Facebook is a social media platform with diverse uses, and competitive intelligence has emerged as an unexpected function for savvy brands that know how to use the network for this purpose. Businesses can keep tabs on their rivals — from the strategies they adopt, to the contests they run, to the type of people who Like their Pages.

Giving your competitors access to some information about your business is a side effect to participating in a public forum, but there are ways that you can minimize what they’re able to learn. With a few helpful tips, you can stay in control of your information and limit your competitive exposure.

Control the Conversations

Many brands have successfully leveraged Facebook to engage with their customers and their fans, but one key way to prevent your rivals from learning too much about the inner workings of your business is to manage where you have conversations. Customers will frequently post to a brand’s Wall or leave comments with their support questions or complaints. Whether these posts are positive or negative, it’s important to respond to them promptly. However, there’s no rule that a complaint voiced on Facebook needs to be resolved on Facebook.

When you deal with customer concerns, if they cannot be resolved in a single message, try to move the conversations off of the public forum. The most common practice is to leave a response with an email address or phone number to somebody at your organization who can quickly fix the issue.

Open Graph

Open Graph is a fun feature for Facebook’s members, and it can be a powerful tool for brands to gather intel about their fans. However, it’s a cinch for companies to also focus that lens on their competitors as well. Businesses can look into the type of people who are fans of any particular Page and learn about their demographics. It can turn Facebook into a battleground for customers.

To find out what information your rivals may be able to learn, do some sample searches yourself. Find out what type of queries your brand appears in, and investigate the details a curious searcher could glean about your fans and your client base. While you can’t prevent your rivals from conducting these searches, you can get a feel for what they can find out about your brand.

Another way to turn Open Graph to your advantage is simply to keep an eye on the people who Like your Page. Are any of your new Likes people who work at a competitor? Are those people signed up for your proprietary Facebook apps? Are they leaving comments or posts on your Page? If you conduct occasional Open Graph searches for fans of your Page who also work at some of your main rivals, you can see which companies might be putting resources toward gathering intel about your brand, and which might be actively working to undermine your community.

Turn the Tables

It may not be a safeguard against your rivals getting intel about your company, but you can play the role of the competitor by getting in the game with them. Take advantage of all of social media’s capabilities and start investigating what you can learn about other brands in your space. Keep an eye on their strategies and the type of fans they’ve collected.

Look at the other Pages they Like as well. Some companies may opt to follow competitors, just so that they never miss a post. You may discover a few unexpected people are following your brand! But you’ll also see what kind of brands your rivals are connecting with on Facebook. Are they building similar relationships? Are they working with other partners or clients of yours?

Since so much of Facebook’s information about ties between members are public; take advantage of all the information that is available to you and your social media team. Knowing what your rivals can learn about you is the first step to protecting your brand.

How are you combatting competitive intelligence on Facebook? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: Todd Dwyer, Martin Thomas, Dylan Tweney, Victor1558]