How to Create a Social Media Strategy By Spying Your Competitors

social media how to Are you struggling to create a social media strategy for your business?

Lacking insight into the social behaviors of your customers?

No data, no problem!

Chances are your competitors have done all the hard work and all you need to do is look for it.

In this post, I’ll show you how to research the competition’s social game plan so you can build a solid social media strategy of your own.

Finding the Fundamentals

When it comes to social media marketing, you need to answer a few fundamental questions:

  • Should your business be on social media?
  • What networks should you choose?
  • How do you create a great profile?
  • What type of content should you post, and when should you post it?

Everyone must answer these questions, including business owners who want to create a strategy for their own business, marketing managers who need to convince their CEO to invest in social media and consultants who create strategies for clients in a wide variety of industries.

Fortunately, you can find answers through the process of competitor research.

Keep reading to discover how to get insight on your competitors.

#1: Comparing Audience Size

While you shouldn’t obsess about how many fans or followers your competitors have, noting these numbers at the beginning of your campaign can help you answer the following important questions.

how many fans do your competitors have

Noting the number of fans your competitors have can help you answer a few important questions relevant to your own business. Image source: iStockPhoto

1. Should your business be on social media? 

If your competitors have an audience on social media, whether it is 100 people or 100,000, the answer should be yes. Otherwise, your competitors are tapping into a customer base that your business could be completely missing out on.

2. Which networks should your business focus on?

Do all of your competitors have strong presences on some networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but not others, such as Pinterest? If the answer is yes, then it means two things: 1) businesses in your industry do not do well on Pinterest or 2) with creativity, you have a chance to reach a group of customers with little competition.

3. Have you reached all of your target audience?

Competitor research isn’t just limited to businesses starting their social media strategy. If you have been using social media for a while, but not getting results, take a look at the size of your competitors’ social media audiences to help you gauge whether you are reaching as many of your potential customers as possible, or whether you still have room to grow your network.

How to Compare Your Competitors’ Audience Size

First, you’ll want to figure out what social networks your competitors belong to. To do this, start by going to your competitors’ website and/or blog to see what social icons they list in their header, sidebar or footer.

Next, do a Google search for your competitors’ business name. Typically, the social networks they are most active on will appear in the first three pages of search results.

Once you’ve discovered the top networks your competitors use, you can collect their number of followers/fans simply by visiting their profiles and entering the numbers into a spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you can use the tools mentioned below to find, analyze and monitor your competitors’ audience size and growth.

Facebook Pages to Watch

If you already have a Facebook page, you can use the Pages to Watch section of your admin panel to add your competitors’ Facebook pages to see how many likes they have and monitor their like growth on a weekly basis.

facebook-pages-to-watch

Monitor the growth of your competitor’s Facebook audience with Facebook Pages to Watch.

Simply use the Add Pages link to add new pages to your watch list. If you notice a particular competitor has a huge surge in growth, be sure to visit their page to see if they’re doing something exciting with their audience.

Twitter Counter

Twitter Counter allows you to look at your competitors’ follower growth for up to three months for free. You can look at one account at a time, or enter two accounts to compare Twitter followers and growth.

twitter-counter-comparison

Monitor the growth of your competitor’s Twitter followers with Twitter Counter.

Wildfire

To get a quick comparison of the number of Twitter followers, Facebook likes or Google+ circlers your competitors have, try Wildfire’s free Who’s Winning in Social tool. It gives you a current snapshot of audience sizes by entering the profile/page name or URL of your competitors’ social presences.

wildfire-twitter

Quickly compare your audience numbers for Twitter with a competitor’s using Wildfire.

After you get stats for the initial three competitors, you can add more competitors if desired. The nice part is you can see not only their current audience size, you can also see their growth over the last three years.

wildfire-facebook

Compare your Facebook Page audience numbers with multiple competitors using Wildfire.

Rival IQ

Rival IQ is a competitor research and monitoring tool that allows you to enter an unlimited number of competitors and compare their social followings with yours.

rival-iq-twitter-follower-count

Example of a Rival IQ Twitter Follower comparison.

You can use Rival IQ to quickly glance at and regularly review Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Google+ circlers by counts for your accounts alongside your competitors’.

#2: Measuring Engagement

While audience size can tell you a lot, it can’t tell you everything. You certainly don’t want to emulate the style of a competitor that isn’t engaging with their audience, or one that has simply bought their followers and fans to inflate their numbers, not their quality of relationships. This is why engagement must be an important part of your competitor research.

So how do you measure your competitors’ engagement? The free reports provided by Simply Measured are a great place to start.

For Facebook, you can use the Facebook Competitive Analysis Report that will show you in-depth analysis of engagement for up to 10 Facebook pages with up to 250,000 likes. You will get graphs that show you the overall engagement by fans on posts by admins to each page, posts made by fans on each page, sharing engagement, people talking about the brand and an overview of which brands have the best engagement.

simplymeasured-facebook-report

Example of a SimplyMeasured Facebook engagement report.

After the chart, you’ll get a table of the top posts from all of the pages with detailed breakdowns of the type of post (photo, video, text or link) and forms of engagement (likes, comments and shares).

simplymeasured-facebook-engagement

Example of a SimplyMeasured Facebook engagement breakdown.

For engagement analysis of competitors on Twitter, try the Twitter Customer Service Analysis Report. This shows you details of how your competitor handles customer service on Twitter, along with the number of tweets a competitor sends compared to the retweets and mentions they receive.

simplymeasured-twitter-report

Example of a SimplyMeasured Twitter report.

For engagement analysis of competitors on Google+, you can try their Google+ Page Report that will analyze any Google+ page with up to 100,000 circlers.

For Instagram engagement analysis, you can use the Instagram User Report that will analyze any Instagram user with up to 25,000 followers.

Both will show you how engaged the audiences of each account really are.

#3: Looking at Profile Setups

Once you’ve chosen a few networks to focus on based on your competitors’ audience size and engagement, the next thing you’ll want to consider is reviewing your top competitor’s profile setup. This can give you inspiration for designing your own profiles.

In particular, you’ll want to note how each of your competitors uses the following profile/page elements.

Cover Photos

Facebook pages, Google+ pages, LinkedIn company pages and Twitter profiles all allow you to have custom cover/header photos. If you have no idea how to design yours, perusing your competitors’ will definitely give you some ideas to work with.

You might find that some of your competitors use the same image for consistent branding like HubSpot does on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

hubspot-facebook-cover

HubSpot’s Facebook cover image.

hubspot-twitter-cover

HubSpot’s Twitter cover image.

hubspot-google-plus-cover

HubSpot’s Google+ cover image.

hubspot-linkedin-cover

HubSpot’s LinkedIn cover image.

Or you might find your competitors do something a little different for each social network like Ford does on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

ford-facebook-cover

Ford’s Facebook cover image.

ford-twitter-cover

Ford’s Twitter cover image.

ford-google-plus-cover

Ford’s Google+ cover image.

ford-linkedin-cover

Ford’s LinkedIn cover image.

While you’re looking at cover/header photos, also note the use of profile photos/icons. Are your competitors using a photo of a person or logo? Depending on your industry and business type, this could make a big difference in connecting with your audience.

Descriptions

Next on the list of things to note is the descriptions your competitors use for their business. Why are bios, short descriptions and About information so important? It’s simple; your 160-character Twitter bio could be the first impression a potential customer gets of your business. You’ll want to make that count.

When you’re browsing through your competitors’ design, you can also copy and paste their descriptions into a Word document for reference. Or, if you used the Rival IQ tool mentioned earlier, you can see your competitors’ Twitter bios, Facebook descriptions, Google+ taglines and Google+ introductions all together.

rival-iq-descriptions-report

Rival IQ makes it easy to compare the different ways your competitors are using their social media descriptions.

Links

If you want to get traffic back to your website from social media, strategic placement of your website links is key. While analyzing your competitors’ profiles, look at where they place links to their websites, what links they use (homepage, sales page, landing page, etc.) and what calls to action precede the link.

If you look back at the previous image showing the Facebook page descriptions of top social media management tools, you can see that most have a link in their description, and three out of five of those that included a link specifically ask their fans to try their software.

Analyze Content Posting

Last but not least is the content. After your profiles and pages are set up and you are working toward building your audience, your ongoing goal will be to post great content that keeps your followers and fans engaged with your business. Coming up with a content calendar for social media always leads to a lot of questions, including:

  • How often should I post on different social networks? Do people following on Twitter expect more updates than those following on Facebook? Is once a day too much, or not enough?
  • Which types of updates should I post? Should I use links, photos, videos, questions, quotes, etc.?
  • What determines if a post is successful on social media? Should my main goal be retweets, likes, comments, shares or click-throughs?

Ok, so the last question should be determined by your business, but the answers to the first two questions can be learned from your competitors. Outside of scanning through each of your competitors’ posts and noting any posts that seem particularly successful in terms of engagement, you can use the following tools.

Simply Measured

Simply Measured has a few useful free tools.

If you really want to dig deep into analysis of a competitor’s posts, start with the free Facebook Content Analysis. This tool analyzes the last two weeks worth of posts and breaks down engagement by post type and per post.

simplymeasured-facebook-content-analysis

Analyze competitor Facebook content engagement with SimplyMeasured.

The Google+ Page Report and Instagram User Report also detail the top posts from your competitors based on engagement and type.

Rival IQ

Rival IQ allows you to see the top content from all of your competitors within the last 7–90 days, sorting content by the most overall engagement, likes, shares, comments, retweets, favorites and so on.

rival-iq-top-content

View all your competitors’ top content with Rival IQ.

Between Simply Measured and Rival IQ, you should never run short of social posting inspiration!

In Conclusion

As you can see, competitor research can help you determine where you should focus your social media marketing campaign, how to get it started and ways to get engaged with your audience. This is the information you need to create a strong social media strategy for your business.

What do you think? Have you performed social media competitor research? If so, what did you learn? What tools would you recommend? Please share in the comments!

Photos from Shutterstock.

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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://geekfree.net/ Aaron

    Awesome deep dive as usual Kristi. The Facebook Competitive Analysis reporting tool is very cool. Thanks!

  • http://sproutsocial.com/features/social-media-engagement Sarah @ Sprout Social

    Great advice, Kristi! I think it sets you back to not be doing competitor research. Knowing what others in your industry are doing give you insight on news and updates, as well as an example for best (or worst) practice.

    The comparison tools are great for longterm benchmarking and monitoring your general place in the industry.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Aaron! Yes, the free reports from Simply Measured are really helpful for anyone digging into their competitors. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Sarah! Yes, it’s great to learn what not to do from your competitors so you don’t accidentally make the same mistakes they do!

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer

    love it. great post Kristi!

  • http://www.setthebarr.com/ Kim

    Kristi doesn’t Facebook Pages to Watch notify your competitor that you are watching them?

  • http://www.twitter.com/sethhinz Seth

    I’m not above a little spying. For example, Facebook Interest Lists provide a look into the latest content competitors are posting and allows you to see instantly what type of content is resonating.

  • http://www.christiankonline.com Christian Karasiewicz

    @SethHinz:disqus, Facebook Add interest lists are an excellent tool to use. Make sure you make them private if you don’t want someone to see you’ve added them to a list. It also restricts them from being shared by others.

  • http://www.christiankonline.com Christian Karasiewicz

    @disqus_sSbpCVoylk:disqus, yes. It shows up in their notifications.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sethhinz Seth

    @ckarasiewicz:disqus good point to bring up.

  • http://www.setthebarr.com/ Kim

    Okay that is what I thought. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t giving my clients the wrong info.
    Thanks

  • http://www.christiankonline.com Christian Karasiewicz

    Excellent post @kikolani:disqus. Very thorough! I’m a big fan of using the content analysis tool.

    Hootsuite is also very helpful for this as well. They include a report to be able to compare your page to a handful of other pages.

  • http://www.christiankonline.com Christian Karasiewicz

    @disqus_sSbpCVoylk:disqus, the tool is useful, it’s name is a little misleading though for most page owners.

  • Pel Abbott

    Excellent – thank you Kristi!

  • Pel Abbott

    I did want to say that Facebook’s search feature is so awful that my competitors don’t even show up, even though I know they have accounts. Once you have the wrong company in monitored list, is there any way to delete or change? If so, I can’t find it.

  • Candis Marko

    Excellent, excellent info, Kristi. I will be launching my biz months down the road, and these tools will be super useful in the mean time, as I plan. Thank you!

  • Natalie K. Gould

    Great, concise, practical information Kristi. I’m doing exactly this today so your post was incredibly useful. I use Hootsuite tools for keywords, but Facebook’s updates to page manager tools are more robust than ever. Often I have to get creative when performing a social competitive analysis for my clients because I don’t want to give them surface level information. With time these competitor analysis tools will be streamlined, simpler and intuitive.

  • http://www.EntrepreneurOnFire.com/ John Lee Dumas

    Hi Kristi! I’ve always been a fan of researching what’s already being done that is working to give yourself a running start when it comes to Social Media. Looking at your competitors is a great way to do this. I didn’t know about the Facebook Competitive Analytics Report – great stuff! Thanks for sharing these resources; I’ll have to check them out.

  • Jim Munchbach

    Thank you, Kristi. This post was amazingly helpful. I’m sending it to my #SocMed Team so we can use this strategy before we kick off our next campaign.

  • http://jameshalloran.net/ James R. Halloran

    Awesome piece, Kristi! Thanks for the resources. We’ll definitely check them out.

    As for whether a company should be on social media or not, they definitely should be no matter how seemingly small your audience is. If even one competitor has their foot in that door, you’re going to lose ground with all of your customers eventually.

    To not have a social media presence today is a lot like not having a storefront at all. A good social media presence not only garners you new followers but also protects your reputation from competitors who might be taking advantage of your company’s absence.

  • Cindy Schrader

    You are fantastic! Thank you for the great information and explanation! Cheers

  • Latasha Patrick

    Great article Kristi. Thanks.

  • http://thepriceinfo.blogspot.in/ Chetan Jadhav

    Great Tips about social media competitor analytics, and what I say about your Kristi mam you always teach me lot and new thing in Internet Marking, thanks for sharing such awesome social tool :)

  • http://www.industryleadersmagazine.com/ John Warne

    I think this is one of the best article that you have shared for creating an effective social media strategy.

  • http://navneetsau.com/ NavNeet Sau

    Brilliant article Kristi. I think Simply measured is such an awesome analytical tool that provides analytics data for all social media channels. I will definitely try this tool. Thank you Kristi for sharing this valuable social media tool.

  • http://www.setthebarr.com/ Kim

    I agree it is useful! I use it on my own page as well as a few that I manage. I enjoyed this article, I enjoy Social Media Examiner a lot. Thank you!
    Kim

  • Oh! Social

    Fantastic post Kristi! Understanding the competition and having a pulse on what’s going on in your industry is crucial (and too often over looked). I’m excited to check out the Rival IQ tool. Thanks again!

  • http://www.GreenPeaMedia.com/ BJ Adkins

    Some really great analysis tools! I will be taking advantage of these in the future and it doesn’t hurt that this was the exact type of info I have been looking for. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • jpbagot

    Hi, would anyone know why Facebook Pages to Watch does not appear on the page I manage?

  • http://intesols.com.au/ Moin Shaikh

    Wonderful resources Kristi, thanks for sharing. The tools are indeed of great help :)

  • http://marketingaccesspass.com/ Anthony Tran

    Kristi, you always come up with amazing content about social media! Your tips are not only insightful but actionable. Half of these social media analytical tools I have never ward of before. Thanks again can’t wait I test some of these tools out.

  • Pingback: The Weekly Measure: Top Internet Marketing News, Tools, and Events - December 13, 2013 by Vertical Measures

  • Morgan

    These are great for looking at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but does anyone have any suggestions for LinkedIn competitive research? Thanks!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Jay! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Hi Kim. It does unfortunately, but I don’t think any business in this day and age would be surprised that someone is keeping tabs on them. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Interest Lists do work well too. Sometimes they can get a little cluttered if you have competitors that are posting a lot of updates. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Good point – thanks Christian! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Facebook search is kind of terrible right now. If you meant the Pages to Watch list, you have to go to Add pages, then hover over the page to see the X to remove them. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Candis! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Natalie! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome John! Looking forward to seeing you at NMX. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Jim! I hope the team finds it useful. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    I agree James! It’s hard to tell some businesses that they need to be on social media, but it becomes hard to deny when they see their competitors are doing it. :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Cindy! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Latasha!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Chetan! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks John – I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome NavNeet! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks – I hope you enjoy Rival IQ!

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome BJ! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    That’s odd – it could be one of those beta rollouts that is only available in certain countries.

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Moin! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Anthony – I love sharing new tools with people! :)

  • http://kristihines.com/ Kristi Hines

    LinkedIn is tough – there really aren’t a lot of great third-party research tools for it. SimplyMeasured does have one free report, but I think it just analyzes your own LinkedIn company page. :(

  • Pel Abbott

    Thank you!

  • http://www.nomorepencils.com/ David Bennett

    Mmmm… I can’t seem to find how to get ‘Pages to Watch’ to show up. How would I do that?

  • GetOrganizedAlready

    Kristi,
    I miss the tool that used to tell me where ALL of my competitors links were coming from. It was a yahoo tool a few years back.
    Is there any such thing now?
    Thanks
    Nonnahs

  • Adam

    Great post, Kristi. Thanks for the comprehensive workflow analysis. It always helps to keep your ear on the ground and make tactical adjustments as you go.

  • Nathan Brook

    I am agree with now a days facebook is much popular than other social networking site very nice info thanks for sharing with us.







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