3 Things To Learn From The Hewlett-Packard’s LinkedIn Gaffe

I have been wanted to blog again on the subject on the implications of social media on competitive intelligence gathering for awhile however; I have not had the time to find a concrete example to make a few essential points on the subject.  Fortunately, the story, “Hewlett-Packard Shows Hazard of Sharing LinkedIn Profiles” was posted online last Wednesday.  In short, the article highlights the fact that Hewlett-Packard’s Vice President, Scott McClellan, inadvertently tipped off competitors earlier this year to previously undisclosed details of Hewlett-Packard’s cloud-computing services.

After reading the article, there are three things that all individuals who are in the fields of social media and competitive intelligence should pay attention to and act  upon immediately before it is too late.  Consider the following  three things that professionals can learn from Hewlett-Packard.

1 – Social Media Should Prompt Proactive Competitive Intelligence Gathering and Analysis

With the advent of social media platforms and the ability to post text in real-time, competitive intelligence researchers can no longer take a reactive approach to gathering strategic intelligence.  Adopting a proactive mindset to competitive intelligence research and gathering will lead to unearthing timely information that analysts and decision makers may use at the present time to adjust strategies.   Those gatherers who select not to take advantage of the flow of real-time information on social media will be placed in a position where they might have to explain why a crucial piece of intelligence was not available to analysts and decision makers minutes or hours after it was  posted.  Imagine how some of the HP’s competitors which did not capture the information posted by McClellan felt after it was known that such rare intelligence was available?

2 – If Your Company Does Not Practice Defensive Competitive Intelligence, It Is Time To Start!!!

In some form, your company maybe executing defensive competitive intelligence (or counter competitive intelligence) thanks to social media dashboards such as Radian6 and ViralHeat.  These applications aid in the monitoring of brands and what is said about them however; do they go far enough?  Practicing defensive competitive intelligence goes beyond than automatically tracking brands.  It demands personnel to search for critical pieces of information that can be placed online by consumers, suppliers, present and past employees.  Two good places to start such an exercise are LinkedIn and Google Advanced Search.

With a search on LinkedIn, you may see what individuals in your networks of contact have posted about your company in their respective LinkedIn Profiles.   It is important to see if individuals have  gone to far in terms of the amount of details that they share about your company.  For example, if your company wants to withhold the amount of sales representatives for a specific geographic territory, the last thing that you need is a former employee in a human resources capacity claiming that he or she was responsible for the management of an exact amount of sales people in a region on their public profile.

In circumstances where companies have discovered that an employee (past or present) has posted information that should not be made public on their profile, companies should quickly remind the employee  of the confidentially clause in their employment contract. In addition, this should prompt companies to update their confidentially clause to reflect in the new realities of using social media.

Using Google Advanced Search with site:linkedin.com permitted individuals to cast wider net in terms of getting more results from  the business social network.  Figure 1 is the query statement if one were to search for the keyword appearance of “Nike” and “sales”.

Figure 1:Google Search Syntax For Nike + sales site:linkedin.com





Try it  out for yourself and see what kind of information is available about Nike’s sales numbers and approaches used around the world.

For more information on defensive competitive intelligence, see the slide show below.

3 – Ask For Input From Competitive Intelligence Professionals For Your Social Media Policy

When it comes to creating a social media policy for a company, the following team members should have a seat at the table:

  • Human Resources
  • Communications
  • Marketing
  • Information Technology

Notice an entity that is missing from the list? One can make a solid case that team members from a competitive intelligence department should influence the policy.  These individuals (researchers and analysts) are in the best position to judge on what should and should not be shared on  social media due to the fact they should have the insights of how to search on networks and how to assess information from a competitors’ point of view.


Social media has opened up an avenue to engage consumers for marketing purposes, yet at the same time, it has allowed competitors to gather intelligence that was difficult to collect just five to seven years ago.  Not to hinder innovative marketing initiatives, insights and skills of competitive intelligence professionals are still required to prevent companies from sharing too much information that can be used in the future by competitors that are systematic and timely in collecting intelligence.

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