Competitive intelligence is an increasingly critical skill. The economy has certainly made the business environment more competitive. However, the increasingly open and social Web is an even bigger factor. And the biggest venue is social media.
Companies (your competitors) are leaking more information than ever into social media channels. Snooping on these dropped hints and disclosures can give you a big strategic advantage.
RSS for Competitive Intelligence
One of my favorite ways to efficiently collect competitive intelligence is with RSS feeds. This is one of the most powerful tools a sales person or dedicated competitive intelligence analyst can learn.
Originally, RSS was created to efficiently syndicate content around the Web–literally allowing content to move. However, it can also be used to make intelligence move to you. RSS is a great way to collect information from websites, blogs, and social media streams.
RSS is Anonymous
One of the biggest advantages of RSS for intelligence collections is that it is anonymous. Unlike subscribing to a competitors email newsletter, you can subscribe to RSS without leaving a trace.
What’s more, these anonymous RSS feeds are increasingly available on a variety of source of information. They are automatically created on most corporate blogs, websites, and investor relations sites. However, even more valuable they are available on social networking sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, and LinkedIn. They can even be created on custom searches at Google, Twitter, and other popular search engines.
Now that you know what RSS is and how powerful it can be for competitive analysis, let’s find some good sources of intelligence. Again, social media and the social Web is a big help here. Many industry insiders are increasingly blogging or joining niche social networks. One you find a few of these industry gurus you can tap into the niche.
Some of the best places to look for industry communities, include: Industry expert blogrolls, LinkedIn groups, Ning.com communities, and Twitter Lists. Each of these venues use RSS. So once you find the community–grab the RSS feed.
Aggregate RSS Feeds
The final step in really using RSS feeds for competitive intelligence is to aggregate them into an RSS reader or aggregator. There are a number of free and paid RSS tools on the market, depending on your sophistication. To start with you should find something simple. It should allow you to easily add RSS feeds, group common feeds, and probably email or otherwise report out key findings.
RSS is a powerful technology for anyone competing in business to understand. However, if your primary role is marketing, sales, or corporate strategic find yourself a favorite RSS reader and start listening in on all the “loose lips” on the Web.