Almost a year ago to the day Guy Kawasaki revisited his classic post “ten ways to use LinkedIn on the LinkedIn blog by offering ten additional tips for small businesses. 

The final tip touches upon the darker side of the social network: Competitive research. It reads:

“Keep your friends close and your competition closer. Over 150,000 companies have a company profile on LinkedIn, the “public profile” for companies. These pages surface key stats on companies, recent hires as well as movers and shakers. Not only do company profiles give you unique insight into your competition, they also give you an opportunity to stumble upon potential hires by browsing through company pages.”

Guy Kawasaki hit the proverbial nail on the head with this last tip, and you owe it to yourself to follow his advice.  Ethically concerned? Don't be.  The information you'll gather is public and it's borderline irresponsible to not keep tabs on your competition.

Expanding upon this notion, here are three specific ways to keep your friends close and your competition closer.

1.  Discover Who Your Competition Interacts With  

Chances are you’re going to be friends with someone who works for your competition.  Consequently, take a peak at their full profile (but ensure that you change your viewing settings to anonymous if you hope to remain covert) and find the “Activity” section of the page. From here you’ll be able to see who they are now connected to. With a little luck you may learn who they’re talking to.

2.  Competition Metrics: Hiring, Firing, and Industry Metrics

With over 100,000,000 members, LinkedIn contains a veritable wealth of information. Use the companies search to discover who is hiring as well who the recent hires are.  It’s also worth noting that the company statistics page (which provides a wealth of information including industry benchmarks) also lists former employers... who may be open to an interesting conversation.

3. Learn From Yourself - The Analytics Tab

It’s been said that if you don’t have competition, you may not have a market.  Accordingly, it’s not too far fetched that your competition is utilizing LinkedIn to their advantage as well.  Take ownership of your company profile and visit the Analytics Tab  to “learn about company followers with data visible only to Company Page administrators.”