Two months ago, when I wrote on using LinkedIn to gain information on your competitors – titled "Open Source Intelligence: LinkedIn" – I expected no response. It's been an interesting and useful exercise of mine that I thought a few would get a kick out of… nothing more. Publicly, yes, that's exactly what has happened… but off the record, there's been quite a bit more going on. If you've contacted me so far, thanks. What I hope to share here are a few further tips on gathering useful information.
To make this clear, you're not going to find detailed information like system documentation or internal corporate policies. If you do manage to get that information, you may be in violation of laws or working with people who are violating them, so just forget about it. It's not worth the effort or the potential trouble.
Instead, find are the patterns between and among people.
How is it useful knowing that firm X has six Java developers and three bizdev guys? That in itself isn't. The useful information comes from the other key thing about LinkedIn… the recommendations. It all comes down to this:
What motivates someone to give (or get) recommendations?
Just so I don't share any sensitive information that I shouldn't, I'll use myself as my example… At the time of this writing, I've written 13 recommendations for various people and have 8 myself.
If you look closely at the dates that I wrote them, you'll notice a tight set in early July 2007… all for people I worked with at a single organization. That can mean a variety of things, but what it should say to you is that a major transition happened about that time. (For the record, I chose to end the contracting relationship, it didn't fit the CaseySoftware plan any longer.) But here's the interesting thing, you can often tell the circumstances of a transition such as this…
A bit of Psychology 101:
If a person writes a group of recommendations for his/her coworkers about the same time as a departure, you can safely assume they chose the timing. They're giving credit where credit is due and thanking the people with whom they've worked. It's generally a polite and public way of acknowledging people.
Alternatively, if a person receives a group of recommendations from his/her coworkers about the same time, you can safely assume that they didn't chose the timing. The people who (hopefully) respect them and want to help are rallying around the person attempting to pave the way to a new position. Friends try to help friends.
Now combine this consideration with the way people move…
The good people know who the other good people are and will make a point to "keep in touch" (wink, wink). Therefore, when Person X leaves an organization – either by their choice or not – what happens next? More specifically what happens between the people who have recommended them or vice versa? Do those people leave too or even more interesting… end up following Person X?
There are a number of organizations and groups of people that I'm watching closely at the moment. A couple of them are direct competitors to either CaseySoftware or Why Go Solo. By browsing profiles and keeping a few custom searches bookmarked, I have been able to track that one organization's sales staff significantly grew last year… and then shrunk to almost nothing late this summer. More interestingly, the core of the staff moved to that organization and back out of it in one large group… looks like trouble to me.
Here's the thing about all of this… none of it is new. It doesn't matter what organization you're talking about – AOL, the Department of Justice, Ford, or the restaurant down the street – the patterns have been there since the beginning. The difference now is that more and more of this information is becoming public.
Nope, still not open to random invites. Don't try to add me if you haven't met me.