Social Media

August 8, 2017

Recently, I participated in a survey conducted by Contify – Is social media a source of Market Intelligence on companies? The firm sent me access to the results and has allowed me to share them with you. It is a fascinating study. You can access the document here.

Let me make a few comments on it and share a couple of my own observations on social media.

One of the key take-aways for me was that using social media to do research for CI assignments and\or to conduct regular monitoring can be useful. My observation is that you have to be willing to invest a lot of time, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. But, if it is there, it is worth it (in retrospect).

Another key take-away is Contify’s conclusion that social media tends to be more valuable when you are targeting a smaller firm:

“For a given period, small companies have lesser number of business updates to share, as compared to large companies. However, small companies are more likely to announce an important business update on social than release a press releases in traditional media.”

My experience is that when you are targeting a family-owned business, which tends to be smaller, social media can be quite helpful by identifying who is who, and by providing photos of everything from other family members to the inside of factories to new products to key customers. But, again there is the time issue.

Finally, always keep in mind that what you are seeing is only what someone else wants you to see – well, not specifically you, but rather some other audience or audiences. Consider LinkedIn. I am sure you can understand how useful LinkedIn can be to identify key personnel, to spot the occasional brag that can uncover new facts, and to identify potential interviewees.

But consider that each LinkedIn profile is written by that very person. So? I can tell you, from experience, that just because a profile says that person is working as the VP of Whatever Company may not be true, or at least current. People who have been laid off sometimes keep the page content static to enhance their chances of attracting a recruiter or otherwise improve their job-hunting chances.

The same is true for all social media – particularly messages and pictures on Facebook, as well as videos on YouTube. With all social media, while you may think it is a look inside a target, remember, seeing is not always believing.


Where do I start my research (Part 2)?

April 8, 2013

Continuing on this subject, recently, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal regulator of securities markets, finally entered the modern world. The SEC indicated, in a case involving Netflix, that public companies could make significant announcements on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Duh.

The SEC has caught up with the rest of the world in recognizing that social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, are part of the commercial environment. More importantly, for those of us in competitive intelligence, are appropriate sites to visit to collect raw intelligence data.

Now to be fair, the SEC requires that companies seeking to do this have first to alert investors, through press releases or regulatory filings, which probably have substantially less circulation then do postings on Facebook etc., as to where they intend to disseminate information that could potentially affect the price and the company stock. In other words, they will use narrower platforms to alert people that they will use broader platforms in the future. How constricted.

This just confirms what many of us know – social media sites are a valuable place to troll for competitively sensitive information (for that is what the SEC is really talking about) on all companies, whether public or private.

 


How close do you have to get? (Part 2)

March 22, 2013

In the previous post on the subject, I pointed out the pressure to come up with numbers. The example that I used is not an isolated case, particularly when dealing with competitive intelligence. To look at from one perspective, you could take the old Microsoft commercial and tweak it to say “where you my competitors plan to go tomorrow?” To answer that you have to get close in another sense.

Your competitors are not machines, so where they can go and where they plan to go is not determined by computer program that plots out a map with surgical precision. Your competitors are run by people and people do not operate in a mechanistic manner.

This means that if you want to get close to what your competitor is planning to do, you have to get inside the heads, as it were, of the key managers and executives there. That in turn means, yes, psychology. Now to be fair, you cannot literally get inside their heads. But you can at least try to do the next best thing, that is get somewhat close.

Among the factors that you should be considering are the overall corporate culture of your competitor, the career path that key personnel at your competitor have taken, their personal experiences, such as notable successes in their corporate careers, and their education.

As for corporate culture, some companies have one and some do not. For those that have a definite corporate culture, careful study will enable you to understand everything from how people are promoted to how management, new product, and investment decisions are made, and how succession is planned and managed.

The career path that key personnel have taken can tell you about relative strengths. For example, if a vice president of product development has previously spent time finance, you can probably be fairly comfortable assuming that she is more comfortable with financial issues in product development was than her predecessor, who lacked such a background. As a matter of fact, considering the background of the person that she replaced and comparing that with hers can disclose useful insights.

The personal experiences of key decision-makers can be very critical. For example, I recall reading a number of years ago about a decision by one media executive to move to another company in a higher position. The senior executives at the new company made it very clear that the hiring was influenced in large part by his past successes. But, basic psychology will tell you that he will also have his performance impacted by the failures. Failures? Yes. Either he will (A) try to avoid putting himself in situation where he faces a similar failure again or (B) he will affirmatively seek an opportunity to take on a similar challenge to prove that the past failure was not his “fault”.

So if you want to get close to a competitor, you have to get close to the minds of its key executives and managers. Given that you will not be able to interview them, do the next best thing: read interviews they have given, track down their biographies, review their Facebook and LinkedIn pages, look for local news stories about them, in other words, get as close as you can to them, so you can get into the decision-making at your competitor.


Near is good (Part 3)

November 5, 2012

Another take on the concept that starting close at hand is best is that starting close at hand is also fast.  In particular, I’m talking about using your network to develop quick leads to people and data resources that you need.

Your network?  No I do not mean your Facebook page, or even your LinkedIn network, although as a business person, you should at least have the latter.  I’m talking about a network that is built carefully over time consisting of people in your business or enterprise and, as time passes, people who formerly were there, but have moved on.  The purpose of a network like this is to allow you to access the vast amount of information that is unnecessarily hidden throughout your organization.

We’ve all heard about information silos and the like.  The real issue from the point of view of competitive intelligence is that many people within your company or enterprise know things that would be useful to you, but they do not know that you’re interested in them.  What you have to do to overcome this is to affirmatively develop a network of contacts within your organization.

This takes time and work.  It means introducing yourself to everyone that you attend a meeting with and getting their contact information.  It means then entering that contact information on whatever contact manager you use.  But it does not stop there.

You should already be cultivating people throughout your organization, at least if you intend to stay there for any period of time.  Knowing people enables you to know important things about your business.  That may be which areas are hot for growth and which are not. A network enables you to see opportunities as well as threats before they are apparent to others, and give you a chance to exploit (or avoid) them.  From a CI point of view, it means you have a chance to cut across organizational and geographic lines and get directly to people who can help you quickly and simply.

For you to have an internal CI network that is effective, you must work at.  That means contacting these people if and when you have something that might be of interest to them.  Why? Frankly, it is easier to ask people to help you in the future if you’ve made a point of reaching out and helping them beforehand.

You have to work at developing a network, but you have to make sure you do not abuse it.  You are not sending out newsletters to everyone.  Each week, you’re not calling everyone on your network just to keep touch.  Find more natural, effective and time efficient ways to do it.  Make yourself useful to people in your network so that they come to you.  Then when you need someone, say, in research and development or strategic marketing to give you a suggestion of where you can start some of your CI research,  you can reach out to someone that you know, and more importantly, someone who knows you.


Who’s worst?

October 12, 2012

The last several days have seen people in politics raise questions about the validity, or more generously the accuracy and consistency, of recent federal statistics on the unemployment rate, the number of people filing first claims for unemployment compensation, and related data.  Now what will happen, almost certainly, is that this most recent monthly data will be “restated” next month or the month thereafter, a continuous process with flash macroeconomic data in the United States.

Does this mean you cannot rely on US government data?  Almost certainly, yes.  But the US is not unique.  The US is probably just the best of a bad lot.  Consider The Economist’s recent discussions of data in China:

“With China so engaged in the global economy, there is a never-ending stream of data, often unreliable, to feed the appetites of economic-research firms, investment banks, hedge funds, short-sellers, political risk advisors, think tanks, consultancies and financial and military newsletters – not to mention legions of academics, journalists, diplomats and spies.”  Banyan, The Leader Vanishes, September 15, 2012.

“[N]o other important country is as murky [in terms of providing accurate, credible data] as China.” Schumpeter, The summer Davos Blues, September 15, 2012

That China is murky, with respect to data both at the government and company levels, does not excuse the way in which United States collects and processes econometric data.  However, for politicians, businesses, and others, to make decisions based on the movement of 1/10 or 1/100 of some monthly measure from US government statistics is also foolish.

There may be many iron rules about data, but for competitive intelligence, I would propose the following:

Data from only one source is not data.  It is conjecture – until it can be confirmed.

Data based on telephone surveys should be increasingly subject to question.  Our brethren in marketing have already come to this conclusion, given the demographics of the populations that have shifted from landlines to cell phone only service, especially when cell phone users are notoriously difficult to survey.

The smaller the sample is and the more quickly the data is collected, the more likely it is to be inaccurate, and inaccurate in an unpredictable manner.

Combining data sets that are individually unreliable does not necessarily make the conclusion more reliable.  I realize that there are those in the statistics world that would disagree with this, but I do not believe that such aggregations always contain the necessary mutually offsetting mistakes to generate a reliable whole.

Any data that has to be restated should not be relied on at all in the first place, or at least not until it is eventually restated.

Using short-term data to determine the presence and direction of a long-term trend is not forecasting; it is at best guessing and at worst irresponsible.

What is truly ironic that all of this is that the US government releases such statistics, upon which so many rely with so little reason, while it would never allow a firm going public,  such as Facebook[1], to get away with using similarly dubious data.


[1] Linda Sandler, Brian Womack and Douglas MacMillan, “Facebook Fought SEC to Keep Mobile Risks Hidden Before IPO”, Bloomberg, Oct. 10, 2012)

 


Cyber Criminals or Proud Parents? Defending Your Competitively Sensitive Information

July 2, 2012

The June 30 issue of The Economist wrote about the growing cost of cyber-crime.  At the end, the reporters warned that the “bad guys” were increasingly using social media to find a way in to companies’ computer systems.  If you are considering how your company is revealing information to your competitors, a good place to start might be to look at the Facebook pages of some of your employees.

Our employees are not revealing confidential information, you are undoubtedly thinking.  But employees do not always understand what is competitively sensitive, much less what is confidential or otherwise protected.

Let me give you an example. We had a client that was interested in a competitor’s ability to expand its offerings.  After some digging, we were fairly comfortable with the conclusion that the competitor, in fact, had acquired the necessary talent, employees, in this area.  But one question was left: what was its intention?

And there, we found the answer on Facebook: a family announcement about a wedding.  The congratulations message included the fact that that Bobbie, the happy newly-wed, would soon be returning to a better job with the competitor in a brand-new division.  Happily, the proud mother also gave us the name of the division.  That name was not as important as the fact this is established that the competitor now had both the capability act and had created that organizational structure.  The only question left was how soon would it move.

The lesson?  If you are concerned that your competitors seem to be getting a jump on you, don’t assume that they have hired sophisticated cyber criminals from some vowel challenged country to hack into your computers.  More likely, there is a more prosaic explanation – what your employees (or their families) are saying.


Social Media – CheapAid

June 26, 2012

Digimind recently released a study (http://www.digimind.com/news/press-releases/twitter-trumps-facebook-as-primary-source-of-social-media-intelligence/) on the use of social media by competitive intelligence teams. Almost 80% of those responding said they used it “to extract information relating to competitors, industry developments, consumer trends and more.”

 

The most targeted: Twitter and LinkedIn, with over 60% using each of them, beating out Google+ and Facebook, neither of which cleared the 50% level. And Digimind report indicates this is not used solely for B2C (business to consumer) research.

 

What does that mean to you? If you are not using social media (which is free, or at least cheap) to outsmart your competition, you could be missing out on a lot. And you do not have to have years of training to do that – all you have to do is read!