Most web savvy companies are aware of reputation monitoring and a large number of you probably have Google Alerts set up to report new links or mentions of your company name.
A lot of people stop at this step but Google Alerts is also very useful for competitor analysis.
One of the things I like to do is identify 5 or 10 direct competitors and to track links and mentions of their brand as well as mine.
It's far better to monitor your competitors' marketing strategy in real time rather than see them suddenly jump to the top of Google in 3 months time and have to reverse engineer the tactics they have been using.
If you see your main rival writing articles and getting natural links from blogs or news sources then join the conversation and try to piggy back on their success.
Perhaps email the blogger and offer to write a post for them with a different viewpoint to the one they linked to.
Links are passed freely in every industry every day and unless you are keeping watch over all these you are missing out on a lot of opportunities.