Using the Internet for Business Research

Whether or not your company ever uses the information highway, it will have to deal with the new realities that the Internet represents. One of those realities is the critical need for dependable knowledge. Companies seeking to remain competitive in international markets must constantly re-engineer in the pursuit of innovation. To create viable new products and services, companies need to know more than they do.

For example, the Internet can help companies conduct market research in two ways. First, it enables companies to strengthen their own knowledge bases by incorporating insights from widely varying perspectives and coordinating how that insight can be crafted into viable business strategies. The Internet not only spans old bureaucratic boundaries, but also bridges the gulf between industry players, allowing companies to learn hard-won insights and most humbling mistakes of their worst competitors.

Second, the Net enables companies to pay attention to their markets at a level of detail never before possible. Are people complaining about your product or service? Better listen. These folks are not longer dialing your 800 complaint line to get put on hold. Instead, more of them than you might guess are electronically posting their experiences to thousands of others all over the planet. What are they saying about your competitors? Opportunities abound if you are in tune with such conversations. Simply intelligently responding could be worth more than multi-million dollar ad campaigns.

The various on-line services can provide you with access to census and other data for purposes of market analysis.

There are a number of ways the Internet can be used to conduct research:

1. Read discussions from the appropriate user groups. If you can’t find the answer, post a question.

2. Many website have libraries. Check these out.

3. User groups and libraries are useful in identifying the “experts” in each field. Send them an e-mail asking for their assistance. Be reasonable in your request.

4. Commercial services have on-line magazines and databases that can be searched. There is often an additional cost associated with these, but may well be worth it.

Here are 10 tips on using the Internet as a research tool:

1. Don’t focus on a single information source. The information is never complete. Cross-check the information from as many sources on the Net as possible.

2. Don’t be lazy. The send-a-lot-of-e-mail-messages approach to information gathering gets you poor-quality information and a lot of angry correspondents. So do your homework and ask specific questions of qualified people.

3. Use the right tool for the job. This means you’ve got to use newsgroups, discussion forums, mailing list archives, websites and on-line databases.

4. Keep your own databases. Web browsers let you add bookmarks when you find a particularly useful spot. Build a database with pointers to websites, mailing lists and other useful information.

5. Change your perspective as you search. Be flexible in approach your problems and be willing to change directions to accommodate different viewpoints.

6. If you need to ask for help, ask the right person. Find out who the important people in are in a field in which you have questions. Then send them an e-mail, write or call them. Don’t assume all people on the Internet have the answers.

7.Give it some time. If you need an answer by tomorrow, go to the library. For any serious research effort, plan to spend at least two weeks, preferably a month. There is nothing ruder than going into a new mailing list and demanding a response ASAP.

8. Be critical. The Internet is full of misinformation. Do not accept any information as fact until you verify it, preferably from non-Internet sources. This is particularly true if you’re going to use the data for something important.

9. Be grateful. If someone does provide data, advice or assistance, be sure to send them an e-mail thank you. They will be more willing to help you in the future.

10. Give up if necessary. Everything you ever wanted to know is not on the Internet. If you make a good effort to find something and can’t, give up and try other sources.

Remember that the various government run on-line services can also be a good source of information either via their databases or through e-mail.