Engaging with your company’s customers on social media is a “must do” for small businesses. Not only do popular social sites give you unprecedented access to your target buyers, there’s some evidence to suggest that the amount of engagement you’re able to drive on these sites contributes to the overall SEO performance of your site.
But, of course, it’s one thing to say that social media marketing is important – it’s another thing entirely to put it into practice!
If you’re finding yourself struggling to determine how and when to engage on social networks, you might find it helpful to conduct a competitive analysis. Essentially, this type of evaluation involves monitoring the activities of your competitors on social sites in order to:
- Come up with a plan for your own social media marketing efforts
- Identify opportunities that your competitors aren’t utilizing (giving your own brand areas in which to claim a competitive advantage)
- Gauge your market’s current adoption and engagement level on different social sites
Here’s how to get started with this powerful type of analysis:
Step #1 – Define your competitors
Unsurprisingly, if you want to conduct a competitive analysis, you’ve got to know who your competitors are in the first place!
In some cases, this will be easy. If you run a local business with a single “brick and mortar” location, the only other businesses who will be competing for the same customers are similar companies in your geographic area.
But if your business runs online and serves a global audience, defining a list of your competitors may be more challenging. Suppose you run a website that sells jewelry. Not only are you competing against other online jewelry sellers – you’re also fighting for business against big box retailers like Target or JCPenney and artisan portal sites like Etsy.
No matter how wide-reaching your competitors may be, do your best to keep things simple. Choose the top 10 brands, businesses or websites that stand to draw away your own target customers and use them to create a spreadsheet that will track the information gathered in Step #2.
Step #2 – Determine metrics to track
Now that you have your list of competitors, try to find any active social profiles that they maintain. In particular, search for their profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest, but also take note of any active presences on lesser-known or niche social sites that you see referenced.
Dig deeper into these profiles to get a feel for how each competitor is engaging with its audience. A few of the specific types of information you might want to track include:
- Profile metrics
- Number of followers
- Average number of posts per week
- Number of “Likes,” shares or retweets each post receives
- Content metrics
- Type of content shared
- Social network services used (for example, “Does the brand utilize Google+ hangouts?”)
- Number of comments left on profile updates
- “Personality” metrics
- Tone of profile updates
- Types of issues addressed on profile
- Responsiveness to follower interactions
The specific types of metrics you’ll want to track should be determined by the goals you have for your social media marketing efforts. As an example, if you’re using your social profiles to build awareness for your brand, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the number of followers your competitors have – as your results are likely to mimic theirs.
Step #3 – Analyze your results
After you’ve gone through each of your competitors’ social profiles and tracked the information that’s most important to your business, it’s time to draw some conclusions based on the data you’ve collected.
Ask yourself the following questions in order to wrap up your competitive analysis:
- On which social networking websites are my competitors most active?
- How frequently are my competitors posting to their social profiles?
- How many social followers do my competitors have on average?
- Which types of content and/or status updates generate the most interest on my competitors’ profiles?
- What opportunities exist to differentiate my brand from my competitors’?
Use the results of this critical analysis to develop a social media marketing plan that increases your odds of reaching and connecting with your target customers, while also setting your company apart from others in your market.
For example, if you find that your competitors tend to be more active on some social media sites than others, you could reach two possible conclusions from this information. Either your competitors have tested other social networks and found them to be ill-suited to their marketing efforts or you’ve uncovered a potential opportunity to reach your target customers in the absence of competitive noise.
If you see that your competitors tend to only update their profiles once a day on average, you could decide to try this rate for yourself or to post more frequently in order to edge out the other brands in your space.
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of guesswork that goes into analyzing the results of your competitive data and setting your own social media marketing objectives. Unfortunately, this occurs because there’s no “one size fits all” plan that will give you the ideal marketing plan for your unique business and target customers.
However, the data you generate through this type of competitive analysis can still provide you with a useful set of benchmarks and jumping off points. By being informed as to how your competitors are engaging online, you can make decisions for your own business that are based on real world information – not on arbitrary recommendations.
Use the information you generate via competitor discovery to plan your own social media marketing strategy, but don’t forget to periodically assess the results of your promotional efforts and those of your competitors. The best social media results come from ongoing assessment and campaign tweaks, so be diligent in collecting this type of data and using it to shape the future of your social outreach activities.