Why do companies start a social media programme? In many cases, it is because they are very aware that their competitors are already doing it, and that they risk falling behind.
And yet, nine times out of 10, they never pay serious attention to what their competitors are actually doing online, beyond the fact that they’re there and are building up a following.
It’s a major mistake, because analysing your competitors’ social media activity can give you enormous insight into what you should be doing yourself. If you’re a little ruthless (which you must be in business!), you can also snatch some of their success.
So how exactly does a competitor analysis help you? Let us count the ways.
1. Understand the opportunities. Before you even launch your social media programme, you need to make sure that there is room for what you have to offer online.
You need to find a niche which is not saturated – that is, where there are not too many people already successfully appealing to the target audience you want to go after – and which shows potential (a niche where there are no competitors whatsoever can sometimes be a bad sign).
It is crucial that you examine what aspects of your service your competitors are already covering adequately, and which areas they’ve left wide open.
For example, if you are one of three local garden centres on social media, perhaps the other two are active on Twitter – but are yet to build communities on Google+? Or perhaps they both emphasise gardening tips, but neither ever discusses garden furniture or features a ‘plant of the week’?
Focus on the gaps in the market, and differentiate yourself!
2. Understand the threats. If most of your customers are on Facebook, and your direct competitor has already built up a substantial following on that platform; if they have managed to connect to a large number of influential people in your sector with whom they can cooperate; if they have muscled in online on an area which is really your expertise – you need to know, so that you can defend your interests.
You do not want to be out-manoeuvred online, because this most likely will have real-world implications.
3. Learn from their successes – and mistakes. As your competitors will be going after a similar target audience to you, you need to pay close attention to what works for them online.
For example, what kind of material gets them the most engagement? Which platforms have they built up most quickly? What times are their audience most active? What hashtags are they focusing on?
Then – don’t copy them. Do it all better!
At the same time, you need to learn what’s failing in their strategy. Is one platform showing no growth? What topics never get any response? Is their writing style inappropriate for the audience?
If you can learn what to avoid before you even set out – and figure out quickly where you can eclipse your rivals – you will be at an advantage.
4. Steal their followers. Now we get to the ruthless bit. Your competitors have done a lot of leg-work online, building up a readership and fan base – which most likely comprises of exactly the people you want to attract as well. Don’t waste time – go after them!
You can, of course, simply scroll down their list of followers and follow the ones you would like to follow you back. Some will straight away, others will after you interact with them.
More usefully, you can use Twitonomy or another analysis tool to figure out who your competitors’ most engaged fans are, and – if they are right for you – interact with them too. They are quite possibly influential in your area, or potential clients, and so high value for you. This will help you avoid following some of their weaker fans, who are probably not really of use to you.
5. Cooperate. If both you and your competitors are of approximately equal power online, a good strategy might be to occasionally…. join forces. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, but by working together – for example, running a joint webinar or promoting a joint ‘real-life’ event – you might both increase your followers and client base.
In order to make this work for you, though, you really need to be aware of who your competitors’ audience is, how strong the relationship is between them, and what their online strengths are. You do not want to ask a competitor to write on your blog, only to find that they bring you absolutely no new readers!
6. Better analyse your own performance. In order to figure out how well you are doing online, you need to measure yourself against your competitors.
Yes, it’s great that 600 people have followed you on Pinterest in the last 6 months. But once you realise that your rival down the road gained 1,200 new followers in the same timeframe, things look a little different.
Running a competitor review, then, is not a one-off event. It’s something you need to be doing periodically, so that you can measure your progress against them, and also because things change so quickly online that you must keep an eye on their changing tactics.
Have you ever run a competitor analysis? What stats did you find most useful? Let us know in the comments!
If you liked this piece, you might enjoy:
- Why your competitors might be your closest ally on social media
- 7 ways buyer personas can transform your digital marketing
- Think you know your audience?