Competitive Intelligence with Social Media

When you are in business, the faster you can educate yourself on the mission critical elements of the current solution the better.

As a case example, I train audiences and present as an keynote speaker.

Due to my competitive intelligence background and research skills, I often know more about what is happening in a given industry than most of the executives in that industry do.

Last month I wanted to update my understanding of the security and IT world (something I’ve been involved with for many years), and I wanted to see if there were any issues surrounding the industry today. Most companies have a hard time keeping up with their core business challenges, let alone managing their technology properly. Having a virtual CIO to formulate strategic IT goals for your company can help tremendously.

For most people, competitive intelligence would probably require a visit to the magazine rack.
Not me.

I like to think I’m a bit more tech savvy, so I start pushing buttons.
Lots of buttons.

I have a personal work flow that involves a three monitor setup (actually six monitors, depending on how you count things) and a variety of both off-the-shelf tools and customized applications I have either written or had someone develop.

DISCLAIMER: I realize my digital intake feels like trying to sip a glass of water from a fire hose, and some of my friends joke that I light campfires using nuclear warheads. Bigger is not always better. You need to understand the quality and quantity of information you are dealing with and develop a personal workflow that matches your business needs.

Step ONE
Define the Business Problem

Before I ever sit down at my keyboard or start picking up the phone, I think about the ‘big picture’ of what I am trying to accomplish.

The most typical thing I want to do is establish points that differentiate the project at hand from what everyone else is doing. I have to keep in mind a basic rule: lead, don’t follow.

Whenever possible I need to think about this idea and maximize on areas where other professionals either are not competing- or simply cannot compete.

Answer a few questions about your project:

  • what is one thing no one else does?
  • what are the most common complaints in the market?
  • how fast do I need results?

Create a Competitive Intelligence Strategy

Now that I know my business problem, what information do I want to collect to detail my solution?

Here are some sample questions in my competitive intelligence process: these are the points that define the map and framework I need to follow. As I gather each piece of information I am going to apply each of these questions to it to see if there is insight to be gained.

  1. Who are the major contenders in the market?
  2. What timeframe do the process and market cycles follow?
  3. What personalities influence the industry?
  4. What team of personalities influence the leaders?
  5. What macro trends are occurring?
  6. Are there identifiable micro trends?
  7. Where is the supply, where is the demand?
  8. Who has skeletons in the closet?
  9. Who can I contact that has in-depth expertise, but little political connection?
  10. Who businesses understand the digital change?
  11. Where are areas of impact for digital change vs. traditional business model?
  12. What is the ‘top dog’ doing right?
  13. What did the ‘top dog’ spend to do it?
  14. Are there any ‘black sheep’ in the industry?

Starting with the 1st question “Who are the contenders in the market?” – I came to look at three security and IT related conference groups.
@rsaconference 3082 followers
@blackhatevents 9649 followers
city based Twitter accounts

Collecting Online Competitive Intelligence
Public Tools – Search Insights

The graphic below shows search trends for all three conferences.

I can immediately see that the RSA conference in yellow has a very consistent annual trend that is on a good decline. This is an indicator that the RSA conference is losing online business or that attendees are looking for niche elements of the larger conference. The BlackHat (red) and Secure World (blue) lines show that they have a more distributed model with less fluctuations between events happening throughout the year.


This tool provides me with a quick snapshot of what businesses have engaged online and how they are generally perceived. The second row category of ‘Top Keywords’ gives me some insight to how audience members relate to other topics. If we look at Secure World’s top keywords, we see that a good number of them are pretty relevant to the topic. On the flip side of that, the Black Hat group has the terms search, baseball, and white. All three of these terms give me a brief insight- the words search and white are directly connected to Black Hat.

The word baseball is completely irrelevant… or is it? Perhaps there are baseball fans simply talking about black hats, or there could be a niche of attendees who are planning to attend a baseball game.

If we were looking to connect with a group attending the conference, attending the baseball game could be an easy way to build relationships (as a side note, understanding the social events that happen before and after a conference is an effective way to get connected to the influencers.)


Allows you to compare web sites and see traffic trends surrounding them. There are some interesting elements to note in the information below,

  • referring sites: if a conference is doing well, who did it partner with the spread the word?
  • top search terms: Black Hat clearly had the largest organic traffic (SEO) , what words did they use?
  • historical trends: are there indicators for business increase/decrease?
    • if I see I spike in traffic, a double-check on Google with a specified date range may reveal what it was.


Social Conversation

I used a variety of social tools, some are paid and some are not. I am always looking for how a conversation trends and what points of impact there are. The follow chart show some historical data for the past month.

In addition to having the highest site traffic, the Black Hat conference also has the highest number of mentions each day:
(*note these are collected terms, not the exact keyword I was searching for)

  • Black Hat – avg 126 daily
  • Secure World – avg 37 daily
  • RSA Conference – avg 31 daily

Unfortunately for all three conferences, the collection of this ‘social chatter’ appears to lack a coherent strategy and focus.
This means there are 100’s of people every week being ignored (that could represent existing or future attendees/sponsors)


In a nutshell – what  I learned
Competitive Intelligence 201

Some pretty amazing stuff actually.

In addition to the above data, I began to answer ALL 13 of the above question and developed a few dozen more.

I gained some deep insight to who was involved for each conference, including a detailed list of

  • all of the sponsors for the events
  • all of the speakers who presented
  • all of the attendees who digitally communicated
  • the topics they liked
  • the topics they didn’t like

I also examined a few thousand social profiles that quickly told me what type of person attended each event.

If I was doing this as a competitor

  • I could reach out to key supporters of like-minded events.
  • I could educate myself on the failures someone else paid for.
  • I could engage with attendees at another event.
  • I could understand when my efforts need to match against the market trend.

The 301, 401, and 501 steps

I hope you learned something… but I have to leave something for future articles!

As competitive intelligence goes, the above points just detail a preliminary level of data. While other professionals call this “competitive intelligence”, the real fact of the matter is that most of the above information is simply data. Competitive intelligence occurs after you connect business models, market shifts, and revenue driving goals into an integrated future roadmap.

*This is just a brief sample of what tools and insight my team brings to competitive intelligence, market strategy campaigns, and influencer strategies. If you need help doing some ground breaking research and using it to make better business decisions, drop me a line.

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