Would you like to know how you can become more relevant to your staff, potential new talent, customers & partners?

Many advocate, myself included, to keep your eyes on the space in front of you, not your competitors (wherever they may sit), but does that mean you ignore them all together? Certainly not.

Knowing what your competitors are up to is a healthy part of running a business that is customer-focused because you should know what options are being presented to them. Think of it as due diligence – an issues-oriented empathy. As a comms pro, this is an important way you can add value – feeding back market intelligence to the rest of the management team.

One of the most effective tools to do this is to use Linkedin! 4.1 million Australians have a Linkedin profile. That’s 300 per cent growth since 2010. In terms of registered users globally, Aussies sit only behind the US, India, the UK, and Canada. Remember, this is number of users, not a percentage v population – so you can see it is already well entrenched in our business psyche. In fact thirty-five per cent of Linkedin users access it daily and this number is on the rise.

Today fifty per cent of Fortune 100 companies hire through LinkedIn. With the social media site only launched in 2003 and only going public 23 months ago, the platform has an astonishing two billion network updates viewed weekly. What does this mean…? There is a lot of competitive information ripe for harvest, if you know what to look for!

How you can use Linkedin to become more relevant to your staff, potential new talent, customers and partners:

Groups: First things first! For $500-odd get a business subscription. It enhances your listening ability. Then decide which competitors you need to keep an eye on. Don’t get lost in the plethora of ‘want to bes’. Target the key guys and their most active users. Figure out what discussions they are involved in and what are they saying. This is an emerging part of Linkedin, but it is snow-balling, because it is powerful. Also don’t forget to map what they are ‘Liking’ – you’ll be amazed what it reveals.

Follow: You are just burying your head in the sand if you don’t ‘Follow’ your competitors. They may have closed this option off by way of setting an approval protocol up as a gateway to prevent exactly this, but if they haven’t, why wouldn’t you want to know what campaigns they are running and what products and services they have just launched? You aren’t going to get an invite to their breakfast seminars, but this is the next best thing!

People: Staff retention has never been harder as more and more Gen Ys take up positions within the workforce. There is no such thing as loyalty anymore. Thing is, it’s not just the fact that they will move for more pay at the drop of a hat, they are savvy and have high expectations about the culture they will indulge. These insights available through social media mean Linkedin is a litmus test to understand an organisation from the inside, without being on the inside. Similarly with all your staff’s creds online, it probably pays to see which recruiters or competitors have connected with them. It’s not Big Brother – it’s smart. You need every bit of info you can get today, so wake up and pay attention or risk being blindsided by your best team members walking out the door with no recourse. Better you have the conversation with them early on if you suspect they are getting itchy feet or being swayed! Linkedin gives you this opportunity, particularly with younger staff who sometimes don’t feel as comfortable bringing up issues or career aspirations. It’s much better business to keep good staff if you can – even if it means giving a little more, when you weigh it up against the cost of recruiting and then reskilling.

Alliances: Lastly, realise you don’t do business in a vacuum. Seems like an obvious one, but think about the correlations between organisations who start partnering with one another. It can be as subtle as looking at aligned messaging sometimes. This means you need to look for it. Not only does it help you know who is a help and a hindrance, it also helps you differentiate your own value. If you don’t know what the others are saying and who they are working with and connected to, you can’t hand on heart present a unique selling proposition.

My hot tip – if you want to do this well, you need to invest time in it. 20-30mins a day on Linkedin should suffice. Build your network. I don’t just mean online. Get away from your desk! Linkedin is a management system, not a substitute for personal networking. Don’t just connect willy-nilly to get to that magic 500+. In fact, be careful who you do connect to, because if you aren’t strategic about it, you are giving people visibility into your ongoings who could in fact being using it for their own competitive advantage.

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

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