How to Gain Competitive Insight With Social Media

social media how toAre you looking for that competitive edge? Want to know what your peers are up to?

Using social media to research competitors can provide useful information for any business looking to create a smart strategy.  Learning about your competitors’ activities can give you insight into what works and what doesn’t.

The beauty of social media is that there’s a ton of information about your competitors that is public. And not only is their strategy public, but the reaction to that strategy is public as well. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can learn about your competitors through different social networks, search engines and other outlets.

Competitor Research Through Twitter

Twitter can be a great source of information, because you not only can view a user’s tweets (assuming they’re not private, which generally business Twitter accounts aren’t), but also a user’s followers and the conversation that’s being directed toward him or her.

Finding Competitors

If you have a specific list of competitors that you would like to research, your best bet on finding their Twitter accounts is to visit their website and look for their social links (usually near a Twitter icon in the header, sidebar or footer of their site). Alternatively, you can Google the company name and Twitter to find their account.

If you haven’t compiled a list of competitors, or your main competitors surprisingly don’t use Twitter yet, you can use Twitter search directories such as Twellow and WeFollow to find other companies in your industry that do.

Tweets

The first and most useful information you can learn from looking at a competitor’s Twitter account is simply the strategy they’re using. By viewing their latest tweets, you can see if their strategy includes promoting lots of discounts; direct replies to their followers; or sharing articles, fun facts or other kinds of tweets. You can judge the success of their strategy simply by looking at their follower count.

Followers

Have you ever wanted to see your competitors’ client list? If so, you might just be in luck, because on Twitter, you can view any user’s followers. Thanks to the new Twitter design, you can easily click on a Twitter user’s followers and see, just by scrolling down the page, a short piece of information about each of their followers from their bios.

new twitter

Twitter gives you a great overview of any Twitter user's followers.

Then you can click on each one to learn more about them, like their follower-to-following ratio, location and their latest tweets.

Alternatively, you can get an overview of a user’s followers by using Twitter tools like Tweepi, which allows you to see follower details all on one screen, including bio information, location, number of followers and following, number of updates and even when they last tweeted.

new twitter

Tweepi shows you important Twitter user information in one shot.

Replies

Now, let’s take the research deeper. You don’t want just to know who’s following your competitor on Twitter—you want to know what kind of feedback that competitor is getting as well.

If you do a simple search on Twitter for the replies to their username, @yourcompetitor, you’re bound to learn some valuable information.

monitoring replies

Monitor the @mentions of your competitors for fan sentiment.

In the above example, you can see that @Target’s fans like their latest commercial, selection of Christmas items, pricing on certain products and even one of Target’s charitable contributions during the holiday season.

Most Popular Content

Another great Twitter search tool is Topsy. This one is specifically for researching what content on a website gets the most retweets—a sign that it’s the type of content that people like and something that you should consider emulating for your own blog or website.

topsy results

See the most popular pages tweeted from a competitor's website.

In the above search, you can see a few important things in particular—this company uses services similar to Sponsored Tweets for Twitter advertising, as marked by the #ad hashtag after the first tweet. They also received lots of good feedback and changed their in-store return policy, news that’s being shared often.

Competitor Research Through Facebook

Facebook is one of the top social networks for businesses, and another one where you can find out a lot of information about your competitors’ strategy and fan interaction.

Finding Your Competitors

Again, just like with Twitter, you can find your known competitors’ Facebook fan page links on their website or simply through a Google search. But if your competitor isn’t using Facebook fan pages, you can use the Browse All Pages directory on Facebook to find companies in your industry that are using the search or the category types listed, such as products, services, restaurants and more.

Strategy

There are lots of strategic elements that can be determined by viewing a competitor’s Facebook fan page. To get a full view of what they’re doing, you may have to Like their page with your personal profile.

Once you’ve become a fan, you’ll be able to see all sections (formerly tabs) of their profile. You’ll be able to find out if they’re using their Facebook page as lead generation through gathering email addresses, feeding other social media accounts or blog posts through their page, eliciting customer reviews, creating amazing landing pages or using premium applications from Involver or North Social.

The main strategy you’ll want to check out is how they use their wall for fan interaction. Do they post their latest offers, videos, blog posts, news, photos or other items? Why is this valuable? Because not only will you see their activity, but you’ll also see how it goes over with their customers.

Fan Activity

Unlike Twitter where you have to do a special search for a competitor’s replies to their @username, you can see fan response (or lack thereof) directly on each item of your competitor’s wall. This is a great way to gauge what fans in your industry like the most, from discounts to random status updates, simply by seeing the number of Likes an update receives and reading through the various comments.

toyota wall

See the popularity of an update on your competitor's Facebook fan page wall.

One particular thing to note is that it’s not always updates from the official fan page that get interaction. In the above example on Toyota’s fan page, it’s a fan posting on their wall that got other fans’ attention—a key reason to make sure that your page shows both your updates and those from fans.

Favorite Pages

Facebook fan page owners can add other fan pages as their favorites.

facebook favorites

Find your competitors' additional pages through Favorite Pages.

This is a key area to check out, as it may lead you to find more competitors’ fan pages, revealing more of their ultimate Facebook strategy.

Competitor Research Through LinkedIn

Thanks to the new company pages on LinkedIn, you can learn some interesting information about how your competitors are using LinkedIn for business.

Finding Your Competitors

Locate your competitors’ company profiles on LinkedIn via their website, a Google search or using the search box at the top right-hand corner of your LinkedIn screen.

Followers

You can browse a company’s followers using the link in the top right corner of the company profile page showing their follower count.

linkedin followers

View a company's followers on LinkedIn.

If you’re not directly connected to followers of a company (first connections) or sharing a connection with a follower (second connection), you’ll only be able to see a limited amount of information about a company’s followers, although it might still be enlightening.

Employees

You can also view information about a company’s employees if they’re connected to them on LinkedIn. If you do share connections, use the links for first connections and second employees in your network (shown in the box above) to see more details about those employees.

Also, don’t miss the helpful statistics about employees, including the following information compiled about all employees linked to the company:

  • Job function composition—percentage of staff who are administrative, research, development, sales, marketing and executive.
  • Annual company growth—a line graph that compares your competitor’s growth with others in the same industry and of similar size.
  • Employees who have changed their title—a line graph that compares your competitor’s employee changes with others in the same industry and of similar size.
  • Employees at the company with new titles.
  • Years of work experience—a bar graph that compares your competitor’s employees’ experience with others in the same industry and of similar size.
  • Highest education degree attained—a bar graph that compares your competitor’s employees’ education (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, associate’s degree, certification, and high school diplomas) with others in the same industry and of similar size.
  • Most common universities attended—a bar graph showing percentages of employees from the top five universities that they have graduated from.

Strategy

With the new company pages, companies can add more information to their profile. View their Recent Blog Posts and Activity on LinkedIn to see what your competitors are doing to boost their profiles and gain new followers.

More Competitor Research on Social Media

Want to go beyond the top three social and professional networks? Here are more ideas on social networks and websites to research your competitors.

  • YouTube—check out your competitors’ video marketing strategy by finding their YouTube channel and seeing what types of videos they post and their popularity through number of Likes and comments.
  • Social Mention—use this real-time social media search engine to find your competitors on other social networks, and view mentions about your competitors by other social media users.
  • Geo-based social networks—are your competitors taking advantage of Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Whrrl or other location-based social media? Find out and be sure your company is “check-in” friendly if applicable.
  • Boardreader—don’t just focus on social media! Some of the strongest, most loyal community members can be found in forums. Boardreader will help you find your competitors and any talk about them on forums and message boards throughout the web.
  • Local search and review directories—does your business have local competition? Be sure to check out your competitors’ profiles on review sites such as Yelp, Merchant Circle, Google Places and more to find out if they’re garnering reviews from their customers, sharing discounts and taking advantage of local search to dominate in search results.

Do you research your competitors via social media? Please share your tips below, as well as valuable information you learned from doing the research and analysis.

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About the Author, Kristi Hines

Kristi Hines is a freelance writer and author of Kikolani, which covers content, search, and social media marketing. Sign up for her free training, 8 Days to Promotable Content. You can also follow her on Twitter @kikolani. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.marketingm8.co.uk Peter L Masters MCIM

    This is very useful and proves that there’s still a lot more to Twitter and Facebook than most people appreciate. I joined a Facebook WordPress group, a Social Marketing for 2011 group and started a Construction Social Media Marketing group. This is real Social Media networking and I’m meeting some amazing people!

  • http://www.colemanmg.com Antonio Coleman

    In today’s market your competition can be found any and everywhere..plus it very easy to know whats going on and who is following them. This gives you an good idea where you are and how to maybe get there..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

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  • http://twitter.com/chriskarnes Chris Karnes

    I really liked these tips to provide a basic understanding of how social media can be leveraged for competitive intel. Even small companies and consultants can leverage these tips to gain some traction in their market. Great introduction to the world of social market research by using competitive intel!

  • http://www.webguide4u.com Vivek Parmar

    Really like all the tips, have to admit twitter and facebook have changed everything

  • http://urbanchurch.tv/ Bryan Thompson

    I’ve found – especially with Twitter – that the temptation is to find the followers of a person doing what you’re doing (as a personal development blogger I don’t like to use the word “competitor”) and follow all of their followers. I made this mistake early on and apparently, those followers have pretty tight-knit spammer-radar. Many didn’t follow me back. Always better to build a rapport (a few quality @ mentions). For me anyway.

  • http://felixrelationshipmarketing.com/ Juan Felix

    Hi Kristi. Interesting perspective. I still believe that realizing your USP or finding the hole in the market is still the best strategy. Find your own unique position by listening to customers or prospects. Once you find the mind position of your company, confirm it by your actions. – Juan.

  • http://aremorch.com/ Are Morch

    Great article Kristi.

    I have become much better doing research on my ‘competitors’. I also more like to see them as advocates, mentors, instructors, network and friends.. And I also learned that I need to look for the tools that will let me do the best research within my niche. Plus do some proper segmentation. This helps me narrow down my ‘competitors’.

    Cheers.. Are

  • http://mytwittertoolbox.com David Perdew

    Wow, what a comprehensive post this is for competitive insight. Sometimes I think we forget about using social media for research, and this post certainly proves the value of that decision. The fact that it’s a virtually vocal medium proves the old adage is wise – if you’re talking about communication, listening is often more important than talking.

  • http://twitter.com/JeffKryger Jeff Kryger

    As one of my primary job functions revolves around doing just this, I found this to be a very helpful and accurate post! I like how it covers more than just Facebook & Twitter, and goes into more depth that simple numbers. Thanks!

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  • http://twitter.com/mmurphy2950 mmurphy2950

    I’m a newer business owner of a digital media production company and am just finishing up my last year of school. I have found that even though I took a class on social media it is grossly inadequate. This article really lays out the many things that Facebook and Twitter can do besides connect you with your current client base. I also like the different search programs that were mentioned and I will be using them in the future to research my competition. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/sunitabhagatjee Sunita C Bhagatjee

    Thanks Kristi. This is an excellently informative post. Keep them coming in !

  • nchou

    We need to keep in mind, the social media competitive intelligence door swings both ways. i.e., if it’s easy for you to research your competitors, it’s equally easy for the competitors to research you.

  • michmski

    Great post, Kristi. Insights for long-term and short-term strategies and tactics is something we look at at Synthesio for our clients. It’s one element of social media that companies are sure to find.
    I’m sorry to see forums as almost an afterthought on your post though ; it’s a space that may not be as flashy as Twitter or Facebook, but for brands like pharma, video games, telecom, etc. forums are invaluable because they are often the largest source of information for conversations about their products and hence their competitors’ products.
    Hence — good point nchou :)

    Michelle @Synthesio

  • http://www.twitter.com/stephenturnock Stephen Turnock

    Some challenges ahead for most businesses [and my industry is no exception - recruitment industry], will be developing new strategy that engages with your target audience in a two way fashion as opposed to one way outbound marketing in the older ‘traditional style’ that will no longer be accepted by your audience in future which are increasingly generation Y. In order to make the start in both mindset and strategy one must convince the boss [c-suit] and I find the best way to do that is to look at what the opposition is doing, what their audience is saying about them and equally, not saying about you as a first measure and hurdle to get the backing you need!

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  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Yes, the networking that you can do on social media is powerful. It makes it especially easy to get to know people better before you actually meet them.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Exactly. Seeing where your competitors are focusing their efforts can give you a feel for what is working and what is not!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    That’s the best part – all of the information is out there for free, so a single entrepreneur to a large corporation can take advantage of it for educational purposes!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Yeah, bloggers usually don’t consider other bloggers their competitors so much as businesses do. But you can consider competitors your virtual colleagues, and still follow in their example.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    That’s another way to use competitive research – look at what everyone else is doing to see what they are not doing, and then going for that angle. Great point!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    That’s how I see fellow bloggers when I’m researching them, and I think in a B2B business, that’s how you see others in your industry. It is interesting to see more clients considering other businesses people to look up to and not enemies.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Listening is definitely more valuable than talking on social media. The more you learn, the better you can provide for your followers / clients.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Yes, I think most people who do research know how to get around Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I’d throw in the other valuable information you can get from other networks as well.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Generally what people want when they come to social media is how to get a huge following and then engage with that following. Usually there isn’t a lot of focus on the prep work needed to learn how to be really engaging in your industry. I’m glad this helped!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Very true. With social media, it’s all public, and businesses really can’t afford to make their engagement private (though I have seen a few businesses with private Twitter streams or only personal, private profiles on Facebook).

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    I wanted to include more about forums, but they are a bit like their own world and not necessarily considered full on social media. They have a different set of rules and community, but at the same time, forum communities are generally much stronger than broader social networks, assuming they are the ones that haven’t been spammed to death.

  • Delisha Easley

    Kristi I am at the beginning stages of developing my business. I am very grateful for the connection with Pam Perry to get this timely posting:) The information is valuable for any entrepreneur but especially those just starting. Social media is essential for the success of a business, but more importantly it is now a necessity and knowing how to properly use it makes it even better. Kristi congrats on your award and I look forward to more of your blogs!

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  • http://twitter.com/DigitalJunkee Benjamin Brown

    Excellent resource, Thank you very much :-)

  • http://www.jtmar.com/ Christine Taylor

    Great post. I enjoy learning about new tools. Keeping up with all the ways to research competitors is a challenge.
    @chrisgtaylor

  • http://www.epitomemedia.com.au Brigid Shute

    Thanks Kristi, a great list of strategies for research into the competition, it. The step by step approach you have outlined is brilliant.While it can be time consuming, it’s such an important aspect of business now.

    Some of the premium social platform research tools can also give good insights and analysis and also allow you to drill right down – and save some time!

  • http://www.peoplebrowsr.com PeopleBrowsr

    This article really shows how Twitter and Facebook are so sophisticated through strategy. Competitor knowledge is so important to a business. It is stated brilliantly: competitors give a company insight to what works and what doesn’t work. It can easily be forgotten that information is public with social media, which makes for easy research, especially when researching a competitor.

    The analysis of how to use Twitter is great. Social media analytics are another good way to get competitors’ information. ReSearch.ly is an awesome service that allows a company to search what people are saying about their competitors.

    Brilliant article! Cheers ☺

    Jen (& the PeopleBrowsr Team)

  • The Boardreader Team

    Hi Kristi, thanks for mentioning Boardreader. Forums do provide invaluable insights and we really concentrate in providing high quality, spam free content. We should talk sometime about some of our strategies to deliver significant insights to those interested in forums.
    Thanks,
    The Boardreader Team

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  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    I would always be up for writing something more in-depth about it. You can contact me directly through the form on my site at kikolani.com. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Will check that out… thanks for the resource!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Time consuming yes, but the value if you do it right is definitely strong enough to justify the time.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Delisha! I’m glad you find the information valuable. :)

  • Jrodriguez

    Being able to research your competitors online is one the key benefits social channels provide to business. Thank you Kristi for such a comprehensive set of tips and direction to help us take advantage of this opportunity. As Brigid touched on this above, competitive intelligence through social media can be time consuming – especially if you’re a large organization with several competitors with lots of social data, a need to share this insight with multiple departments and have limited resources. As competitive intelligence from social channels becomes paramount, time-strapped marketers in large corporations may want to consider enterprise-ready competitive intelligence solutions and technology partners to provide real-time, actionable competitive insight that can be used across departments. Thanks again for a great post and I look forward to reading more!

    Best regards,

    Jennifer Rodriguez
    Visible Director of Community Outreach

  • http://ideagirlmedia.com/ Keri at Idea Girl Media

    Hi Kristi,

    I do keep tabs on my competition through social media. Mainly through following and keeping my eyes and ears open, as I follow. I’ve really liked Twellow and WeFollow.

    Your post offered a few ways I might become more savvy: Drilling further down into the LinkedIn employees area, and Boardreader.

    Great post – Thanks!! :)

    ~Keri
    (who has a sister Kristi)

  • Dave Harris

    Immensely relevant and practical. There is so much babble posted about social media, it is refreshing to read this article.

  • Bhohhof

    Thought you’d like to know that a copy of your post (with a different author name) appears at
    http://www.facebookfools.com/facebook-marketing/how-to-gain-competitive-insight-with-social-media/

  • davehill

    I just started using a new emerging Facebook app, BizPagePro, that is designed to massively improve your conversions. I’m using it to promote one of my Network Marketing companies on my Facebook account at http://www.davidalberthill.com. You can see a generic video promo at http://www.bizpagepro.com/davehill. For only $19.95/mo. this was a no-brainer! The app can be used to promote any kind of business! Right now the app can only handle one business but they will soon be releasing a multiple-company version. I don’t know about you but I’m enjoying the fresh wind of opportunity blowing on my face(book).

  • http://www.dydacomp.com Dydacomp

    Great points! Will definitely recommend this list to our clients here at Dyacomp as well as use this information to help improve the current competitive research we already do. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Green Products

    Yes, the networking that you can do on social media is powerful…Thanks for shared .

  • Derlierprossy

    It’s very gratifying to see that your article supports my own
    viewpoints. I couldn’t have written this better myself. Your standard
    of excellent writing has to be high to produce this kind of quality
    article.

    Computer Store

  • Derlierprossy

    It’s very gratifying to see that your article supports my own
    viewpoints. I couldn’t have written this better myself. Your standard
    of excellent writing has to be high to produce this kind of quality
    article.

    Computer Store

  • http://www.casinoboxes.com/ casinoboxes

    I am looking for a valid social bookmark checker that tells about competitors social media presence.

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  • Sivagopi Appathurai

    Hi, that was an impressive article. But in most of the article I found one thing missing.

    How do I track the keywords that user used to land on our competitor page(Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc)

    A help regarding this would be great.







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