Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Using social media as crucial business analysis resources 5: rethinking business intelligence and understanding the competition

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 14, 2015

This is my fifth installment in a series on social media as a source of actionable business intelligence insight (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 217 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I have focused up to here in this series, on what a business communicates about itself, and both as a matter of conveying information through central publishing passive recipient approaches, and interactively and through web 2.0 and social media channels. I have also discussed in this context the more external conversation that takes place in the marketplace as it involves that business. And I have at least briefly discussed in this dual context, how the only ways that any business can find and develop anything like unique sources of competitive strength out of this is in finding new, creative ways to use and leverage the interactive web 2.0 and social media resources that the people they seek to reach are using and both as they gather in information, and as they share of their own experience, insights and opinions.

I take a somewhat different approach to viewing the roles that social media and other online channels can play in business intelligence gathering here, where I focus on the fourth complex of issues that I initially proposed discussing in Part 1 of this series:

• And what can be learned about a business by outsiders to it, simply by tracking, correlating and comparing, and systematically analyzing their online story?

I have already in effect been discussing this in my first four series installments, at least for the context in which those outsiders are customers and potential customers. My focus here is on what a business can learn about another business from tracking and analyzing what it says and what others say about it, and both through central publishing approaches and through participation in more interactive communications channels such as social media.

One obvious category of organizations that would see value in this type of business intelligence is a business’ direct competitors, and I add any additional businesses that are considering entry into the marketplaces that they operate in, as new potential competitors to them too. I will at least begin discussion of that side of business-to-business business intelligence gathering here. But it is also increasingly important for businesses to cooperatively collaborate with other businesses, and for a wide variety of reasons. I write here of supply chain partnerships that can come to endure long-term and become basic to all participating business’ systems and planning. But I also write of more transient collaborative opportunities and of what can be seen as opportunistic, more one-off collaborative agreements too. Making either of these work, or any other types of business-to-business agreements work calls for due diligence effort on the part of all participating businesses, and both in selecting the right business partners for them to work with and in determining the best ways to work with those partner businesses, and the best terms for doing so. Tapping into and understanding this same flow of what can be seen as directly revealing business intelligence, can play a defining role in these types of due diligence analyses too. So after looking at the competitive analysis side of this complex of issues, as might take place in carrying out a fuller Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, I will look into these more collaborative analyses as would be included under the Opportunities rubric of a SWOT analysis too. But I begin with the competition, and with two fundamental observations:

• Open-ended data gathering can yield unexpected valuable insight, but simply gathering in data just to gather in data is not in most cases going to be cost-effective.
• And when you simply gather in data per se, it is unlikely that you will organize it in ways that would facilitate, let alone suggest those insightful search queries and analyses, so even if you have the raw data that would be useful for them it is unlikely that you will find and connect it together in a meaningful, actionable manner, when you would need it.

So begin by asking yourself what types of questions you would need answered, in order to meet your basic due diligence requirements, in understanding and in meeting the challenges of your competitors. This is an iterative process, and should always be carried through upon as such. You start with what might seem obvious, generic questions and you apply insight gained from addressing them, in framing and addressing next-round questions and then next. And you use the accumulating insight that comes from this in evaluating your ongoing current data gathering, and how you organize what you gather into database fields, with a goal of identifying gaps in what you are collecting that you would need, and disconnects in how you organize your data collected, so as to make it more useful for you.

I wrote the above very generically, as the approach I offer here might be applied to any business intelligence gathering exercise. To bring this discussion back to the issues of mining social media as a source of actionable business intelligence insight, I will focus here on questions that would be relevant for that.

The basic thrust of all of these questions, and of others that would inevitably also be asked in their context is very simple. The goal is to understand where a given competitor or potential competitor is now in the marketplace that you compete with it in, and how the customers and potential customers of that marketplace view that business and its offerings, and why.

• What are their products and services that they bring to market?

This is a question that you would in most cases learn the most about from central publishing and other more traditional sources – at least at the level of knowing what they market and sell as their explicitly intended products and services. But a complete understanding of this has to include what they claim to offer and what they actually provide in the way of pre-sales and post-sales customer support too. To be more explicit there, by way of at least categorical example, when a market and industry and the technology that this industry provides are mature and stable and every business participating in it is offering essentially the same types of items for sale, the one and only defining competitive edge-creating difference that a business might be able to offer is in its pre-sales customer support and the quality of consumer experience offered there, the speed and reliability of delivery at point of sale, and the quality of post-sales support. This more ancillary but still essential support can become, in effect, the competitive value defining product actually delivered. And value here can only be defined and measured from the consumer perspective. If, to express this in terms of your own business, you think that your fulfillment system and its processes are effective (e.g. because you have just spent so much money building a new call center) but your customers feel frustrated when speaking with your representatives – when they do finally get past your automated phone system, it is their opinion that counts as it is their opinion that will shape whether they come back to you to offer your business new business or whether they move on to try one of your competitors. So what do your competitors offer, and as a complete transaction cycle package with follow-through included and what does your business offer?

• How do your business and its offerings compare to those of your competitors?
• What are you doing better that they might seek to emulate?
• What are they doing better, where you can make changes in your systems that would address these sources of consumer concern?
• What are both your business and your competitors overlooking that the consumers of your marketplace would want to see done better, and that they discuss for that online and through social media and direct feedback?
• And while you are gathering this insight from social media and related sources, what can you do in participating in this ongoing conversation flow that would more effectively convey the message that you listen and that you respond to meet specific real world consumer and end-user needs?

Note that I just discussed your business and your competitors together. Neither you nor they exist in or function in a vacuum. You and your competitors all exist and function in a shared context, with your (and their) marketplace and your (and their) customers and potential customers residing at its shared core.

I am certain to come back to the issues that I have raised here in this posting, in subsequent writings, but with this in place I am going to turn to consider business intelligence and potential business-to-business collaborations. I will at least begin discussing that in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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