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Competitive intelligence is gathering information on your competition that can help you be a better competitor. You should know that there are legal and illegal ways to gather this information, ethical and unethical. Twitter presents a great opportunity and is an ethical, legal way to spy on your competition.

When you set up your Twitter account, be sure to follow your competitors so you can keep track of what they are saying. Use a desktop application like Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop. Create a panel just for your competition and add your competitors to that panel so you can track them more easily. This allows you to see the tweets that your competition put out without being mixed in with all the other tweets you see in your tweet stream.

Another way to spy on your competition, and this works if you want to be clandestine, is to set up a dummy account on Twitter. Your dummy account should have an innocuous name that doesn’t connect any way to your company. In other words, don’t use your company name or a variation for the Twitter account name and don’t put your company’s URL in the profile. For e-mail, use a separate Gmail account. You don’t want the Twitter account traced back to your company in any way.

Next, subscribe to all of your competitors. Don’t subscribe to anyone else. Just subscribe to your competitors and keep an eye on what they are tweeting.

That’s two ways to use Twitter to spy on the competition. What tools do you use for gathering competitive intelligence.

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