How to Do Competitive Research with Social Media Listening
Social media offers brands an unprecedented level of access to information about competitors’ strategy and campaign performance. Social media listening helps you easily mine this data, uncovering what your target audience truly cares about and helping you gather competitive intel on how your competitors are approaching that target audience, and how those approaches are performing.
How to Reach Your Target Audience on Social
With listening, you can find both chinks in your competitors’ armor and inspiration for ways to generate conversation around your own brands, and you can snatch share-of-voice from those racing alongside you. Here’s a clear framework for beginning the competitive research process with social media listening.
Step 1: Create Your High-Level Baseline
Let’s start with a high-level baseline check. We’ll use the Oscars Best Actress category as an example throughout this post. This category includes social data from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and the web around the Oscar nominees for Best Actress (including all relevant handles and keywords).
Here are the areas you’ll want to consider when doing your baseline check.
By seeing you vs. your competitors side by side, you’ll be able to clearly define what your share of voice is in your category, and set goals to grow this share of voice (more on that later). Some definitions to help here:
Volume: This is how many mentions of your brand (including your handles, brand name, and associated hashtags) have been made in the given time period.
Share of Voice: This metric tells you what percentage of the conversation your brand owns—i.e., what percentage of mentions are about you vs. your competitors.
Positive Mentions: How do your positive mentions stack up vs. your competitors’ positive mentions? How is this correlated to campaigns, launches, or press for your brand and your competitors in the given time period?
Negative Mentions: This metric is perhaps even more important, because a spike in negative mentions for your competitors means a possible opportunity for your brand.
Engagement: What’s the total engagement on your competitors’ owned accounts? It’s even more interesting to look at this data for specific time periods, and compare your biggest successes to theirs. What are the commonalities? How can you move the needle even more for your brand? Likes, replies, and shares make up this engagement number.
Shares & Replies: I’m highlighting these because they indicate a depth of engagement that matters. You might have more total engagement than your competitors (Congrats! You have good content!), but is it important to incite your audience to engage to its fullest potential, replying and amplifying (Congrats! You have great content!).
Potential Impressions: How many times have people been exposed to your social content vs. your competitors’ social content? This is a great brand awareness metric to keep in mind as you’re conducting your competitive research.
Step 2: Outline Their Strengths
It’s time for a good old-fashioned list, folks. Open a Google doc or Word doc or Evernote or that ancient writing medium, a notebook and pen, and outline the biggest strengths of your competitors. Which topics, audiences, and channels that you would like to be more prominent in are they finding successful?
You can also include content like:
- Your competitors’ top five campaigns of the previous year, and why they worked
- Your competitors’ top five posts of the previous year, and why they worked
- If you had to compare your brand perception to theirs in one sentence, what would it be?
Well done. You’ve officially begun your competitive audit. Next step: write out how you map against these strengths. Where do your strengths overlap? Where do your competitors outmatch you?
Finally, brainstorm ideas for doubling down on the strengths you and your competitors have in common, and filling the gaps where you might not be faring as well.
Step 3: And Their Weaknesses
Where are your competitors weak? This information will automatically come through as you run the strengths analysis above. This will help you put together your competitive strategy, both on an immediate and a long-term basis. In this phase, you’ll want to answer questions like:
- What are topics within our area that our competitors (and maybe our own brand) are not leveraging to full capacity? How can we incorporate these topics in our strategy and reach a wider audience?
- What negative feedback do our competitors receive on social? How can we incorporate this into future campaigns/content by either highlighting these negative qualities in our competitors or showing how we shine in these areas?
- Which campaigns and/or posts were the biggest flops, and why? Put those critical thinking skills to work.
Step 4: Do Something About It
The problem with so much social data is: what do you do with it? Don’t let your analysis go to waste. Do these five things now:
- Tweak Campaigns Accordingly: Audit current and upcoming campaigns to reflect what you’ve learned about your competitors and your target audience from competitive research. You might even change and/or add to your events schedule, based on what you’ve found.
- Share with the Rest of Your Org: This information is not just relevant to you. The rest of your organization needs to know this information about your competitors and how you’re performing against them. It could change the course of your business. And it’ll make you look gooooood. It will also be important to expose the rest of your organization to this information so they understand why you’re modifying campaigns and building a fresh set of goals:
- Set Competitive Goals: Now that you have a baseline backed with data, what will your competitive goals be? Do you need to change your already established goals? For example, “Reach 50% share-of-voice in our category by EOQ,” or “Increase our potential impressions by 30% by EOY.”
- Track Progress and Listen Regularly: Data or it didn’t happen. Continue this process on a regular basis so you know the latest and greatest happening in your field…and so you can stay one step ahead of competitors.
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I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.