Social Sleuthing: Using Your Competitors’ Social Media to Craft New Target Profiles

Last month, our social guru Jason told you how you can learn more about your competitors based on their social media presence. Your content strategies are more or less telegraphed through your social networking activity, how you reach out to your target profiles, and how they react to you.

Unfortunately, the only way to hide from your competition is to not compete at all, but that works both ways. You can usually take a look at how your competitors use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites to get insider information on their strategies and how they attract their leads. Their content should usually relate back to their overall conversion goals, and you can spot their objectives and who their target audiences are based on their content, and the feedback they receive.

Today, I’d like to take that neat little tip one step further, and show you how to be a clever competitor. (No, this isn’t Hacking 101, sorry, wrong blog.) All that social evidence you can dig up on your competitors can be used to help you grow and succeed. They’re your competitor because their customers are your customers, right? Here’s how you can create new customer target profiles for customers, then hit them with effective marketing that pulls them back to you.

Step 1: Social Competitive Analysis

This is where a lot of the dirty, hands-on work happens, even if it isn’t nearly as dirty as you might think. Hubspot’s Jon Mehlman outlines the process pretty well in his blog post, “How to Stalk Your Competitors in Social Media (So You Can Crush Them).” The title ought to tell you exactly how effective this method is. Start by organizing your competitors by name in a spreadsheet, on paper, or in your head if you’re especially cunning.

From there, it’s time to search like mad. Find your competitors’ social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, BO.LT, Plurk, RSS, Blogger, Twylah; find your competitors anywhere and everywhere they are. Then, take note of their social vital signs:

·     the number of fans/followers/subscribers they have

·     their posting frequency (X amount of posts per day, per week, etc.)

·     the kind of content they share (As in, links to their branded websites? Links to news? Pictures? Be descriptive and observe carefully here)

·     the amount of original content against the amount of curated content from somewhere else

·     their use of various service features (are they making the best of their Facebook Timeline banner? Do they use advanced Twitter features like Favs, Retweets, or Lists? Do they use social sharing buttons on their branded website?)

·     and finally, their fan/follower engagement amount: how quickly do they respond to fans, how frequently, and how effectively?

A lot of this information is probably measured and tracked with advanced software…somewhere. Somewhere you probably don’t have access to, and shouldn’t, because that isn’t your data. You can try out free comparison apps like SimplyMeasured and their various free social media reporting tools, or subscribe to a paid monitoring service that will cough up their third-party comparisons for a fee. Or you can do what I like the most: just eyeball it and measure your competition using relative comparisons on pen and paper.

Step 2: Bringing All Your Evidence Together Into a Target Profile

The information you gather from your competitor’s social media profiles is information that tells you all sorts of things about the kind of people they’re targeting—and the kind of people you need to target too. Are your competitors actively engaging with internet socialites? Are they a relatively quiet online brand? Frequency of internet use, willingness to engage with brands, and attitudes towards brands all are key pieces of demographic information that will tell you volumes about the customers you want to target.

Your investigation also serves a secondary purpose: it should reveal opportunities your competitors may be passing up that you can take advantage of. Browse through your competition’s social networking interactions and try to sniff out any hints of highly positive or highly negative interactions. Did a customer come to your competitor’s page to chew them out for bad service? That’s a potentially lucrative new marketing angle for you: you do X, Y, and Z better than the competition. Praise can work the same way: customers that praise competition for doing a good job are identifying what they value, and what you should emphasize in your marketing to attract those customers.

Step 3: Turning That Target Profile into an Action Plan

You’ve looked at your competitor’s social engagement, and you’ve identified the kind of customers they cater to. Now it’s time to use that information for your own gain. If you find that your competition excels in one social media outlet over another, or lacks in one potentially lucrative area, you need to take advantage of those missed opportunities for yourself. If your competition posts infrequently, or they don’t respond to their customers’ interactions, you should post more frequently than the other guys, and be sure to reach out to your customers promptly and effectively.

It’s a little tough to spell out an exact plan of attack here, because every individual competitor is going to be different, and everyone’s particular situation will be unique. What I can say for sure, though, is that there are some things you can bank on if you make a genuine effort to investigate your competition:

·     You’ll begin to see your competition’s social media strengths—and their weaknesses.

·     You’ll have a better idea of the kind of customers they are marketing to—there might be a valuable market out there that you haven’t tapped into yet.

·     You’ll have more detailed insight into how your competition reaches their target audience—you might simply validate everything you’re doing as more effective than their efforts, or you might pick up some new strategies.

Use your observations and the data you gathered and compare their social vital signs to your own. Do they outperform you? Are you outperforming them? Figure out why, and formulate a plan on how you can catch up to them, or how you can increase your lead.

Most Importantly: Don’t Get Too Fixated On The Competition

There’s one thing you absolutely need to take away from this article: make sure you’re focused on yourself, not your competitor. These are all great tips on how to sneak up on and gain ground against your competition, but your marketing goals shouldn’t be to simply outperform your competition. If you’re too fixated on your competitors, their actions will eventually start to dictate your business decisions. Don’t let your competition drag you around on a short leash!

Make sure that you focus on improving your own business, not mimicking what your competition does. Watch what your competitors do online, take ideas and practices you like from them, and add those to your own bag of tricks. If you have multiple competitors, you can follow these steps and take their best practices, then fold them all into your own.

Do that enough, and do it consistently, and you’ll start pulling customers back into your camp thanks to the power of a positive social presence. For more on improving your social media presence, check out our other tips on how to improve your social networking presence.

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Andrew Glasscock is currently based in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated with a BA in English, specialized in Creative Writing, with a minor in Marketing this past May. Along with copywriting, he loves being an improv comedian, playing frisbee, and dogs.

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