Competitive intelligence, social media and lots of talking at Online Information 2010

Last Wednesday I spent the day at Online Information in London. I was mainly there to represent SLA Europe: I went along to the breakfast in the morning, and to a reception for board members and sponsors in the evening. I also spent a few hours on our stand, talking to existing and prospective members about how generally ace SLA Europe is. I really enjoyed that aspect of the day – I had to do a lot of Talking To Strangers, which is something that really doesn’t come naturally to me, but I think I’m getting used to it! It was lovely talking to existing SLA members, including several people I’d spoken to online but never met in person, as everyone was really positive about SLA as an organisation and SLA Europe in particular. I also heard lots of nice comments about our new website, which was very gratifying! I also got chatting to a few people who were considering joining, so spent quite a lot of time enthusing about membership benefits. I’m normally not very good at giving sales pitches, but I do genuinely believe that SLA is a great organisation to join, so I didn’t feel too much like I was giving the hard sell!

I managed to get to a couple of talks as well: one in the morning on competitive intelligence, and one in the afternoon on social media use in European libraries (the latter was part of the European Librarian Theatre which SLA Europe was hosting). Thought I’d share some of my notes here, as both were very interesting, useful sessions.

Ten Top Tips for finding Competitive Intelligence online

Arthur Weiss from AWARE gave his top ten tips for finding business information online. His slides are available on the AWARE website.

Some of this was quite obvious, but there’s a few handy tips in there – e.g. I’d never thought about looking at the company website’s domain history, registration, etc.

1. Know what you’re looking for

  • This seems like an obvious point, but often isn’t to end users! Sometimes people will ask you for things without explaining what they actually need, often without even really knowing this themselves
  • First step is always to clarify with enquirer – what are they actually expecting?
    • E.g. “How many German cars are there?” Enquirer may think this is a straightforward question, but do they actually mean how many cars are their in Germany? Or how many cars are manufactured in Germany (and is this per year?)? Or how many types of German-manufactured cars are there? Etc
  • What is the information for? Why is it needed? How will it be used?
  • Different information will be useful if the company you’ve been asked to look into is an existing client, potential client, competitor, etc. Make sure you know which they are.

2. Create a collection plan

  • If the subject of your enquiry is either very broad or very niche, general search engines won’t be much help
  • Consider where the information is likely to be, search likely sources directly rather than using Google
  • Main question to ask yourself: why will this information be available? Thinking about that will suggest where it might be held

3. Know your search engines

  • Don’t rely on just one – e.g. Google and Bing will return slightly different results. How different they are will depend on the subject
  • Consider using advanced options, e.g. Google’s “wonder wheel”
  • Learn what search syntax each search engine uses, whether or not you can use Boolean operators, etc

4. Consider the “deep web”

  • General search engines index less than 10% of the web!
  • Use specialist search engines like Google Scholar/Books/News, DeepDyve (for scholarly research articles), SiloBreaker (for news)
  • Go directly to official sources such as government websites for official data
  • Job sites can be useful for finding out if a company is restructuring etc, seeing how they describe themselves

5. What can company websites tell you?

  • Use domaintools.com to find out domain ownership, domain name history, what other sites are hosted on the same server, any other domains owned by the same people
  • OpenSiteExplorer.com will tell you who is linking to a particular site

6. Find public opinion through social media

  • Use social media (e.g. blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn) to find news on a company before it hits the headlines
  • See what news the company itself is putting out – do they have any official social media accounts?
  • See what others are saying about them

7. Don’t forget the people

  • People search engines – ZoomInfo, 123People, Pipl, Yasni (although beware potentially misleading information – these sites can’t guarantee that all the data they pull in is about the right person)
  • LinkedIn – this is a person’s approved public profile, if they have one. Likely to be more accurate than the above people search engines, but obviously won’t include anything negative
  • Online searching for people won’t work if they don’t want to be found, don’t have accounts on social media etc. In that case, go the old fashioned route – directories, company reports, press searches

8. Be prepared to pay for information

  • Free information is often free for a reason!
  • There will be a limit to what you can find without paying
  • Paid for information will usually be more comprehensive and more authoritative

9. Keep up to date

  • Search tools and sources change all the time – make sure you know what is out there
  • searchengineland is useful for this, as are Phil Bradley and Karen Blakeman‘s blogs
  • Mailing lists and library associations are also a good way to keep up to date

10. Think different!

Social Media Spotlight: Debating the case for social media in Europe’s Libraries

Panel discussion on use of social media in European libraries. A combined slidedeck for all 6 speakers is available on Slideshare.

First speaker was Jakob Harnesk from EBSCO, talking about a survey of social media use in European libraries that EBSCO ran over the summer. A summary of the findings is available in a rather nifty Prezi.

They had 1200 responses, from libraries in all sectors across Europe. Survey was available in 7 languages.

Headline findings:

  • More than 60% of respondents were “positive” or “very positive” about social media
  • Only 6% said they were “somewhat negative”; no one said they were “negative” or “very negative” (I suspect this is probably self-selection bias though – you’d probably get a greater range of positive and negative feedback among librarians who hadn’t chosen to fill in an online survey about social media!)
  • Most common goal of using social media was to maximise the library’s exposure (78% said this). Other goals included promoting specific services/resources, encouraging collaborative work, and attracting new users
  • Facebook and MySpace were the most commonly used services (63%)
  • Most common difficulty was the finding the time to maintain presence on social media sites (41%). Other difficulties included lack of staff knowledge about social media/web 2.0, lack of user interest, and network restrictions (i.e. sites being blocked)
  • Success story from a public library – 15 minutes after the launch of their “new books” blog, the first user requested a book she’d seen on there!

Herve Basset, an independent consultant from France, spoke next about the use of web 2.0 by scientists. He began by quoting some media reports suggesting that the science community were heavy users of social media, then arguing that these reports were based on myths. The facts:

  • less than 1% of Facebook users are scientists
  • there are ~20000 science blogs (making up 0.01% of all blogs)
  • there are an estimated 600 scientists on Twitter (out of somewhere in the region of 6 million total users)

Other key points I picked up from his talk:

  • Only other science bloggers and the interested public read science blogs. They are not considered trusted content by the wider scientific community
  • A new role for information professionals could be as an “information consultant”: act as a guide to useful services and authoritative content in a crowded information market
  • Choose the right path (i.e. what social media, if any, to use) depending on who your users are. E.g. students will use different services to junior scientists and established scientists. Will also vary depending on your workplace (e.g. public institution/university/private company) and locations (e.g. US/Europe)

Stephane Goldstein from the Research Information Network was up next. He mentioned a report on the use of social media by researchers that the RIN has produced, which is available on their website. I think he also mentioned a second report, but I didn’t note down the name of that one – sorry!

He suggested that as information is the lifeblood of research, one might assume that researchers would naturally be interested in new ways of managing, finding and disseminating information, such as web 2.0. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case!

  • Web 2.0 use by researches is very limited
  • Researchers are mainly consumers of social media and web 2.0, not contributors, i.e. they may read blogs but not comment on them or write their own
  • No such thing as the “Google generation” in research – younger researchers don’t use web 2.0 (in a professional context) any more than their seniors
  • Lack of understanding creates a barrier – most do not see the benefits
  • Established methods of research, dissemination and communication are trusted
  • Unlikely to change in the short term

Geoff Walton from Staffordshire University discussed the impact of web 2.0 on learning, beginning by comparing social media to the coffee houses of 17th century London – forum for free exchange of ideas, largely seen as a threat to established educational institutions at the time. My take away points:

  • In a controlled experiment, students who’d used social media to discuss ideas and lectures with their peers did better overall than the control group who only received face to face instruction
  • Learning is a social activity, social media can facilitate this aspect
  • Engaging in online discourse triggers a variety of positive cognitive and behavioural changes

Didn’t write down many notes for the last two speakers (Ake Nygren from the Stockhold Public Library and Tomas Baiget, a Spanish information professional), probably because the room was extremely hot and, interesting though all the speakers were, I was finding it difficult to concentrate by then! Ake spoke about the way the Stockholm library had used social media mashups to improve the services offered to visitors, such as organising a city tour via Foursquare. Tomas described the application of social capital within online networks: as the world becomes smaller, co-operation and communication within networks is essential.

2 comments on “Competitive intelligence, social media and lots of talking at Online Information 2010

  1. enjoyed your post, thanks!

  2. […] can see our photos from Online on our Flickr account, and SLA Europe board members Sara Batts and Laura Woods have both blogged about their experiences at Online. Bookmark to: Posted in Weblogs | Tagged […]

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