SLA Session — Using the Internet to Research Private Companies

Using the Internet to Research Private Companies
Presented by August Jackson of Verizon
august (at) augustjackson (dot) net
Tuesday, 14 June 2011, 8 a.m.

Practical tips for finding info about private companies

Slides (complete with appendix and additional resource links) for this presentation can be found at

This was an informative useful session and August was an entertaining speaker. Twenty minutes into this session, the walls came down! The session was packed; they had to add the adjacent room!

The tools for private company research August Jackson showed the SLA attendees were tools we could use right away and those that were free and easy to access.

After adjusting the volume on his mike (I had to control myself to keep from saying: “Yes! We can hear you now!”), Jackson logically started with the best place to begin in a CI project:

  1. Start with “requirements”: define the business decision to be supported & choose analytical framework that best matches the business decision (SWOT etc.). Jackson highly recommended this book to help with this: Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods by Craig S. Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan
  2. Plan your research strategy: primary and secondary research. You’ll be collecting information which will take the form of data vs. intel.; facts vs. interpretation/analysis.
  3. Build your secondary research plan: keywords and identify sources.
  4. Execute and evaluate the plan: this where you choose the sources we’re looking at today: Company websites, public records, local and industry news, industry groups, social media, plus any premium sites you might have access to.

Next, why we’re really here, Jackson listed the types of free sources for private company research:

  • Premium sources: Hoovers, BRC, FACTIVA, LexisNexis
  • Company websites: content, meta tags, link analysis
  • Legal filings: jurisdiction specific
  • Local news sources: location specific
  • Social networks: Twitter, Linked in, Slideshare, specialized networks
  • Industry Groups: Associations, trade publications
  • Job sites: general job boards, industry specific job boards
  • Google maps

And then, using Raynor Garage Door of Dixon, IL as a use case, he went over what each resource would offer.

  1. Hoovers – Jackson views Hoovers as a good starting point, providing searchers with a ball park of what kind of company you are dealing with in terms of revenues, employees, history etc. Some audience members suggested info pros check the private company databases on Gale or LexisNexis.
  2. Mining the company site can yield a lot of information about the private company being researched, such as descriptions, office locations, partners executives, job postings, press releases, sales channels and corporate histories. Jackson also recommends checking the source codes of company pages. Here meta tags show the key words the company uses to describe itself, or hopes to be associated with. Dates in the code could indicate a company’s interest in its web presence.
  3. Jackson also recommends using link analysis tools like Yahoo! Site Explorer or the link command in Google to find out about a company’s online presence. Find partners, former employees, fans, critics, bloggers, user forums, newscoverage and philanthropic ventures.
  4. Legal and regulatory filings, can also be of use, yielding regulatory filings, environmental information, permits (building, export), shipping records, legal filings and decisions, patents and trademarks, securities, government contracts and proposals. Jackson cautioned the time commitment to search these sources needs to be weighed vs. the actual results you might get. Keep in mind these sources are jurisdiction specific, you might need to search on national/state or local levels and not all legal info is internet-accessible.
    • Jackson will search Google for this kind of information using commands like:
      • jurisdiction
      • “public records”
      • probate
      • “legal records”
    • One SLA participant suggested Free Public Records Search Directory, which aggregates links to free public record searches in every state and county in the United States.
    • Other public records sources include patent searches using resources like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and an audience member also suggested Free Patents Online.
    • For product pricing strategy or ballpark numbers, Jackson suggested turning to sources providing information on state and government contracts and proposals. On a federal level try the GSA and start with State and Local Government on the Net at the state/local level.
    • And don’t forget to check the Federal Election Commission for campaign contribution information.

  5. Searching local and industry news sources can provide a myriad of information on a company, such as location, openings, site growth, people, events, issues, employees, employment situation, management changes or company profiles. For industry sources search for trade papers or journals and for associations, organizations or user groups, as well as searching on theproduct or technology. For the latter resources, search the site or use the Google site operator to search for your company. An audience tip was to look for and follow bloggers who follow an industry or company. To find to find home city pubs/industry sites or trade papers, Jackson might search with these kinds of terms +city +newspaper or +industry +journal
  6. Social networks: Jackson uses, and to mine for company information. He suggests checking out his podcast: “CIP 023: Using Social Media for CI Interview with Suki Fuller, CI and Social Media Evangelist.” Direct download
    • LinkedIn can provide locations, organizational chart information, targets for primary research, hints of business initiative, employee skill sets and perspectives of customers. Don’t forget to check the Groups or the company search on LinkedIn.
    • is an online platform for people to create their own social networks, similar to the groups onLinkedIn. Good place to look for company or industry specific information.
    • To find other industry specific social networks, Jackson uses Google and the search terms: +industry +”social network”
    • is sort of like a YouTube for PowerPoint presentations. People often post their business presentations there.
    • On Twitter, Jackson suggests going to the Advanced Search and searching on the company name. You’ll find people to follow, opinions, events, news…and well, whatever else is out there on twitter… ;-) He suggests setting up RSS feeds of your company twitter searches to monitor.
    • Because of the wall coming down, we didn’t specifically get to 7) Job Sites or 8) Google Maps. The job boards, general or industry-specific can indicate changes or products and services being developed by the skillsbeing sought or the numbers of employees being sought. Google maps can offer the CI practitioner a bird’ eye view or street view of the facility: count parking spaces or see expansion, etc.

Great session. I’ll definitely be checking out his blog ( and podcasts! Thanks August!

–Mari Keefe, Editorial Project Manager, Computerworld

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