social media for competitive intelligenceBy now, most professionals know the value of using social technologies for marketing and business development through the use of social media marketing techniques. Other professionals are aware of the use of social technologies for enhancing collaboration and communication with employees, partners and clients. However, there is a lesser known use for social technologies that plays an important role in a law firm’s tool set: competitive intelligence.

Social technologies can be effectively used and deployed to provide a firm with valuable competitive intelligence that  can be used to monitor the competition and make strategic business decisions based upon data and research. Social technologies can also be leveraged by law firms today to help gain an early understanding of risks and opportunities in target markets–enhancing a firm’s ability to define, gather, analyze and distribute intelligence about clients, competitors and prospects in support of strategic decision-making for the firm.

According to Ann Lee Gibson, a legal consultant who writes a blog on law firm competitive intelligence, “Competitive intelligence (CI) is an increasingly hot topic within law firms. However, many firms—and the broader legal industry—are still struggling to understand what the discipline of CI is and how it can benefit them. This confusion often stems from equating CI with secondary information or “spying” into competitors’ secrets.

But the truth”, writes Gibson, “is that, although CI is indeed based on information, it is created only when that information is analyzed, refined and distilled into something that has very clear implications for decision-making. It offers the most benefits to firms where important decisions and actions are being considered—particularly the kinds with big upsides and downsides. In these settings, CI can significantly reduce risk.

So how can social technologies assist a law firm in gathering, analyzing, refining and distilling information? There are various social tools available that can provide help in this area. Social listening or monitoring tools like Salesforce, Sysomos and Adobe Social can help a law firm simultaneously monitor thousands of sites across the social web, so a firm can identify trends, opportunities, and potential business threats. These tools not only provide content monitoring, they also enable law firms to monitor for user sentiment. Understanding whether an online conversation is positive, negative or neutral is a great starting point, but determining the emotion behind social posts and themes associated with a law firm could mean hours of manual analysis. These tools make it easy to understand intention by using text analytics and semantic technology that apply human understanding of language to analyze the relationships between words in social posts, revealing subtleties like a client’ intentions.

These tools can be expensive, so for law firms whose budget does not allow them to license these tools there are other alternatives like Hootsuite that enable law firms to create streams of social activity that they can filter based upon keywords, users, hashtags twitter lists and social networks. Hootsuite enables a law firm to “listen” to what their competitors and influencers are posting on social media, as well as get a good understanding of trends in their respective niche and target market.

Enterprise Social Networks, (“ESN’s”) also can be powerful tools that can be used by law firms to gather and analyze competitive intelligence information. The internal networks allow for lawyers and legal professionals to share their personal insight, knowledge and networks with colleagues. This is especially useful when people are attending industry conferences and events. With the use of a smart phone that is connected to an ESN, professionals can capture relevant and competitive information that is being displayed or communicated at the conference and instantly share it with their practice group or the entire firm.

On June 4th in NYC, I will be moderating a panel of legal professionals in which we will discuss the use of social technologies for competitive intelligence. The panel is a part of the Competitive Intelligence in the Modern Law Firm Conference produced by the Ark Group, a leading publisher and conference producer in the legal sector. I invite all of our readers who will be in NYC to join us that day. If you are interested in attending please let us know and we can arrange for a 20% discount. For those of you that are unable to attend, I will be live tweeting from the conference and will share a summary of the presentation a few days after the conference.

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