Keep Tabs on Your Competition With Social Media

Keep Tabs on Your Competition With Social Media

Monitoring their presence there can show you how your company stacks up and help you develop a strategy.

If your company doesn’t engage in competitive intelligence, it should.

But what exactly is competitive intelligence (CI)? Simply put, it’s the (perfectly legal) practice of exploring publicly disclosed information about competitors and crafting strategy to better position your own company and gain more market share. When collected and used correctly, it can help businesses track historical data and anticipate future moves. In fact, according to marketing intelligence platform Crayon, 94% of companies use it in some fashion.

One easy way to observe your competitors is on social media. The information is available to a wide audience, and it’s put out there by the competitors themselves. Based on their strategy and content, you can see how you stack up and make strategic decisions for your firm. Here are five tips for doing just that.

Determine a set of goals for your intelligence-gathering efforts. Knowing what you want to find out about your competitors will give you and your team specific direction and help you avoid spinning your wheels.

“It lets you understand exactly what you want to learn,” says Eden Cheng, founder of invoicing software firm WeInvoice. “You want to know your competitor’s marketing strategy, like content marketing and campaigns. It helps you create an explicit direction for your CI team. Then they can create a plan to explore the data.”

Say you want to take a look at competitors’ marketing strategies, says Steve Scott, CTO at Spreadsheet Planet, a site with resources and tips on leveraging the tools within Microsoft Excel. Their social media can give you solid clues on their messaging, campaigns and content. “Highly defined goals give you clear direction,” says Scott. “Then you can create a strategy for locating the data.”

To start, you need to know who your competitors are. Begin by identifying competitive keywords or hashtags, those that you and other companies would use to promote a business. And be specific, says Paula Glynn, director of search marketing and digital strategy at digital marketing agency Pixelstorm. You may initially think words like “promotional products” and “e-commerce,” but consider those that apply to your business more specifically, like “summer apparel” or a type of client like “grocery.”

“Words that specify your business help you differentiate yourself from the larger pool of companies in the same niche,” says Glynn.

Once you have a list of competitive keywords, do your own hashtag search and see who ranks at the top for each one. “Identify who comes up,” says Francesca Nicasio, content marketer at credit card processing software Payment Depot. “Then pick five competitors to focus on.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by trying to monitor too many. Like Nicasio, David Cusick, chief strategy officer and executive editor of HouseMethod, which provides reviews on home service companies, also suggests limiting the list to five of your most serious competitors, and using social media to explore their suite of services, prices and client reach. “Small businesses can then decide how to match what their competitors offer,” says Cusick. “Maybe they can one-up the competition by offering a better product, providing a specific service for less money or even ignore what their competitors are doing.”

Next, get a bird’s-eye view of competitors’ presence on social. Find out the platforms they use and how often, how they position products and services there, the tone they use, how they interact with their audience and where they’re seeing the most engagement.

“You can see what works and also find gaps in their strategy, which can be an opportunity for your brand,” says Harriet Chan, co-founder of CocoFinder, a search engine for public records. “What are users saying about their products and service? What are some common complaints? What do customers like and not like, and what kind of reviews do they get? Analyze the data and look at their strengths and weaknesses.”

Do the same for about five brands that your best customers follow, says Glynn. “Monitor them closely for their marketing strategies and identify how they’re reaching out to their audience,” she says. “Use their content to identify how you can craft a marketing strategy to compete against them.”

Once you’ve taken a look at where you and your competitors stand, do a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis for both parties. This will give you an idea as to how you stack up to your competition and where you see opportunity.

“Look at where you’re higher than your competition as well as where you lag behind,” says Michael Knight, co-founder and head of marketing at Incorporation Insight, a site with resources for small-business registration. “Also, take what you’ve learned from your strengths and weaknesses and look for opportunities that you can capitalize on. For threats, measure growth or numbers that represent potential change over time.”

Nicasio says a SWOT analysis is most valuable when it’s done consistently. “I repeat the process on a regular basis to stay current and relevant,” she says. “It’s not enough to measure your own growth. You need to look at your competitors too so you can see your numbers in context.” Make sure to stay organized with the data you collect so you can create a strategy effectively.

If you want to take your analysis to the next level (and don’t mind paying for it), consider a platform like Brand24 or Mediatoolkit. “They can be expensive, but they let you track mentions across the web and social media,” says Petra Odak, CMO at Better Proposals, a software service for creating professional business proposals. “You can find out if a competitor is getting a lot of buzz or even if they’re in the middle of a customer support crisis. It basically monitors them on autopilot for you, and you can create strategies based on what they’re doing and what others are saying about them online.”