Competitive Intelligence – Aaron Lintz Style

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Oct 29, 2020

When I submitted my last article to SourceCon, I was unaware it would relate so closely to Aaron Lintz’s then-upcoming SourceCon Digital 2.0 conference session. I explained how to create your own version of a news-gathering tool for competitive intelligence in Google Sheets. It’s fine as an introductory coding exercise in Google Apps Script applied to sourcing, but if your goal is robust, scalable, automated data collection, filtering, and distribution for yourself or your team on the cheap, then skip my article and review “Aaron’s Untitled Competitive Intelligence Presentation” instead.

In his well-researched session, Aaron evaluated a wide range of tools priced from inexpensive to free, and with his implied top choice, Inoreader showed it’s possible (with some time investment upfront) to create a flexible, near-enterprise grade solution to support your entire global TA team for as little as $50 per year total (not per person).

Tell Me Why

But why even bother? His starting premise was that no sourcer can advance to become a true talent advisor without skills in “labor market expertise, your firm-wide talent strategy, and general business acumen” on top of the usual sourcing/recruiting skills. Ideally, that means your company has built out a talent intelligence function, which also covers diversity, compensation analysis, deep-dive research, human intelligence (HUMINT) gathered by phone, plus “proprietary data platforms, thoughtful analysis, executive summaries, and feedback loops.”

Realizing that was far too ambitious a scope to cover, he purposely focused his session on recruiting competitive intelligence (CI) and your own company’s employee value proposition (EVP). More specifically, how could today’s technology facilitate gathering, filtering, and distributing highly relevant content about competitors and their talent, other impactful industry developments as well as worthwhile content to share with potential candidates? As someone who’s admitted – to SourceCon legend Steve Levy’s chagrin – that he’s been “sourcing without a phone since 2015,” Aaron’s goal was a solution “focusing on the intersection of valuable, feasible and usable within Internet data”.

Countering The “Content Dilemma”

He has a long-time fascination with the topic:  RSS feeds were the subject of his first few SourceCon articles, going back to 2013. While Google Reader was shut down that year, many other RSS readers from the era remain, such as Feedly, The Old Reader and As he called it, the “content dilemma” has only worsened since increasing volume from social media, podcasts, and videos, exacerbated by junk created by content farms, has resulted in a distressingly low signal-to-noise ratio. But since valuable content can take many forms – articles, videos, code, blogs, reviews, alerts of layoffs and job changes, etc. — this makes how to organize and share your content more important than ever.

To determine what content to share, he said you must:

1) Understand how your firm positions itself in relation to your EVP

2) Know everything public and internal about your company and decide what’s relevant

3) Then determine how your target audiences consume content, using a Maslow-inspired pyramid labeled DIKW for Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom. Starting with the raw data layer at the bottom, you move up the pyramid, making it increasingly usable and ultimately valuable.

Aaron explained that many popular and niche web data sources already have words like feed, rss, xml or atom in the URLs, cluing you that these are syndicated and available to pull, such as public company reports from the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database. As another interesting example, Glassdoor lets you pull our competitors’ employee reviews once you find the company’s Glassdoor ID number, and from there you can filter by location, full-timers vs. others, etc.

Some Free Methods, Please

For free methods to capture such feeds, he noted that some popular sources like Google Alerts are throttled if you choose to get daily or weekly results emailed to you, which results in a very small and occasional percentage of all matching results. However, if you select “All results” delivered to “RSS feed”, you get everything unlimited free. He recommends turning off the News source category, which tends to deliver a lot of press release-style junk, but all others are worthwhile. TalkWalker Alerts are similar, but also let you select a specific language, which can aid international search.

Another useful feed-generation method even where no feed appears to exist is search engine Bing’s long-time parameter format=rss which can be appended to any search query results URL. He illustrated this with a creative example of grabbing competitors’ confidential presentations (click here for the string) which, once added to your feed reader (even Microsoft Outlook can import RSS feeds), just keeps running: “I can set it and forget it,” he quipped.

Some of the many other tools he mentioned include (to create feeds for sites that don’t have feeds), and (both of which deliver updates when websites change, also useful for monitoring changing tech stacks, ping/uptime and WhoIs domain data). For a “crazy number of filters”, you can leverage – crazy number of filters. While some features in the middle of the interface you have to pay for, the export and advanced filters on the right are free. Similar to most other SourceCon sessions, it was great to see an active group text chat among attendees during Aaron’s presentations. Some of the other tool suggestions made were from Rashad Pitsenbarger and from Carlos Garcia.

The social search tool earned a mention from Aaron for its ease of use, flexible AND/OR/NOT boolean, and uniquely including Instagram — which no other free service currently provides — in addition to Twitter, forums, blogs, videos and more. You can ignore certain domains that have too much content (e.g., Wikipedia), omit things from your own company domain, and narrow by languages (e.g., just content in Dutch or whatever). goes even deeper, if you investigate the filters, including some unusual sort filters such as number of LinkedIn shares.

He Saved The Best For Last

His two recommended options for the most complete, flexible yet affordable solutions were Inoreader and Cronycle.  Some special Inoreader features that Aaron called out (some requiring the $50/year subscription, but very worthwhile) included auto-translation of other languages, highlighting keywords, inclusion of your YouTube subscriptions, noise filter controls (removes duplicates and articles that are nearly identical over the previous three days across all sources) and automatically scrapes websites that don’t have feeds. For example, you could specify when my competitors say “travel required” and “software engineering,” and it creates the feed. You can set how often to search on the Subscription Dashboard across all the sources.

Perhaps the best part to make the filtered content actionable: You can filter any or all of it by keywords and it sends that subset of feeds to your designated distribution list – e.g., at 9am on Tuesdays and Fridays for layoff-related stuff. Users can add themselves to subscribe free to eliminate manual routing through you once you know the content stream is good. It’s not limited to recruiters. For example, anytime a competitor site mentions PTO, leave of absence, etc., that information is routed to certain HR people.

Cronycle is similar; though more expensive, it leverages machine learning in a clever way. The team took all the influencer lists on the internet, and figured out the top people on specific topics. Its algorithm knows when they are sharing something on those topics, so it’s likely good content. They can show a people influencer graph related to a topic (based on related terms), such as Cloud Automation experts, and you can get that data real time by clicking the blue “Add to feed” button. If an influencer publishes something, it reveals the others who shared it, “and now I can reach out to them,” he said. This connecting to experts enhances your professional brand from the halo effect. Its auto-summarize feature will share the synopsis to a pinboard, reminiscent of Pinterest. It has boolean filters but not word stemming. Like Inoreader, you can publish feeds to your team as an e-newsletter but also externally via WordPress, Slack, etc. Reporting is included so you can see who’s engaging with the content.

Sum Up The Business Case

While this might seem incredible, there are limits: not everything is available. However, by breaking down silos against information sharing, Aaron said that you can gain credibility by pulling from all viewpoints and across industry niches to create a balanced, insightful view. “This kind of deep dive research will allow us to elevate ourselves and our profession,” he added, providing “research and insights to inform [current and future] decision makers.” It also helps your personal branding and to more objectively see the reality versus perception about your company. Ultimately, it enhances your reputation as a talent advisor and make your team of recruiters and sourcers more efficient.

I’ve summarized a lot, but not everything he covered. As Aaron said, this was a debut of an original presentation unlike other CI sessions at any previous SourceCon. It was both valuable and accessible to any level of sourcer expertise.  If you missed this high-caliber session, I highly recommend begging to get a copy of his slides, if not the recording.  This kind of content is what makes SourceCon great.

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