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If you’ve been thinking about doing some competitive intelligence – and you should – then you’ve got to take the first step. But what is the first step, exactly? Glad you asked.

Before you do any amount of competitive intelligence, the first thing you need to do is identify who your competitors are.

That seems like a no-brainer and it is, but sometimes it isn’t so cut and dry. For instance, who are Twitter’s competitors? There are a dozen or so microblogging services, but none of them are at the scale that Twitter is at. Then there are Twitter Search, Bing, and Google – are they competitors? How about Facebook? Facebook seems to be trying to compete with Twitter on some level.

In some industries, a competitor in one market segment could be a partner in another. High tech companies have operated that way for years. Now, it seems, we’re starting to see some of the same happening in Internet services companies.

What you think is a no-brainer may actually contain a few shades of gray. Be sure to identify your competitors for each of your markets and define them intelligently. Otherwise, your competitive intelligence information may not be helpful.

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