How Social Networks Can Give Competitors a Window Into Your Business

According to a pair of McKinsey consultants, companies aren’t adequately aware of all the ways their competitors can use social networks and related tools to gather information about them. Here are a few sources of insider information you may not have considered.

Even a seemingly personal Facebook post or tweet about an employee’s travel plans can reveal to competitors which professional conference or event s/he may be attending.

LinkedIn doesn’t get as much heat for privacy issues as Facebook, but it’s a goldmine for would-be corporate spies. For instance, it may be tempting to put up a detailed description of the work you do for your company. But too much detail may give competitors an idea of developing projects. A sudden surge of LinkedIn contacts who all work on a similar topic or in the same geographical area can also tip the company’s hand.

For instance, say a tech company executive responsible for sales in Latin America suddenly adds several connections in Country X. There’s a good bet the company is about to make a deal there, and it could even be launching a presence there for the first time.

Competitors can also use topic clouds to scour staffers’ social media communiques for themes using tools such as Wordle. They can learn how much your company pays through Glassdoor, a crowd-sourced salary information site. They can get a hint of how happy your consumers are by learning what the average wait time is on customer service phone numbers using Gethuman.

Sometimes information can be gleaned simply from the geolocation tags on employees’ shared content.

The best advice? Educate employees on information pathways. Showing employees what you already know about them is likely to make the case more, ahem, persuasively than just asking them nicely to be careful. And use social tools yourself to keep tabs on your competitors: If you can’t beat them, join them.

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