It's easy to imagine that staying informed in your industry was a fairly simple matter a hundred years ago: you read the newspaper and talked to colleagues, networking around and passing on local information. Changes generally were less rapidly implemented and information was far from instantaneous. Most of your concern would have rested with local information and events, because chances are, your business wasn't global--and if so, if wasn't constantly accessible worldwide. Such is not the case anymore. The vast majority of businesses in Canada, including SMBs, have websites--and if a business does not, it is a safe bet that customers will still try searching for it on the web before consulting a phone book. The fact is that business and the internet are closely intertwined now. While this has many repercussions and effects on the business world today, of course, an oft overlooked result is that these businesses are shouting their messages into the increasingly populated cyberspace, allowing industry changes to occur quicker than ever.

How do you decipher what's being said to the point of gathering quality and useful information from your industry as a whole? Moreover, how can you manage so many voices? Here are several easy ways to stay informed in your industry without information overload.

Curate via the Google Suite

  • Google Alerts--This is an excellent tool for staying up to date with the latest news and events in your industry. All you need to do is enter industry-specific keywords, and Google will notify you in pre-set intervals with the most notable articles.
  • Google Reader--Quite possibly one of the most useful tools for staying informed, Google Reader compiles all your RSS feeds in one convenient location. Even better, you can search for related websites and blogs, and browse by bundles other readers have created on specific topics. I recommend creating multiple folders and organizing your subscriptions as such. It's as excellent balance between curation and consolidation. You can also save articles to read later by starring them, or share them out to G+ for your colleagues to read, which brings us to...
  • Google +--One of the hottest up-and-coming social networks out there, G+ is popular mostly with those in professional lines of work, unlike Facebook and Twitter (which are composed of everyone from your long lost Uncle Sven the fisherman to your 12-year-old second cousin whose only interests are cat videos and Nutella). While there's certainly nothing wrong with fishing or cat videos, when you're looking to keep on top of the latest in your industry, you want to look for like-minded professionals. G+ finds its balance between blogging and microblogging and is primarily useful for curation thanks to their circles, which allow you to follow an industry leader's personal profile or an entire company's page. You can jump into conversations, share links, or--most importantly for this purpose--search by G+ sparks to find new information. I recommend creating specific circles for those you follow, so your stream's topics stay easy to follow. Similar to Google Reader in that it doesn't fit exclusively in one category, G+ is a powerful stream of information, with plenty of professionals with whom you can interact or simply listen.


Converse via Social Media

  • Twitter--One of the best ways, or at least one with the highest level of instant gratification, to know what's going on is to ask. In the same vein as G+, follow other industry professionals on Twitter. Remember, you will almost always benefit more from conversing and contributing than shameless self-promotion, especially for business accounts. Although you will need to do a bit more sorting than on G+, Twitter's greatest strength is that it is live, which means you get second-by-second plays of any new happenings. Learn to use hashtags, both for your own tweets and for sorting and tracking others', and you'll have a great mechanism for the latest and most popular conversations going around. Of course, Twitter is best used, again, as a conversation mechanism instead of a curation platform--most times, your Twitter stream will move too quickly to catch everything, especially without 24/7 monitoring.
  • Facebook--As the most well-known social media platform at the moment, Facebook is still useful for engaging with other industry professionals, but it generally carries a more casual and personal tone than the others. However, it is most effective for starting a conversation, particularly with your target audience to gauge their reactions to your industry or your individual business. As with all social media, it's important to define your initiatives; whether for marketing or research purposes, or simply to learn more about popular news and events, remember to stick to your mission on Facebook.
  • LinkedIn--The most professional of all social networking sites, LinkedIn is packed with conversations detailing industry news. As its content is posted by professionals for professionals, it's the most informationally dense as well. LinkedIn is best used to connect with others in your industry, see what similar businesses are up to, and see what other professionals are up to.


Consolidate via Managing Platforms

  • Hootsuite--Now that you have so much content and conversation at your fingertips, take a breath and begin to consolidate. What Google Reader does for maintaining your RSS feeds from industry websites and blogs, Hootsuite does for your social media accounts. You can hook up Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (sadly, G+ won't be available until the API is released), enabling to keep up with your social media all from one page. Likewise, you can also post from Hootsuite to any or all of those accounts. If you're just looking to stay informed, however, Hootsuite is one of the best management tools out there to simplify the process for you. But there's also Twitter-specific Tweetdeck and NutshellMail to help you manage multiple accounts.


Catch Up with the Leaders

  • Trade publications and magazines--There's absolutely nothing wrong with going "old school," especially as many industry leaders publish valuable and insightful content in trade publications. You can generally rely on these print pieces for quality information, albeit slow-to-arrive content (for our in-the-matrix tastes). Consider subscribing to various industry magazines; most will give you a trial issue or two before signing on for a full annual or biannual subscription. If snail mail isn't your thing, there are plenty of industry associations that put out biweekly or monthly e-newletters.
  • Podcasts--These can be an excellent resource for catching up with leaders in your field. Take a scan through iTunes, and make a habit of listening to a few on your commute to and from work each day.
  • Books--Sometimes the best solution to staying informed is to pick up a book (or download the e-book version). For those unable to use e-books, if you're not willing to invest in a hardcover and don't want to wait for paperback, consider putting yourself on a waitlist for the book at your local library. Most libraries receive new books, including bestsellers, around the same time as bookstores. Otherwise, even if you are sans an e-book reader, many publishers will offer a PDF version of the book at e-book prices (or lower). Or, check out Google Books. Many non-fiction books have a quick turnaround time between the event or topic discussed and the time of publication and distribution, so much of the content available on the "New" shelf at your local bookstore isn't as dated as you might think. Regardless of your preferences, don't rule out good old fashioned reading, particularly for a more thorough understanding of the topic at hand.
  • Events, conferences and tradeshows--Getting out and attending conferences and other industry events shouldn't be overlooked. A quick Google search should provide you with local information. Just be sure to plan and prepare well in advance.
  • Online courses and webinars--Especially for those in the tech industry, which changes at the speed of sound (the speed of light's just too fast, but it's getting there), staying informed in your industry isn't just about getting the latest scoop on interesting developments, it's also about making sure your skills and knowledge is up to date. Make sure you don't fall behind by attending online courses or webinars held by other leaders or specialists. Many universities and institutions offer free classes, such as: Stanford University, Yale University, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, MIT, The Open University, and iTunes U. While you might not get college credit for completing the class, it's a great way to feel confident in your work. For a less multi-lesson approach to learning cutting-edge topics, try the lessons offered by Academic Earth and the excellent speeches hosted by TED.