No matter how you serve your particular market – whether with education and knowledge products, as most of my clients do, or with more tangible offerings – it has never been more important to stay on top of trends that could impact your business. These might include innovations, competitor moves, or emerging customer needs. Whatever the trends are, you need a solid, simple approach to tracking them on an ongoing basis.
Here are three tools I find particularly useful for getting rapid insight into new developments and needs within a market:
Bottlenose (http://bottlenose.com/) is a relatively new platform (currently in public beta) that enables you to search across all of the major social networks in real time and presents a number of views into the results. If you want to get a feel for what is going on right now around important topics in your market, it is a great tool.
I decided, for example, to do a quick search on “MOOC” – for “massive open online course” – a hot topic right now in the world of education. As the screen shot below illustrates, Bottlenose search results give me links to a variety of recent posts and articles on the topic, comments from users on social media networks like Twitter, related trending topics, and a range of other information.
If you sign up for an account (quick and free) you can also save this search to your dashboard so that you can easily refer back to it over time. By taking just a few seconds here and there to check back in, you can see if any new issues or trends are emerging in your market. This can be a great source of ideas for content marketing, social media marketing, and ultimately, for new product and service ideas.
I also like the Sonar feature of Bottlenose – it reminds me of the old Google Wonder Wheel, for readers who are familiar with that. Basically, it gives you a visual of where topics related to your main search fall on the overall “radar screen.” Click on any of the items in Sonar to quickly generate a Bottlenose search on that topic.
Quora (http://www.quora.com/) is arguably the best Q&A site on the Web. If you want to see what kinds of questions are being asked about key topics in your market – as well as who is asking them, and who is answering – this is the place to start.
The questions people ask about a topic often point to a problem they are trying to solve. You can leverage the insights you gain from tracking questions over time to identify new product opportunities, determine how best to position your current offerings, and develop content – blog posts, social network postings, white papers, etc. – to support your overall marketing efforts.
A “power tip” for Quora is that you can easily create a RSS feed for any topic you search on simply by adding “/rss” to the end of the search URL. So, for example, when I search on “MOOC” the resulting URL in my browser is http://www.quora.com/MOOC. To turn this into an RSS feed, all I have to do is type type “/rss” on the end to make it http://www.quora.com/MOOC/rss. I can then hit return to add it to a reader of my choice or simply copy the URL and past it into the subscribe box of my reader of choice.
You pros out there may assume this one goes without saying, but I find that many people still do not take advantage of Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) to the degree they could. In a nutshell, Alerts enables you to run a search on a topic, save that search, and then receive updates on it over time. Keep in mind that the massive Google Web empire encompasses not just its standard search engine, but also YouTube, Google Groups (discussions), Google Blog Search, and a variety of other sources. You can choose to include all of these when setting up a search, or just narrow in on one channel – like, for example, blogs.
Two power tips for using Alerts effectively are:
Take advantage of Google operators
When you set up an alert, you can use some of the tools that are available for doing advanced searches in the main Google search engine. This includes, for example, putting a phrase in quotation marks (“”) so that only results containing that exact phrase will be be returned, or using a hyphen (-) as a minus sign to filter our any results that contain that word. Unfortunately, Google does that make this as easy as it could be (I’ve never understood why), but you can find all of the major operators at http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=136861
Save your searches to RSS
When you create a search, you can choose “Feed” as one of your “Deliver to:” options. You definitely want to do this. What will happen when you do is that your Alert will be saved into a Alerts management panel as soon as you hit “Create” and you will then see an option to view it in the free Google Reader. (Note: You have to actually have a free Google account set up to take advantage of this option.) You can save multiple searches in this way, organize them into a folder in Google Reader, and wind up with a sort of dashboard for easily viewing key market information. Note that you could also pull your Quora RSS feed into this same dashboard.
With these three easy-to-use tools, I’ve now created a highly valuable window into a key trend in a market I serve. By taking just a few minutes a day to check back in, I can stay on top of the latest developments, and use this information to shape strategy and modify or add to my tactics.
How about you – are you taking advantage of these or other key tools to do rapid research in markets you serve? Please comment and share.