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Social media and competitive intelligence go hand in hand, but the first step to a good intelligence maneuver is listening. In fact, listening is absolutely essential.

So what entails listening?

There are quite a few free and paid tools you can use to listen. It’s the online equivalent to putting your ear to the ground and listening for oncoming horses. You want to know where your competition is and what they’re doing. So listen.

Your first step should be to subscribe to a few Google Alerts. You choose your most important keywords and subscribe to the Alerts. Google will notify you when those keywords are mentioned anywhere online, or at least on pages indexed by Google.

You should also look for blogs in your niche to subscribe to. Google Reader is especially helpful for this.

Other online tools like Tweetdeck and HootSuite allow you to subscribe to Twitter followers. More than just allow you to see who’s saying what on Twitter, these tools give you additional features that allow you to massage your Twitter stream so that you can manage it more easily.

Klout allows you to get a handle on your competition’s influence.

All of these tools are free. There are a few paid tools out there that give you a little bit more functionality and organization. Some of them can prove useful as well.

Whatever tools you use, take the time to put your ear to the ground and listen. That’s the only way you can know what your competition is up to.

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