A near insurmountable challenge faced by party-of-one entrepreneurs can be found in gathering customer information. What may otherwise seem like a bleak forecast for “solopreneurs” is in fact a problem that’s been addressed through several business intelligence tools and innovative marketing-approach theories. In July of 2013, we featured a personal approach to intelligence gathering called “cultural anthropology”, a theory that steps away from polls, surveys, and cold calls, in favor of real conversations. You may already be familiar with some of the common favorite go-to sites for creating demographic profiles, including Hoovers, which offers old-fashioned sales leads delivering hard-to-mine target market data that is particularly vital for business-to-business entrepreneurs.

There are several other ways to address this data mining need. Your approach can be based on targeting social media. Harnessing social media to gather intelligence is a sound move simply because this is where a market share of your audience is. Social media is where you’ll find an ongoing conversation outside of your website and even outside of your own social platforms. In order to understand the conversation, you have to listen to it where it’s occurring and not where you want it to occur. Here’s a pick of my top favorites from a list of 50, courtesy of Social Media Today. Starting with the freebies (platforms at no cost to you), and great both brand-watching and engagement, you’ve got:

BackTweets – BackTweet allows you to see who’s talking about you, who’s talking, and what they’re saying. According to Social Media Today, “you can search through a tweet archive for URLs sent via Twitter, including results for full URL links, shortened URLs, and URLs without the “www” prefix.”

Icerocket – scans the web, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, with results delivered via simply in a one page analysis.

Mention – an iPhone and Android-friendly app with real-time updates that enables you to create alerts for your company or brand and competitors as well as keywords.

Social Mention – Social Media Today best summarized a description with, “a real-time social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google, etc. into a single stream.”

Companies looking for more aggressive models with additional features and analytics means, can look to any of the following: Collective Intellect, Lithium, Sysomos, Crimson Hexagon, Spiral 16, Webtrends, Converseon, Visible Technologies, Attentio, and Media Vantage. There are other options, of course, but these select few make the top ten cut in my own view. Which option you decide to go with should depend a lot on both your short and long term marketing goals.

The intelligence gathering industry has yet to see its peak, particularly in retail and e-commerce where real-time analytics were needed yesterday in order to adapt to the growing complexities of both online traffic and the online consumer. A Computer Weekly article by Kathleen Hall best addressed the issues raised by entrepreneurs – an article that culminated with a key point made by Christine Bardwell. Bardwell, research manager an IDC (an analyst firm), questioned how you would “cut through that [intelligence], gain sentiment and understand what that [intelligence] means.” Bardwell also recommends the “single view” profile of a customer that offers customer history and preference patterns – something I think can be done with CRM (customer relationship management) software. CRM navigation allows marketing managers to sift through customer profiles and filter new data. A well-oiled CRM machine will track customer data and create the necessary profile across a spectrum of fields.

Though single-view advocacy is a reliable measure, the ability to cut through data will falls within the realm of observer – the marketing manager and his troupe that can discriminate between noise and intelligence. And what that requires is some pedigree in emotional intelligence of the consumer, trends, and traffic patterns along with that ‘single view’ profile Bardwell recommends.