Social Media for Market Intelligence

January 19, 2010. You’re on LinkedIn and notice from your competitor’s business development manager's profile that he has developed a new expertise area inhouse. Is this a relevant field signal? Indeed, there has much interest in the use of social media for market intelligence (MI). Will digital sharing platforms, social network platforms and wikis etc. become the next big thing in MI?

We ask M-Brain (formerly GIA)’s Business Development Vice President, Hans Hedin, for his views and observations.

What are the implications of social media trends for MI?

“Social media has changed the way people communicate. In general, there is a greater willingness to openly share knowledge in the public domain.

People with similar interests tend to cluster into different online communities for information exchange, and no longer feel like they have to be an expert to express their observations and opinions through blogs and forums. News alerts and images can be sent via smart phones to captive audiences instantaneously.

Field signals that have been captured through social media, as well as the social technology platforms, can be useful as an input to the intelligence process. The willingness and capability for sharing market signals has improved.

This directly impacts what I consider to be one of the toughest aspects of the market intelligence process ““ collecting and sharing information efficiently and rapidly.

It also allows for more collaborative types of information gathering. This is all good for intelligence purposes, provided you can manage the information.

Social media applications will increasingly play a more important role in the analysis part of the intelligence cycle as well.”

What are the most useful social media platforms for MI, and what are their pros and cons?

“Blogs are an excellent source of continuous information on industry issues, customers and competitors. The quality of information however is not always high and there can be many blogs, sometimes hundreds, on any topic. So it is challenging to find the right ones to track.

LinkedIn is a very popular networking site that has made it easier to identify sales leads as well as experts from all over the world. It is sometimes possible to even get an indication of a competitor’s future direction through the projects and work that employees present on their profiles or their latest professional networks.

These days, profiles from LinkedIn can be used to conduct network analysis, such as how the employees for a competitor are linked to specialist research companies, new business partners or even their best customers! It is interesting to note that employees are not always very careful with corporate information that should not actually be in the public domain. LinkedIn communities can inform competitors and be a hassle for employers themselves. As such, companies have started to provide disclosure policies to employees on how they can participate in social media and how to comment on professionally related issues.

We have also seen how companies can pull out material from YouTube in order to increase the knowledge of the competition. One automotive company features competitor commercials taken from YouTube as the opening screen of their intelligence portal. This is to help their staff see what their customers watch in different markets, and encourage them to think about how they can position their brands. This is also a way of making market intelligence more visible to the company, to make it an integrated part of everyday business life.

Wikis can be useful as internal platforms for developing shared knowledge and competitor profiles, as people might be more open to providing their own knowledge in this format. The knowledge management aspect of intelligence hopefully has much to gain here.

Social media applications can also play an important role when it comes to analysis. Crowd forecasting is where using social media for market intelligence gets more advanced. It allows you to balance expert perspectives with that of a wider audience for a more balanced view of where a trend is heading. Crowd forecasting is not the easiest to implement, as people will initially need time to get used to the process, but is helpful to go beyond general information “˜shuffling’ and to reach conclusions in more specific and tested ways. It is also a powerful way to enhance the co-creation intelligence process, meaning that people from around the company combine their intellectual capability to conduct analysis.

Companies with more advanced intelligence programs are integrating these applications at the moment. But I believe that the vast majority of companies are still looking at how social media can improve the information collection process. This is quite a hot topic in the “Intelligence Best Practice Benchmarking Workshops” that I am running with companies today.”

What precautions should one take while utilizing social media for MI?

“First, social media platforms are in general not validated sources. The communications can be based on hype or unqualified rumours. What you read may not always be the truth and could even be information that is intentionally misrepresented. You can be misled to think something is going to be a new trend, a real issue or a hot topic, when it is not.

Also, the volume of information is increasing dramatically and needs to be collected, filtered and summarized. In the future, we will see more applications designed to summarize, rate and link information from social media sources so that the material is digested before it is analyzed by a person. But one must keep in mind that these sources are complementary to, not replacements for, high quality sources such as industry experts, professors and think tanks staffed with PhDs.

At the end of the day, you must also be able to wade through the rumours and disinformation, and decipher what is useful information for market intelligence. This is an area for worry for MI managers.”

What new developments do you think will benefit market intelligence?

“There are tools that help structure, sort, filter and analyze the information from social media. One example is blog rating websites and we expect to see more “˜self-policing’ communities or filtering mechanisms.

Social media techniques will be used more and more for internal corporate processes. For example, wikis will be used to communicate and share information as an internal application within the organization or a network of partner companies.

In the future, there will be more interconnections between internal systems. Corporate intelligence portals could be integrated with customer relationship management systems, so you can track customers who change jobs or companies that recruit employees to manage a completely new application area. This might be indicative of business opportunities for your organization.

In many ways, social media has made market intelligence more accessible, if you know where to look and how to integrate it into your own intelligence process.”


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