Open source intelligence can make you more effective every day, in a wide variety of tasks—not just competitive intelligence. Sales, marketing, planning, and executive roles benefit from a sharper understanding of what others are doing in the industry, and effective use of free information from your web browser is a key approach. We use a lot of specialized tools for niche tasks, but here’s a few that we use every day.
LinkedIn offers a wealth of open source intelligence. In many companies, especially tech companies, the majority of employees have LinkedIn profiles. The company pages are also a wealth of information. The site also provides very robust search, making it an excellent first stop for information on a company, market segment, or other topic of interest.
The breadth of coverage on LinkedIn makes semi-statistical data gathering, as well. This factor is enormously helpful for topics such as: where employees are physically located, hiring trends, and the specific size of organizations within the company, such as sales compared to the company as a whole (or yours). In fact, we have even reverse-engineered competitors’ customer lists using public data available on LinkedIn.
Slightly less well-known but also extraordinarily useful, SlideShare.net bills itself as aspiring to be “the YouTube of PowerPoint.” This enormous repository of slide presentations gives you access to information carefully collated and assembled by presenters for ease of understanding.
Whereas a company’s Web site might provide meager insight, SlideShare tends to have information from sales presentations, technical sessions, and even invitation-only events that would otherwise not be available to you in any form. Often, you can even find analyses done by external consultants that provide a perspective that those inside the company wouldn’t provide.
Often dismissed in competitive intelligence but growing richer every day, social Q&A sites like Quora are an excellent source to monitor conversations about topics of interest. We saw a comparison of social sites recently—Twitter: “I ate a donut;” Facebook: “I like donuts;” LinkedIn: “I have experience with donuts.” If that’s the case, Quora might answer “How profitable is a typical donut store?”.
The conversational format at Quora also leads to situations where people post information defending themselves, their product, or their company. That kind of interaction is gold for a bystander collecting intelligence. Synthesizing and filtering that information is a direct route to insights you wouldn’t expect.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart