterly basis and/or as needed.

The SWIFT Program covers the following four phases

  1. Listen and Gather – passive signal awareness and directed signal search
  2. Filter and Categorize – signal discrimination and information grouping
  3. Synthesize and Analyze – find the connective tissues between signals and determine impact
  4. Report and Act – Format the most relevant analysis and supporting facts in actionable reports

BloomThink’s approach to the Social Web Intelligence Framework and Tactics Program is to maximize technology investments that your organization has already made. For this reason, an inventory of available and recommended technology is performed at the start of the engagement. Organizational investments in items like journal subscriptions, LexisNexis, WestLaw, industry-specific content, commercial listening platforms, network analysis tools and data visualization software are important to understand from the outset. BloomThink comes prepared with a host of free or freemium technologies (some listed below as examples) that may be used for the duration of your organization’s SWIFT Program.

To request an evaluation please fill out the form:


[1] The term “deep web” refers to world wide web locations not currently indexed by the most common search engines.

[2] The term “darknet” refers to anonymous, non-commercial or generally unknown web communications and technologies such as P2P file sharing.

Social Competitive Intelligence

competitive intelligence in the age of social  by bloomthink
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user davitydave

The flip side of all the advances is social media marketing is a substantial increase in competitive intelligence capability.

First 3 facts for foundation:

1) It should be clear by now that social media is not a technology fad.  It’s not just about Facebook or Twitter.  Otherwise we’d see those technologies leading the social adoption in locations around the world.  Yet we see services like VKontakte in Russia and QZone in China and a host of other social media services and sites proliferating around the world.  Instead, it is about a way of communicating as human beings.  We respond to and engage with each other in ways facilitated by the technology.  That’s why we see so many different flavors of the same kind of services popping up all over the world.

2) Social media technology adoption in business is accelerating. In 2008 just 23% of businesses had adopted social technologies in some way.  In 2011 that number was 50%.  This year it is even higher.  The top two reasons for the adoption are to meet user / customer expectations and to be more innovative.

3) Users want 4 things: To share product information, To share news – especially the ‘scoop’ – new or unique news that few know at the time, To co-create products, services & experiences along side companies (Doritos commercials for the Superbowl are a great example – it was big business for Frito-Lay), and finally users want to have their opinion and feedback matter.

So put those all together and what do you get?  Social media technology taps into the ways we communicate as human beings.  Humans also communicate at work therefore the boundary between business user and personal user has blurred.  Users (whether at work or at play) want and expect to share product information, have an appetite for new news, have a desire to be involved and want their opinions to matter.

This has created an ecosystem in which users expect news & product info from companies, consumers want to “help” to “weigh in” to be in the loop.  If companies “reward” them with info they will be respond and be appreciated.  This is social media marketing – Pushing out information for adoption and amplification by users.

But we also operate in an attention economy where attention is traded for information.  This economy is bi-directional as any economy must be.  So if I, a user, provide you, a company with information,  especially new or unique information, I expect to be rewarded with your attention.   This is Social Media Intelligence – Gathering in information and signal from many sources; made all the easier because the sources want to be heard.

Social media lets us cast an extremely wide net to find someone or some business who will give us attention and reaffirm that we (or at least our tip, insight or scoop) matter! This gets back to some extremely basic human characteristics – namely the meeting of core Maslovian needs reinforced in a very Pavolvian manner!

Combine the features of this social business ecosystem – where users are hungry for engagement and businesses are hungry for unique information – and you have a nearly perfect synergy of supply and demand.

Applied to marketing, “engaged” users, brand “advocates” and consumer “insight”.  These are truly wonderful advances in marketing and consumer experience management.

But turn that marketing coin over and apply the same sophisticated information gathering, trend spotting and information derivation to your competitors (or imagine them turning it on you).  You have the framework, technology and process to delve deep into competitive intelligence.

  • You can find out who are your competitor’s clients and employees by correlating Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • You can find out what conferences and topics your competitors are interested in by tracking conferences they attend and announce on Twitter.
  • You can see who are influential by tracking who follows and RTs certain company staff.
  • You can see what topics, keywords and SEO that your competition is using by looking at their Facebook performance and their SEO performance with google tools.
  • You can create topic and trend maps by using simple linguistic analysis tools on their blog posts, forum comments and even traditional press releases.
  • You can spot issues and challenges or delays by looking at the questions a competitors technicians post on forums, complaints employees post on sites like glassdoor, monster or indeed.
  • You can even get great information from conference presentations posted online at sides like SlideShare.net or on corporate blogs.

Once you have gathered all this content, Big Data tools and BI tools help tease out patterns and trends from the structured data you’ve collected. Meanwhile, experienced staff create profiles of specific users for close monitoring.  While approaching individuals directly and asking for confidential information is likely against the law, many industry specific news sites (e.g. Gizmodo for tech news) have “tip us” functions where users can anonymously offer up juicy tidbits of information.  Keeping a watch on sites like that for your industry is vital.

This is not pie-in-the-sky theorizing either.  Massive law firm Patton Boggs said this earlier this year,

Since January, we’ve used a business and social intelligence platform for issue spotting, trend analysis, and monitoring clients. The program scans blogs and Twitter feeds to identify issues our clients may be facing and uncover possible problems before they hit the mainstream media and news outlets…It’s allowed us to get ahead of potential problems and to proactively pose solutions before our clients may even know these problems exist.

They are using these procedures to spot issues and deliver solutions before clients are aware of the issues.  Now imagine they’re not monitoring clients, they’re monitoring competitors.

So how can you adopt a defensive threat assessment posture to help protect your own intellectual property?

Ask yourself this:  “With everything you know about your area of expertise, about the market and about what’s coming; if you found the information you just posted except it was from your competitor would you be sad or glad?” 

Engage BloomThink to craft a social competitive intelligence program you can use to help you get ahead and a social business plan that allows you to advance your brand and awareness in the market without giving up what makes you special.

They’re Watching You. Social Media And Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Research Is Number One Social Media Activity By Business
click for full size image

While social media is all the rage for customer engagement and advertising it is also a treasure trove of competitive intelligence. A November study by McKinsey Global found that companies are slowly but steadily increasing their use of social media technologies and social business practices. The most common activities were

– Scanning the external social network and blog environment for what others in the industry were up to and

– Looking for new ideas on social networks and blogs.

These activities represented the lion’s share of business activity with social technologies. This makes sense. Social technologies have reduced the “friction” of sharing your perspective with others who are in your industry and understand where you are coming from. Before you might have joined co-workers for happy hour at a local bar to decompress after work. The chances of anyone but your co-workers overhearing your and caring about what you said was rare. Now you might go home and decompress on Facebook or Twitter or unload on your blog. Your co-workers may still be part of your virtual happy-hour but so are any number of other people. Further more, those others may actually relate to you better than your co-workers. They may have your same job, just at your competitor.

These kinds of relationships are what social networking is all about; connecting people through bonds of shared interest, relation or idea. The challenge is to balance collegial sharing of ideas or even complaints with giving up the corporate goose. Research such as this study by DLA Piper and this one by Grant Thornton (PDF) indicate that while intellectual property leaks are rare, they still represent the biggest area of concern for business.

Competitive Intelligence
Flickr Creative Commons Attribution by Tony the Misfit

Advances in big data and analytics mean that the ability to correlate different data bits from many different sources can often yield a bonanza in competitive intelligence. Imagine an employee who regularly “checks in” at a particular location through Foursquare, Facebook places or a geo-tagged Tweet. A good competitive intelligence researcher for their competitor might derive that this user works for the Quality Assurance group. If the employee then tweets something like, “Celebrating the end of a big project with friends at work” the competitive research might rightfully conclude that a new competitive product is about to hit the market. Instead of being blindsided, the competitor can take any number of pre-emptive actions. The employee’s company loses at least some of their competitive advantage.

None of the employee’s actions were “leaks” and taken alone they are all innocuous. But taken together they may reveal more than the company wants. For the competitive intelligence professional at the competitor they are a vital stream of information.

In many ways the competitive intelligence opportunities and threats posed by advances in social technology are part of our new corporate tableau. The right response is not to prohibit social interactions but rather to educate ourselves on how to be safe with social media. BloomThink offers a Safe Social Media seminar. If you are in the business of competitive research, it is important to remember that social media is not a proxy for beat research. Rather it is an important and valuable additional source. Just remember to abide by the rules of the game and the social systems you’re using in your efforts to get a leg up on the competition.