I have to make an apology for the misleading title, because this post is not about competitive intelligence and social media. At least, not the combination that is so often described as synergy in its purest form. I cannot help thinking that some (more or less) highly respected people write about social media (in some cases related to Competitive Intelligence or any other underestimated and underappreciated profession) because writing about social media scores. I really encourage everyone to draw attention to my beloved profession, but do not do it by stating nonsense, please! You might as well write about CI in relation to Britney Spears or Tiger Woods.
Of course I’m exaggerating because Britney is even (slightly) less related to CI. But it’s kind of cheap to use ‘hot topics’ to boost your traffic (and yes I did the same to make my point, which will hopefully show in the statistics). So therefore I will dedicate this post to describe the lack of synergy between CI and social media (so my title is not misleading, I just forgot two words).
The reason I make such a fuss about this is that it’s hard enough as it is to explain what Competitive Intelligence is without people confusing everyone with buzzwords. In short, social media can be used to gather information. This can be information on any topic. So yes, you can use social media to gather information regarding your competitive environment, much like you can with Google. You can also use social media as a source of information (especially LinkedIn but also Twitter, Facebook and several others). But they are NOT competitive intelligence tools! At most they are information gathering tools, but I’d rather just see them as another source of information. Nothing more, nothing less.
Surely, as a source they are quite useful. They are not comprehensive and it’s often hard to judge the reliability, but they offer nice ‘behind the scenes’ information because employees underestimate the information they share with the world. And with LinkedIn for example, you can follow in great detail what’s happening in a company through their employees. You can see what they do or don’t do, you can see if the company is hiring or firing and you can see if their employees are looking for other challenges outside the company. You’d be foolish not to use this information, but you’d be even more foolish to rely on social media as your only source.
As an information gathering tool social media are pretty limited when it comes to functionality. The one that comes closest (from the ones that I use) is Twitter, but I can’t wait till Google can search tweets because searching in Twitter is not what I want to be doing too often. Twitter does offer me a great deal of information, but if you compare it to the time I have to spend reading tweets it’s a pretty time consuming and therefore ineffective search tool. It’s just more fun than Google (which is why we spend ages on Twitter).
So if they do support CI in a way, why are they not CI tools? Because they do not support the core competitive intelligence processes, which is what tools should do. CI is not (only) about gathering information on your competitive environment. That’s the easy part. It’s about creating intelligence through analysis. And after that, it’s pretty worthless if you do not act upon it. So that is what CI tools should help accomplish. They should help you gather, analyze, present and distribute intelligence regarding your competitive environment (the well known intelligence cycle) in order to persuade the decision makers in your company to take action based upon it. I dare any of you social media CI guru’s out there to ask your decision makers to act upon a very interesting tweet you received. I bet you get lots of Twitter time as a result.