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Online Social Networks and Competitive Intelligence
by Ian Smith


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 social networks:

  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter


Facebook provides its users several platforms to contribute and share content.  A common feature is a Facebook Group. 

Case #1:

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 of interest.

Case #2:

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 search.


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.


Dell Computer’s Twitter pages

Case #3:

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.

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.


The Author

Ian Smith has more that 10 years of experience in the field of competitive intelligence. Knowing what challenges that business professionals face everyday to find timely and relevant information, 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.

Ian is the Senior Competitive Intelligence Researcher at E&B DATA, a Canadian firm specialized in the supply of economic and business information, specifically in the industrial, emerging and energy sectors.

At times, Ian brings his cynicism to the blog, Tools For Thought, when he needs to rant.

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Copyright 2009 by Ian Smith. All rights reserved.

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