In my first job out of college, I had a really unpleasant task every Monday morning. See, I worked at a large regional bank and every morning I had to call a dozen other banks and get all their rates. Saving, checking, loans, mortgage. There was no way to disguise who I was. After about 10 minutes on the phone, the teller was pretty annoyed with me. After 15 minutes, he was ready to hang up on me.
“Wait!” I’d cry. “How about a 30-year fixed mortgage on a….”
Back then, monitoring the competition was tough. Today, thanks to the ever growing world of social media, it’s a whole lot easier to find information about your competition. Here are a few simple tips to get started:
- Be a Twitter Spy. Set up a Tweetbeep. If you can use Google Alerts you can use Tweetbeep. Just go to Tweetbeep.com and enter your competitors’ names. You’ll be notified when anyone Tweets about your competition. The information you receive will be a gold mine. Your competitors’ clients will tweet about how well (or poorly) the latest pitch went, their employees will complain about working all night to get the new product into beta. A reporter will talk about using them for a source. Customers will talk about pricing. The HR intern will tell you that layoffs are coming today.
- Did you hear that something big is happening at a competitor and you can’t wait to be Tweetbeeped? Then just go to http://search.twitter.com and type in search strings like “[Competitor name layoff” “[Competitor name] acquired” “[Competitor name] president” People will share scoops on Twitter that they never would in person or on the phone.
- You can also start following your competitors’ executives, managers, employees, interns and contractors. Not to mention, their biggest clients. When news is coming from the company, you’ll get it from every perspective—giving you the full picture. Of course, don’t be surprised when you get the spin from the company president and PR director and the juicy stuff from the interns and contractors.
- Get LinkedIn. I’m willing to bet you already have a LinkedIn profile and some good connections on the site. But now, it’s time to start mining LinkedIn for information on your competition. First take a moment to consider what LinkedIn knows about a company: it knows who just joined a company, it knows who left, it knows who received a promotion and it knows who is connected to whom at other companies. Now, rather than rely on a person to write a company profile, aka Wikipedia, LinkedIn can create an automated feed to pull all this together into a shockingly accurate profile. Go ahead and check out your own company profile by searching here: http://www.linkedin.com/
A quick scan will tell you how many people work at the company and who recently left the company. Seeing who left is not only a great tool if you’re looking to recruit from the competition, it’s also a good way to see if a particular department is in the midst of a shakeup.You can also identify the companies most connected to your competition. This may help you identify where they recruit their employees, who their biggest clients are, and what strategic alliances are most important. Company divisions and acquisitions are also listed, allowing you to understand the corporate hierarchy. The information on number of employees, revenue (listed even for many private companies), median age, employee gender and the various schools their employees attended, rounds out the picture.
- Dive deep with Manta. Manta.com is one of the largest and most popular business information sites on the Internet. Manta has profiles on 63 million plus companies, including yours. The site specializes in hard-to-find information about small businesses and other privately held companies. Membership to the site is free and you can use the free contact management system on the site to track and share competitive information with the rest of your staff. The information on companies varies, but in general, you can find annual revenue, key contacts and number of employees. Premium financial reports are also available for a fee. Can’t find the information you need? The site has a question and answer feature that allows users to post a question that can be addressed by the site’s other members.
- Interested in seeing who is affiliate with your competitors? Visit their company pages on Manta.com and find Manta members who are associated with the company. You can also see who else (maybe your clients and prospects) who are viewing your competitors pages. And, similar to Tweetbeeps for Twitter, you can an alert on your competitors to be notified when something on their pages changes. (Disclosure: once upon a time I worked at ECNext, the company that owns and operates Manta).
One other point: Your competitors are probably using these same tools to keep tabs on you. Keep an eye on your own social media presence to see the image that you are projecting. Social media has changed the way we do a lot of things in the business world, including how we keep up on what our competition is up to. Somebody, somewhere out there, is talking about your competitors, opening up a world of information never before available. Now is the time to take advantage of it. Who knows, now may also be the time to take advantage of a 30-year fixed loan, too.
is founder and chief optimism officer of Webbed Marketing. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Webbed Marketing helps organizations use the Internet to produce real business results. The company specializes in goal-oriented search engine optimization, pay-per-click and social media marketing programs.