Social Media and CI

March 15, 2018

Science magazine recently reported on Twitter and “fake news”. To summarize, new research seems to show that falsehoods spread faster and deeper on social media than did similar postings which were accurate. Ok, so this corroborates the old saying, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” (Jonathan Swift) So what?

For those of us in CI, this should be a warning. While social media can often be a rich source for bits of data that would often not be found elsewhere, that data is not, I repeat not, automatically verified, or worse self-verifying. It should be treated as any other non-verified individual piece of data, – that is, not given credibility just because it is  coming (seems to come) from a good source.

Let’s take a small social media example:, largely a business site.

It is an open secret that an individual who has been laid off, fired, or quit a job often leaves his/her LinkedIn profile unchanged, or may even “enhance” it a bit. Why? Because of a prevailing belief that it is easier to get a job, or at least be contacted by a recruiter cruising LinkedIn, if you are (or at least appear to be) still working. Given that, how much credibility should we give to a description of what that person does (did) when we building a competitive profile on that firm? Not much, I suggest.

Recommendation: when dealing with all social media, DIStrust it (or at least remain neutral) until it is verified – hopefully through using other than social media sources. Maybe that is a little strong, but keep it in mind when you find that social media discloses something “new”, “unexpected”, or ” surprising” about a competitor.


Reports versus Rumors versus Research

January 3, 2018

The December 2017 issue of Fortune discussed rumors and reports about what Amazon might buy – evidently an endless subject – including a “possible health care play” as indicated by “reports that the company was hiring people with pharmacy backgrounds”.[1]

So? If it is potentially important to you, good CI practice demands that you check this out and not just rely on this piece as “fact”. Remember, it is a report of speculation included in an article mentioning rumors. Sounds less great, no? It is not the reporter’s fault – he is laying it out, and quite fairly. It is still up to you to take it further.

How? Think about where the data that supports or undercuts this hypothesis might be found. For example, try using to see who is now working at Amazon who used to work at say, CVS. Now see if they are

  • recent hires or hires more than a year or so ago?
  • coming with experience or skills that are not easily transferable to Amazon’s existing businesses or are they bringing easily transferable skills and more generic management expertise?
  • are they now located in one area or are they distributed throughout the US?

That is the difference, taking it further.

[1] Jonathan Vanian, “Best Bogeyman: Amazon”, Fortune, Dec. 15, 2017, p 24.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

August 21, 2017.


On August 1, I wrote about a lawsuit in California involving LinkedIn and a firm that analyzes workforce data “scraped” from the public profiles posted on LinkedIn, noting its potential impact on competitive intelligence, among other things..

There has been a development in that case. News reports indicate that the federal judge overseeing the case ordered LinkedIn to remove “technical blocks” it had installed to prevent hiQ from getting access to the publicly accessible information on LinkedIn’s users.

That does not mean that the case is over and that firms and individuals, including CI firms and DIYers, have nothing to worry about. This order is a preliminary injunction, which means that it stays in force while the underlying case goes to trial. And, LinkedIn has said that it may challenge this decision in the interim.

Brian Fung’s Washington Post article has an interesting analysis of this still pending case.

Stay tuned.

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.

Really Think About It

August 1, 2017

There is something going on in California (where else?) that could deeply impact competitive and strategic intelligence research. Here is a short summery, taken from a local Internet source:

“A San Francisco tech startup [HiQ Labs] is seeking to enjoin LinkedIn from restricting it from accessing public profile information…. [HiQ says it] collects and analyzes public profile information on LinkedIn to provide clients with insights about their employees. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn denied it access to the public member profile portions of its website citing [a variety of federal and state laws]. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn users’ public profile data belongs to the users and not [LinkedIn], but [LinkedIn] asserts it needs to protect member data.”

The case has already had one hearing where Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Laurence Tribe has reportedly argued that LinkedIn is violating HiQ’s constitutional rights by blocking access to LinkedIn’s public sites.

The case is much more complex than this, but it has great potential. Just ask yourself, how would you react if you found that LinkedIn, FaceBook, YouTube, and Twitter all blocked access by people or businesses they suspected were gathering competitive intelligence (or marketing leads or head-hunting data or political sentiments or …).

Your thoughts?

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.


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.