Keeping an eye on upcoming threats and opportunities that will influence your organisation can be the difference between future success and failure.

Whether it’s consumer trends, changing legislation or a growing issue on social media, horizon scanning is a vital part of the communications toolkit.

Every organisation is different so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to horizon scanning, but there are some general rules. To ensure you start off on the right foot, here are our top five tips to getting your horizon scanning right.

Be clear about what to look for

With so much information available through such a wide variety of traditional and new media sources, there is an ever-increasing need to focus on the issues that really affect your organisation.

The first thing to do is define the topics that really matter to you. Proposed legislation, changing social trends, market dynamics or technological developments can all be subjects you want to watch as they may affect you, positively or negatively.

Once you’ve identified the topics then work out where they’re likely to be discussed as this will enable you to track the issues effectively.

Go where your influencers go

If you don’t already know, then a little research can reveal where the people that influence your organisation get their information. For business-to-business organisations this is often still traditional sources like trade media and newspapers, but industry websites and trade associations also provide a lot of information. Rather than reading through piles of papers and magazines you can easily set up alerts to track online versions, making your job easier.

It’s also worth signing-up to industry groups on social media platforms like LinkedIn as the subjects being discussed in these groups can give you an insight into what’s influencing the influencers. To receive updates when certain topics are mentioned on the network, you can begin to follow hashtags which means any posts which include the hashtag will appear on your feed. You can also follow key figures in your industry to see what they are saying about key trends and issues.

Keep an eye on the government

A change in legislation or comment in Parliament can have a massive impact on the reputation or prospects of any organisation. Too often we see organisations unaware of proposed changes to legislation or regulation when there is still an opportunity to do something about it.

There are basic steps you can take here. The Government makes it easy for you to find out what is currently being consulted on – you can even set up email alerts for specific subjects and the They Work for You site which informs the public of Parliamentary activity, will email users with mentions of any chosen keyword(s). Signing up to services such as DODS’ PoliticsHome will provide you with crucial knowledge and insight in the form of daily emails to ensure you’re kept in the loop on UK and European legislation.

Pick some simple tools

One of the challenges is filtering information. Different people prefer different tools, but we find that Flipboard is a great way of bringing together information from a wide variety of sources. With some select searches, social media tracking tools like Hootsuite work a treat, and remember that a really specific Google Alert can be invaluable.  Hootsuite is a useful platform to perform social listening and check whether there are any topics relevant to your organisation being talked about. Tweetdeck is also great to keep track of multiple topics and hashtags on one screen. You can also sign up to Google Trends, subscribe to alerts and if possible RSS feeds, so you can be regularly updated as and when there are new announcements uploaded to company websites.

To help you with your plan you can have a look at the content marketing tool, BuzzSumo to see what kind of content is out there that is relevant to the issue. Answer the Public collates all the questions users are asking Google so gives you an insight into some ‘hot topics’. Both tools will help determine the direction of your strategy and how you can set yourself apart from your competitors.

Do something about it

Spotting an opportunity or a threat is one thing; doing something about it is another. If, for example, a journalist raises an issue it may be worth calling them to find out what they are planning to do next, or if you can help them to work out that next step in the development of the story. Approaching influential people on LinkedIn can also be useful. As well as being flattered they may also share some valuable knowledge with you.

Deciding how and when you should act can be a fine line to tread, so we’d always recommend the advice of public relations professionals.

Pelican Communications are specialists in the environmentfood and drinkoutdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offer a range of services such as media relations, brand management, event management and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.