Tap the Social Media Stream for Competitors' Secrets

Ten years ago, Logicalis, a systems integrator, would have needed a wiretap to overhear the grumblings of a competitor's dissatisfied customer or prospect. But when a Logicalis sales representative stumbled across a LinkedIn status update revealing an individual's frustration with a rival company's cloud service, he knew just what to do.

"The person was complaining because a cloud services provider had contacted them and asked them to invest in a cloud solution," recalls Lisa Dreher, vice president of marketing at Logicalis, in Farmington Hills, Mich. However, when the person discovered that the vendor actually wasn't able to offer the right solution, he turned to LinkedIn to voice his "frustration," which, according to Dreher, "was a good thing because we actually had the cloud solution they needed. So our sales rep was able to say, 'We can help you with that.'" In the end, Logicalis sold the individual its own cloud service.

For several years now, . The new twist is that more and more companies are tapping the social media stream to learn highly valuable information about rival businesses, says Richard Plansky, senior managing director at Kroll, a New York-based risk consulting company that offers corporate intelligence programs.

"Social media moves a large portion of what used to be private information into the public sphere," says Plansky. "And that makes it much easier to gather information about companies' activities that we used to need surveillance to learn. Now we can do it from our desktops."

Product specifications, product testing, promotional offers, financial data, recruitment efforts, layoffs, industry demographics, customer satisfaction levels are just some of the details that can be gleaned from Facebook profiles, Twitter feeds and blog postings.