October 21, 2014

Competitive Research Through Social Media for Small Business

When we think about social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, we tend to focus on customer demographics, forgetting that we have just much – if not more – to learn from our competitors’ presence on those same sites.

spying

If you aren’t paying attention to your competition on social media, I want to help you start practicing.  The fact that so many small businesses are on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and elsewhere means that there are plenty examples out there of what’s working – and what’s not working.

Let’s look at four questions you can ask to guide your competitive research in social media:

  • Who are your competitors targeting?
  • How often are they talking?  How often are they interacting?
  • Are they peppering their conversation with valuable content or sales-y pushes?
  • In what light do they cast the competition (i.e. you)?

Targets

The first thing you want to look at is whom your competition is targeting.  Before I start working for any client, I always ask whom their target audience is.  Sometimes I’ll get the frighteningly naïve and enthusiastic answer, “Everyone!”  False.

Other times, I’ll get a more specific answer like, “Middle class, suburban, stay-at-home moms with a household income between $60,000 and $80,000.”  Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

But really, even this answer leaves something to be desired.  The fact of the matter is that very few of your customers are going to read all of your social media outlets, your blog, and everything else that’s published under your name.  You have to narrow your demographics to determine exactly who is on your Facebook page v. your Twitter page.

In order to narrow these demographics, check out what your competition is doing.  Ask yourself who they’re targeting, and whether or not it seems to be working.  Collect your answers; now do it better.

Frequency

Next, I want you to look at how often they’re talking.  The general rule of thumb is that you want to post at least three times a day to Twitter, and definitely no more than that to Facebook.  However, these “rules” vary from industry to industry.

But, it’s not just about how often your competitors post, but how often they interact.  Many companies are great about sharing content on Facebook, but, there aren’t nearly as many companies that interact consistently.

Make observations about what percentage of customers your competition is replying to.  Does everyone get an answer, or do only the “interesting comments” get responses from the company?

Value Versus Sales Driven Content

So, you know who to target and how often to target them.  But, what about balancing value-driven content with sales-driven content.  What’s the appropriate ratio?  Well, in all honesty, that’s kind of a trick question.  Every piece of content should be valuable.

Of course, it’s okay to have some sales content from time to time, but even this sales-driven content should have value.  Take a look at what your competitors are doing, and try to match or beat their ratios… the more non-sales content you can offer, the better.

Treatment of Competition

How do your competitors treat the competition on their social media pages?  If you’re on their radar as a competitor, how do they treat you?  Bashing the competition is never okay and it definitely doesn’t help your case as a small business.

If you spend any time at all perusing small business’s Facebook and Twitter pages, you’re sure to come across some competition bashing.  Avoid it like the plague.  The reason I advise businesses to look for this practice in their competition is because it should incentivize you to behave properly in case the temptation ever arises.

You Can’t Afford Not to Do These Things

The beauty of Facebook and Twitter is how public the platforms are.  If you aren’t spying on your competition, you’re missing out on one of the easiest and cheapest methods of competitive research.  Get going by asking these four questions!

After you’ve perused through the competition’s use of social media, what do you think you will start doing differently?

Spy Photo via Shutterstock

20 Comments ▼

Amie Marse


Amie Marse Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money, a small content generation firm based in Lexington, KY. She’s been a passionate freelance writer turned business owner for over 7 years. Her philosophy is that the essentials of content marketing do not change from the small business to the Fortune 500 level, and that creativity trumps budget every time.

20 Reactions

  1. Nice post, anything you can do to monitor the competition and gain a competitive edge is well worth investing time into.

  2. Good post, Amie. Most of the time, I suggest small business owners to look at the their competition’s efforts in social media for inspiration as well as ways to improve upon what they are doing. Nevertheless, if you’re doing social media, paying attention to what your competitors are doing is a must. And not to mention that it’s incredibly easy to “spy” on competitors too these days.

    • Of course – and the “easy button” of it all puts a whole new twist on PR management. Remember, everything you do your clients see…your potential clients see…your critics see…AND your competition is watching too!

  3. Some good advice. We tend to be inwardly focussed on social media sites and not keeping an eye on what the competition is up to. Agree about competitor bashing.

    • And I think that inward focus is even harder for solopreneurs or tiny businesses. Being at our desks in our homes, being “relatable” while building our businesses it’s tough not to be so inward focused. 30 years ago we didn’t have this sort of platform. It’s a must for small businesses to act like big businesses sooner in their life cycle by leveraging competitive research and thinking about PR. Thanks for your comment Steve :)

  4. It’s important to look at a competitor’s social media strategy, not to copy it but instead to look for opportunity. If they aren’t posting often or aren’t sharing much content, that leaves room for you to catch the attention of their followers. Be sure to actually be social within social media and respond to any comments, questions, etc.

  5. Nick makes a great point about filling the holes your competitors are ignoring.

    I would also point out that just because a competitor is doing something doesn’t mean you should copy/emulate them. They may be winging it just like you are. Don’t assume it’s a good idea just because they’re doing it. Measure the response their content receives and only emulate what’s working.

  6. I also use Google Alerts to sweep up anything that I might have missed when doing the spying…err…market research. It’s also a useful tool to find out what others are saying about you and your company.

    • Good call :) You should use your brand/company name and top people in your organization. For example, I have alerts for “Amie Marse” and “Content Equals Money” but I guess that would depend on how common your name is. My business partner “Laura Hancock” would be kind of annoying for Google Alerts, lol.

      BTW, google alerts are great to track when your guest posts go live :)

      • Excellent point about the commonality of the name. I get a lot of alerts for a Naval Academy grad with my name, which, as a West Point grad, irks me to no end! :-)

  7. Excellent article Amie companies are evolving according to the needs of customers, and it is they who remain longer in social networks, which is why the presence of companies are mandatory.

    Behavioral research on the needs of our customers makes us outstanding in the physical world and the online, so you need to keep an eye on what is happening in social networks in order to make the respective changes before the competition!

    Successes!

  8. This post is so spot-on about using social media for competitive research! It’s one of the greatest things about social media. Also, I love your take on being subtle about “sales-y” social media posts. Yes, it’s okay, and yes, they really should be valuable. Thanks for a well-written article.

  9. I agree, Amie; creating content for the sake of creating content isn’t the smartest way to go. All content a company produces, whether it’s for social media or otherwise, should provide value to the customer somehow. No one wants to read overly salesy copy! That’s like expecting all of your family and friends to read your Christmas letter from start to finish. If all you talk about is “me, me, me,” then why should your audience pay attention?

    There’s no harm in scoping out other companies’ strategies in order to produce something better (as long as no copyrights are infringed upon, of course). Research can only help!

    Great article. :)

  10. You don’t have to copy your competitions but if they have done the leg work and you do not copy their information but check out where they are putting their efforts in social media, I say go for it.
    There are software programs you can buy to find out what backward links your competitors are using.I want the same audience as my competitors. Good article.

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