Enhance your Early Warning Process through Social Networks & Social Media

In his post, “Beating Dunbar’s Number,” Chris Brogan challenges us to become a member of the magic Dunbar 150 in people’s networks when we want to have a closer relationship. He provokes us to organize the many connections we make through social networks into a database so we can find them easily without remembering their names and recall how/where we met, etc.

earlywarning1I translate this thinking as a competitive intelligence professional into setting up an early warning process using the power of social networks. One of the common pitfalls of many early warning initiatives is that we connect with the people we know and are comfortable with, and get surprised by disruptive technology or a competitor’s acquisition. We also rely too heavily on secondary research on the Internet, and don’t verify our sources. While the information might look good, it can be outdated or a competitor may purposefully mislead.

Social networks are another source to include in your early warning process since they lead to connections that you will never make through Web 1.0 Internet searching, paid databases, company connections and the same external suspects, such as industry experts, scientists and the investment community. Find your industry’s social networks and forums. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are my favorite general social networks for business connections. YouTube, VidePedia and Blinkx are great video sources.

linkedincontains over 30 million people. Grow your LinkedIn network: find the people that matter to you: for example, industry experts and competitor alumni and Link In with them. Connecting on LinkedIn is one way to warm up a phone call or email that you might direct to a person. Qualify those who should become part of your early warning process. Once you connect with them, see if any of their connections would be a good fit. Think: who do you want to keep as loose connections?  Which ones should you follow-up with?  How will you communicate with them? Do you call them, email them, find them on Twitter or perhaps comment through a blog post or industry forum? In a cooperative spirit, what will you share with them that they might value? Join relevant industry LinkedIn groups. Search the questions and answers section on LinkedIn. Set up alerts.

twitteris another great social network since you can search for people by using keyword searching within Twitter. You can either use Twitter Search or twilert. For example, I want to connect with people who do or are interested in competitive intelligence. I set up a twilert which forwards me the Tweets from people who used the words competitive intelligence, just like I do with Google Alerts.

Another great way to find people is through the blogosphere. However, if you want to be more methodical, start with Technorati, Delicious and Digg to find blogs that are relevant to your industry, and identify the most popular ones. In Technorati, the most popular blogs have the most authority. In Delicious and Digg, these are the blog posts which people have tagged most often. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb  wrote an excellent blog, How to Build a Social Media Cheat Sheet, which provides a methodology to find the best and most relevant blogs to support any topic. I often find people synchronistically through blogs I find on Alltop or Stumbleupon. Sometimes the best blogs have no authority in Technorati since the author hasn’t marketed himself, but is a wealth of information.

The point is: social networks are fertile ground for locating people to include in your early warning process.  Find them, qualify them, organize them in your database, and decide how often you will connect with them or just tag them as loose connections to contact as needed.

How do you use social media to help with your early warning process?  Are there any tips which you have uncovered?

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