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  • Writer's pictureMike Culton

Competitive Insights Beyond Analytics

Incorporate Open Source Intelligence into Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Numbers and data points are real, they're measurable, and they're often easier to digest than a paragraph of detailed explanations. Analytics, dashboards, and charts are invaluable business tools that form the backbone of any competitive insight program but the data alone won't provide a thorough understanding of your customers, competitors, and industry trends. Give those stats and graphs some much needed context with open source intelligence gathering techniques.

What is Open Source Intelligence? Why is Open Source Intelligence?

Open Source Intelligence (aka, OSINT, if you're in the know) is simply all of the publicly available information available that's relevant to your objectives and operational needs. In the business world, this type of information can come from industry news in a trade publication, competitors' blog posts, social media posts about your product or service, the weekly stock picks from your favorite investing site, and last month's Google reviews, to name just a few.

You executive and manager-types out there may be doing this right now. You try to keep up with the latest while checking the market's pulse but have you ever given much thought about how you gather and evaluate this type of information? Where is it coming from and how does it compare with the trend lines you're seeing in your analytics dashboard?

Define your requirement or business need then organize your search activity around that objective.

Focusing on specific needs when diving into an ocean of online content drastically reduces information overload and time-wasting diversions. Intelligence gathering goes beyond seeking out and consuming knowledge. It's a structured, goal-driven process that closes the gap on blind spots and improves the decision-making process.

Developing Better Info Gathering Habits

The problem with the half-dozen news sites you tend to read every other week isn't necessarily the content, it's the publications' scope and perspective. The experts you rely on far too often react to current events and leave you a day late and a few dollars short. Take it a step further and seek out sources and platforms that explore the issue from a variety of angles. Best of all, many of them of totally free.

Social media is the best place to monitor weekly trends, customer engagement, and even gauge the general sentiment about a competitor, type of service, or new product features.

Go beyond the overall engagement stats and peek behind the numbers.

Particularly in the world of Twitter, high engagement may not be directly proportional to positive attitudes about the topic at hand. Since social media covers a lot of bandwidth, make use of monitoring and social listening tools. Services like HootSuite and provide free versions that allow users to gauge the effectiveness of hashtags and keywords, while identifying new trends, across multiple platforms. Apps like TweetDeck (also free) deliver two-way communication from your account while giving you the capability to monitor several hashtags and search terms simultaneously.

Customize news aggregating services as basic as Google News to expand your industry news horizons. Set up searches, follow topics, and tap into local happenings to build a daily read file. Want to go deeper? The powerful and woefully underutilized RSS feed is still a highly effective tool that curates and distills everything you need to know in one customized feed that constantly pings websites and content to deliver timely updates. Staying with Google, look up or type in "RSS" into the extension search bar to find similar alternatives. Load your feed with competitors' news pages, management blogs, financial sites, social media accounts, and even re-route e-mailed newsletters. Everything you load is available in one easy-to-scan feed, which can either directly push alerts or send you an e-mail summary at an interval of your choosing.

Streaming Intel on an RSS feed

Catching up with a Customized RSS Feed

Going deeper still, sign up for closed Facebook groups and subscribe or follow industry-related communities on other platforms to gain more granular knowledge in your niche. Get the inside scoop on trade show appearances, conferences, and special events while evaluating interest levels from groups of potential influencers and shot-callers in a market segment.

Assembling the Puzzle

After snooping around and getting caught up on your feeds, now is the time to go back to your original business goal and determine how this information met the objective or answered your questions. Once you start down the rabbit hole, it's far too easy to get lost and tangled up in the briar patch of digital distractions; so, refer back to those focused goals throughout the information gathering process. The more advanced sleuths among you may have several feeds and checks to consider at the end of this colorful data-driven rainbow. Transition from a passive consumer to an active analyst.

Is it interesting or is it relevant to your objective? Some news items you come across may seem fascinating but do they really answer the question you originally set out to resolve? Maybe that particular piece doesn't accomplish the goal but it opens up a new potential business need; so, start a new feed. With a little intellectual discipline, this process yields the critical insights you aim to achieve along with added bonuses like new SEO keywords and content ideas. Continue to corner the market with finely-tuned strategic messaging.

When combined with data-driven analytics, open source intelligence turns any owner or manager into an exceptionally informed decision-maker who poses a tangible threat to competitors. You can discover how to sure up your weaknesses while exploiting theirs. Information gathering and staying on top of industry trends are never-ending processes but they don't have to consume significant parts of your week.

Fine tune your analytical judgment and let some basic advances in web-based technology make your life a whole lot easier while contributing to your overall commercial success.

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