They say that good artists borrow and great artists steal.
Whilst I would never advocate ripping off your competition, they can definitely be a source of inspiration and a jump off point for your own ideas.
Plus, it is never a bad thing to see what your competitors are up to. Performing “competitive research”, is something that most sectors do and social media is no different.
If your competitors have tested various ideas, it makes sense to research and analyse them to see if they could fit with your own online strategy, especially if what your competitor has done has achieved great success.
- Define who your Competitors are
- Where do you competitors live
- How do your competitors want to be seen
- Who operates the social media accounts
- What are they using to engage
Define Who Your Competitors Are
If you are active within your niche you probably already know who your competitors are. But it’s always worth taking a look at the space to see if any new ones have popped up or ones you previously did not notice.
The tools that help
Topsy is an excellent tool to mine social media platforms such as Twitter for whom is talking about what.
Where do your competitors live
Finding the accounts of your competitors, you can quickly see which social media platforms they are most likely to use the most for their promotion. Each niche will have a favorite social media platform which works best for them. Competitors will collectively have chosen the best social media platform which works for the niche in which they operate.
Buzzsumo is an excellent tool to find out more about the competition.
Best practice would dictate that you at least have an account on the top 20 social media platforms, this is the very least will stop anyone else grabbing the account name that is most similar to yours and stopping anyone passing themselves off as you.
But you must decide to spend time and invest in only a few of the social media platforms which are most used by your market and your competition. Making one platform your primary space. This will be the one you will attempt to dominate your niche in.
Those competitors that have a huge following are the ones you need to look at most closely.
How Your Competitors Manage Their Image
Your competitors will be chose to have a specific image and present themselves in a fashion that identifies them. You can observe the images they are using as their avatar and the images they are designing the rest of their account page with. For example if every avatar is a head shot where the males are wearing shirt and ties and the females are conservatively dressed then this is telling you something different than if the males are topless, showing off their six pack and the females are lip glossed and holding alcoholic beverages.
Avatars within a niche so tend to have commonalities, the trick is to generally adhere to these tribal commonalities, but at the same time stand out. This can be done by using a subtly different colour as a backdrop, or investing money into having a professional image taken.
Your avatar must resonate with your target audience and be different enough from your competition to set you apart.
I have achieved this in the past by giving my avatar a deep red background when every website was going for a pastel blue and green design. I was also more inclined to market myself to a more male audience which is the SEO market.
Descriptions and the keywords your competitor are using are an obvious way to see what they are most interested in or what they think will attract the people within the niche.
Who Operates the Social Media Accounts
A social media account that is operated by the owner or the CEO of the business, is going to be far more interesting than if the account is outsourced to a 9 -5, professional social media operative who is hardly passionate about the messages they are sending out.
Those competitors who do have passionate, knowledgeable running their social media accounts till always have the edge over those who don’t. It defines how serious they take their social media. The more authority the user of the social media account has, the more the account can take advantage of responding in a timely fashion, or engaging in real conversation.
To beat your competition in the space, you need to be more interesting, more unique and more engaging than your competition.
From analysing the engagement level of your competition you can easily tell what type of person is using the account. A lot of high flyers do outsource their Twitter account and you can tell, whilst you look at an account like Alan Sugar and you can tell that it is actually him but the tone of the conversation engaged in.
What Are They Using to Engage
It baffles me that people who should know better still use social media merely as an announcement device for their new content. Rather than using it to build a tribe and to demonstrate that they care about the business they are in and their customers.
A Scoop.it account for example can demonstrate what subjects are being used to engage in conversation with its followers.
A list of things to look out for and things you may want to consider doing with your own social media engagement
- Content ideas
- Feedback on products
- Customer help line
- Negative comment management
- Testing of ideas
What Content Works for Them
Digging into the articles that they write on their site allows you to understand what kind of content works for them. Understanding what content works for your competitors allows you to craft a social media strategy much more easily. Learn from their mistakes!
Don’t get fooled if someone has over a 1,000 followers. This is meaningless if they have used a follow/defollow tool and methodology.
This is where a piece of software will find and auto follow accounts on twitter, it will then check after a period of time if that person has followed back.
If they have not then that person is defollowed and the whole process is repeated.
You can determine that this has not taken place if the ratio of their followers is high to the people they follow. If for example they only follow 50 people and yet 1,000 people are following them, you can be pretty certain that those are genuine followers.
If the majority of the followers are not in the niche of the person, or have few followers themselves, then this is also a flag that the Twitter account isn’t very powerful and is mostly being followed by zombie accounts that do not have a human being 100% behind them.
A twitter account that attracts big players within a niche however, is one to be taken notice of.
Facebook Pages, can specifically give you a very quick and dirty look at if the competitor has a social media strategy which works, or rather if they are killing it on Facebook. A quick look of the likes on their Google will let you know if their strategy is worth a closer look.
As with Twitter, this metric can be manipulated, it is very easy to buy or trade likes to inflate this figure. You can easily find out if this is the case with a sampling of the people who are liking them, plus if the page is attracting comments and is active with new content being promoted.
You can analyse the wider niche by creating a spreadsheet which details the Facebook pages of your competitor.
You would be a fool to rely only upon tools. The human brain is the most complex machine in the Universe, use it well. Usually you get most of what you want from a visual observation of the social media platform, but when you need a little automation or you want to scale the observation with additional variables, then tools are extremely useful.
Don’t fall in love with the tool, after all it’s just a tool and you need to stay objective, and be careful about developing the habit of jumping from tool to tool. Those who sell tools are going to try very hard to get you to use theirs, but you only get to fully use a good tool when you really drill down into it.