Tue 22 May 2012
This post was originally written and pared down for the LeftBrain DGA blog Demand Gen (r)Evolution – ME
Behind every news junkie or voracious reader is the know-it-all kid in school who always had his or her hand up to share the answer.
You want to know the know-it-all’s biggest secret? They spend less time searching for information and more time consuming it.
And that’s the coolest thing about information management in digital age. Now we all have the same tools at our disposal to be just as knowledgeable and, hopefully, the good sense to be a lot less annoying.
Here are the 10 steps I take before embarking on a research project to get smarter faster on a desired topic, customer segment and any relevant discussions occurring online.
Step #1 Give your research its own email address.
A single inbox for your topic or relevant discussion keeps them out of your existing workflow and gives you a place to consume when you’re ready. I’d suggest using Gmail to create this only because it will be easier to integrate into my other steps below. Something like <topic>@gmail.com to sign up for eNews and LinkedIn alerts will keep you focused.
Step #2 Use a news reader online to automate the news gathering process
After logging into Google using your new email address, you are automatically logged into Google Reader. Here you can pre-select existing topics, create your own using simple or advanced search logic, import RSS feeds, or bring in any Google Alerts as newsfeeds – all on a single online dashboard. Trust me, this will become your knowledge hub, if it isn’t already.
Step #3 Set up Google Alerts that align with topics and audiences.
This has become less of an email deluge by creating alerts as RSS newsfeeds. Check this out:
Creating News Alerts in Google and delivering them to Google Reader (Click to enlarge)
Subscribing to a Topic of Interest to Track (click to enlarge)
A News Dashboard with Key Topics (click to enlarge)
Step #4 Look for groups in LinkedIn with people talking about a key topic
Where appropriate, I have participated. If it’s likely to be intrusive, I’ve watched discussions unfold, gleaning key insights into not only who is having the discussions but what is working or frustrating the heck out of them. If you’re a member of a topical LinkedIn Groups, be sure to sign up for their email alerts – forwarding them to your topic-specific Gmail account.
Step #5 Monitor social traffic on the topics of interest
If you’re lucky, you have Radian6 and a team of social media users who alert you to key conversations and places to engage on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and other communities. If you’re like the rest of us, however, you MacGyver everything together with tools like TweetDeck , HootSuite, your news reader and your topic-specific email account for anything else you’ve missed. Sounds messy, but with a process in place it’s infinitely doable.
Step #6 Set up a Readability account to quickly push information you discover in your Google Reader that appears relevant into the “Read Later” bin. You can also send the most relevant eNewsletter content directly to Readability when you’re done gathering.
Step #7 Engage with people online in the social streams or communities relevant to the subject matter – See Step #4, but also pay close attention to leading bloggers in the area you are researching. Mine the comments sections to see who is seeking additional insight or offering their own. As you begin to understand the subject matter, this can also be a venue to ask questions or share knowledge. If you do decide to share, speak as a human being with a level of interest or expertise – not a brand megaphone. If your company has a relevant video, Slideshare presentation or white paper that honestly contributes to the discussion, go for it, but tread lightly.
Step #8 Set a time to review information collected – and stick to it.
What works for me is starting my day with a quick scan of about 30 minutes or so for any information gathered overnight – flagging seemingly relevant news using my Readability app. I’ll do a similar sweep at the end of the day to flag new items online and in my topic-specific inbox. I’ll also use Readability to narrow down the best of the bunch to review in-depth after the research phase ends.
Step #9 Look for patterns, odd ducks and hot data points or quotes.
After amassing this content and combing through it, you’ll start to see similarities emerge, as well as a few eyebrow raisers or quotes that set the tone for your work. I’ll bring these forward to breathe a little life into my findings.
Step #10 Put these discoveries into an outline.
Something as simple as:
I. Key Insights
II. Industry Trends
III. Quotes & Comments
… gives me the structure I need to group findings in a way that is easy to communicate when called upon.
The key takeaway for all of this is to set up a system that delivers the right information to you so you don’t have to spend countless hours looking for it.Reach out to me if you want to chat about this or share your insights below to make us all a little smarter. You can also learn how LeftBrain blends deep demographic, psychographic and sociological research into its strategies for clients here.
Until next time.