AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQ6AAAAJGVmOGVjNWEyLTM4MzQtNDEzYi1hOWUwLTIwYjNhOWFkMjZlZAThis is part one in a multi-part exploration of new developments in the field of executive intelligence.

Most large firms now monitor the web and social media for comments about their products. Graphs and charts detail the likes, shares, words, demographics and geography of an increasingly global customer base.

Many of these companies are not happy with the results.

While monitoring software generates a stream of summary statistics it paints an incomplete picture lacking the clarity and confidence you need to make strategic decisions. Social media monitoring alone leaves critical questions from the C-suite to marketing, operations and even security unanswered.

Both the why and how of events (online and in the physical world) that influence business strategy, threaten brands and reputations and alert to new competitive trends requires executive intelligence.

With a combination of targeted data science, human analysts and the right kind of data sources useful, independently derived insights can enhance the decision-making process.

It’s important to note that the world of online information, from local media and chat groups to highly influential bloggers can significantly affect operations. Typical monitoring programs often miss local attitudes toward plans for a new overseas factory, threats to supply chains, macro and geopolitical risks and even senior executive vulnerabilities.

Online activism has also increased in size, organization and effectiveness. Both Kraft and Subway changed ingredients in some of their food items based on successful online campaigns. Rather than taking the initiative and promoting healthier eating they were caught off-guard and “forced” to make costly changes while repairing their brand image.

How can a firm move from basic monitoring to intelligence?

Start with topics of interest and drill down to specific questions you know you need answered. For example:

  • Consumer Insight: What new Indian consumer preferences are gaining traction and why?
  • Strategy: What local risks threaten my Asia expansion plans?
  • CSR: Is the firm actually meeting targets or are there significant gaps in policy and practice exposed by online comments and critiques?

As your intelligence program matures many more insights will be uncovered that you didn’t even know you could use.

Up next: Part 2 looks at how to build a successful executive intelligence capability.

Brian P. Klein is a global executive with nearly two decades of international business, economic and diplomatic experience. He has designed and provided corporate intelligence advisory services for Fortune 50 and large privately-held firms. @brianpklein