Using Social Media to Understand Your Competitors - A How-To Guide
Understanding your firm’s competitive landscape is essential. Whether you’re a marketer, a communicator, a salesperson or an executive, you need insights into your competitor’s activity on a regular basis. This intelligence is vital in developing strategies, messages and campaigns that raise awareness for your brand, differentiate it from the competition and help you capture more market share.
There are many ways to investigate what your competitors are doing and how they are being perceived in the market, but one of the most underutilized and beneficial methods is to analyze social media conversations and trends.
According to a recent study published by Brandwatch, one of the industry’s leading social intelligence tools, only 12.6% of brands use analytics tools to mine and examine social data. This number is slightly startling.
Social media is home to a vast number of conversations daily and there is a healthy mix between personal views and professional comments. Often times, these two points-of-view overlap. In these conversations, there are many brand, product or keyword “mentions” relevant to specific companies. Companies often have three different scenarios taking place at any given time: 1) firms talking about themselves, 2) others talking about them and 3) people talking at them. These conversations are invaluable sources of feedback if you know how to cut through the noise and unearth the conversations most relevant to you (by topic, target audience, region, etc.) And the best part, the information is free and, for the most part, publicly available (LinkedIn being the exception). No research focus group dollars needed here!
Researching and monitoring the competitive landscape via social media analysis may seem daunting, but if you know what you’re looking for, it can provide insights that help answer questions you face daily – e.g. What platforms are my competitors active on? What is our SOV in conversations relating to X?
Below is a sample of metrics that the Brandwatch report recommends and we highly agree with from a B2B FS perspective. These metrics should be considered when planning and creating your competitor intelligence strategy:
Share of Voice: This is a fundamental metric that you definitely should be aware of. It illustrates the overall online presence of your firm and competitors. SOV can be measured by overall quantity of mentions, by channel, or even by topic. Be sure to compare only like things when monitoring for each company. For example, if you are not concerned with blog comments, make sure you don’t include blogs in your search criteria.
Product Positioning: If you’re a company that has multiple products or business lines, it’s really important to understand where you sit amongst competitor products and business lines. With social media analysis, you can segment social conversations based on a specific product or business and see the volume of conversation around each as well as the keywords being associated with it.
Language Associations: Another way to think about the phrase “language associations” is keywords or company/product descriptions i.e. how are people referring to you and your competitors’ firms and products? This is a great qualitative measure that helps you understand how people are talking about you, but more importantly, it helps you understand how people are referring to your competitors and their products. Language associations, when tracked over time, are a useful indicator of reputational shifts. With this knowledge, you can adjust your messaging to drive a perception change and compete more effectively.
Sentiment Analysis: Most analytical services will include some element of sentiment analysis. Automated sentiment tools can be a little tricky as there is a range of accuracy, but with a little manual checking, sentiment readings can provide a relative benchmark of positive/negative/neutral news stories. You’re also able to amend sentiment results within most tools, ensuring the sentiment results match your own internal definitions of positive and negative. This is a secondary metric and really shouldn’t be the focus of any analysis but it is helpful to see when competitors are mentioned in negative stories or the specific issues customers are reporting online.
Social Strategy Comparison: Do you know what your competitors are doing on social? Do you know the types of content they’re posting? The levels of engagement they’re receiving? You should be able to answer “yes” to these questions. Social is a fundamental part of communications in today’s media landscape so it is imperative you have a general idea of what your competitors are doing and the strategy they are pursuing. This helps set a benchmark for future comparisons and shape the ambitions of your own social strategy.
As you can see, there’s a plethora of data you can gather from social media to analyze your competitive set. It’s becoming increasingly important to have a good grasp on what your competitors are doing so you can create more impactful strategies and programs. The easiest way to do this is to have a set program that runs alongside your other media monitoring projects.
Start by identifying the questions you want to answer and the information you will need to answer them. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can build a plan to gather that information from a variety of sources and what KPI’s may be related. There are a number of social media analysis tools in today’s market, a portion which are free. Once you’ve gathered your information, you have a great benchmark to use going forward.
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