Online Social Networks & Competitive Intelligence
By Ian Smith, Intelegia.com, www.twitter.com/citweetz
As a provider of information to make better business decisions, competitive intelligence
researchers can not ignore the growth of online social networks. Judging by the latest
statistics, the amount of the users is growing and hence the amount of content (in the
form of text, photos, videos) will be on the upswing. As a result, online researchers must
consider online social networks as a valuable source of strategic information.
Before continuing on the theme of this article, here are some interesting facts regarding
o 25% of the small businesses plan to increase their spending on online social
network marketing in 2009, according to a survey conducted in December 2008
by Ad-ology Research.
o According to Nielson Online, the top five online social networks in the US were
1. Facebook, 2. MySpace, 3. Classmates, 4. LinkedIn, 5. Reunion (January 2009)
o Demographics can vary by network
For the purposes of this article, the following online social networks will be examined to
demonstrate their applications in a competitive intelligence context.
Facebook provides its users several platforms to contribute and share content. A
common feature is a Facebook Group.
As an online researcher for a new telecommunications company, you are responsible for
gathering consumers’ views of on one of the top players in the market in Canada, Bell
Canada. After conducting a general web search, you attempt to see if there is anything on
the very popular site, Facebook. Your query is entered and the results are presented in
the image below.
Results from query of Facebook Groups for the keyword, “Bell Canada”
Both options do offer some interesting possibilities in terms of collecting some negative
feedback. Based on the size of the group (958 members) presented in Option #2, the
following topics have been discussed on the group’s discussion board:
Listing of discussion board topics
No doubt, evidence of some unhappy customers will be found. Imagine the amount of
money and time saved by conducting this type of competitive intelligence research rather
paying for a consumer survey/ or focus group session.
LinkedIn is the business related social networking platform. It allows professionals to
post their resumes and network with other individuals in the same industry and / or field
As a strategic intelligence analyst at ABC Transportation, you are concerned about the
new hires at Bombardier Transportation. New hires may reflect a change in strategy or
an introduction of a new product in the near future .
Via LinkedIn, a corporate profile of Bombardier is available along with relevant human
resources information, as seen below.
Bombardier Transportation Company Profile On LinkedIn
Under “New Hires”, one can find the new employees of Bombardier Transportation that
are on the LinkedIn network along with their limited profile.
Scott Baird’s profile on LinkedIn
Depending on the level of access, you may not be able to extract all relevant information
about the individual. In this case, you may find additional information via a Google
Twitter is an application that provides individuals the ability to send and read users'
updates known as tweets. Recently, companies have found a way to use Twitter as apart
of their marketing or communications strategy. Examples of corporate Twitter accounts
are Domino Pizza and Dell Computer. In fact, Dell Computer has several Twitter pages
as seen below.
As a manufacturer of computer hardware and software solutions for small businesses,
you are concerned about what Dell is offering to the same market segment. Browsing the
Dell’s webpage with the listing of all their Twitter accounts, you discover
DellSmBizOffers Twitter page
By becoming a “Follower” (or subscriber) of DellSmBizOffers, you will be able to
monitor any promotions or marketing messages that Dell Computers is sending to
existing or potential buyers via its tweets.
As the use of online social networking tools continue to grow, so does the amount of user
driven content made available. As a result, being able to access the information can
translate into a competitive advantage. The first step towards obtaining the competitive
advantage is becoming familiar with the different online social networks, their respective
functionalities and establishing sound competitive intelligence research methodologies.
About The Author:
Ian Smith has more that 10 years of experience in the field of competitive
intelligence. , Ian has written several articles on competitive intelligence research
methodologies and analysis frameworks. In addition, he has authored articles
dealing with internet searching applications for efficient research initiatives. You
can read his blog posts at Tools For Thought, or follow him at
If you wish to improve your competitive intelligence researching skills on Web 2.0,
call Isabelle Poirier, +1 (514) 276-1700 Ext, 104