Have you ever wondered why your competitors have bigger audiences, more engagement, and what seems like a more successful social media strategy? If so, then a little competitor research may do your strategy planning some good. Here are 10 ways you can gain insights from your competitors.

Which networks do competitors use?

When pursuing a social media strategy, you have to decide which social network or networks to use. This is a question that can best be answered by your competitors.

First, search your competitors by name. On the first two pages of search results, you will find the top social networks where your competitors have profiles. Second, compare yourself and your competitors on Rival IQ. This tool allows you to see the social networks on which your competitors have a following. Alternatively, create a spreadsheet and record your competitor's fan and follower counts on each profile.

The social networks most businesses use are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. While you may be tempted to try all of these at the start of your social media campaign, you may discover none of your competitors use Pinterest or Instagram. Or you may discover your competitors have profiles on those networks, but no followers.

The latter says you could be the first to be successful on those networks, or that those networks are just not a good fit for your business. Therefore, start with the sure bets and try the long shots down the road.

To remove the element of “social media overwhelm,” start with a network that is proven best for your industry. Once you have built a solid strategy there, move on to the next social network. By that point, you will be a natural at the first network and able to utilize that audience to build the next.

How do competitors position themselves?

Do you have trouble coming up with a great bio for your social profiles or elevator pitches for your business? If so, find out how your competitors position themselves on social media. You can use competitor research tools for this as well, or just visit each of your competitor's profiles for inspiration. These bios give you an idea of how you can position yourself on each network in order to be attractive to your target audiences.

What types of visuals do competitors use?

There are two primary pieces of visual content every business needs to create a great social media profile: cover photos and profile photos. You can't use a tool to analyze these, so you will have to visit each of your competitor's profiles to see what they use for both on specific networks.

You may find that some competitors use different images for specific networks, while others have a consistent brand across all networks. Note whether or not they use people in their photos, or graphics instead of photos. Either way, you should find some great inspiration for your own business's visual content.

How often do competitors post?

If you’re wondering how active you should be on specific social networks, consult competitive research. A competitor research tool can come in handy for this as you don't necessarily want to count the number of updates your competitors post.

Of course, this isn't all you need to know when it comes to social activity. You should also take a peek at the engagement your competitors receive on each social network. Analyze the number of posts and engagement to see where competitors post and receive the most (or least) audience response. There's no sense in publishing 50 tweets a day if you get more engagement from one post on Instagram.

What do competitors post?

Get inspiration for the type of posts you should publish on each social network by analyzing competitors’ top content specific to that platform. This analysis can help determine whether you should post photos or videos, when you should post them, and the type of captions you should include with the posts for best engagement opportunities. Using these posts as inspiration, you can come up with unique ideas for your business that will fit well with the social media network you focus on. For more ideas, check Moz’s Social Media Best Practices.

What trends do competitors talk about?

If you're not monitoring your competitor's latest social media and blog content, you may miss out on major industry news that everyone is covering except for you. Alternatively, you may catch some news that your competitors miss, making you the first to cover it.

Keep close tabs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the company blog. Add your competitors to a Twitter list, Facebook interest lists, YouTube subscriptions, and Feedly RSS reader to keep up to date with all of their latest updates.

Note that if you keep your Twitter and Facebook lists private, competitors won't know you've added them. No one will know you have subscribed to a blog on Feedly either. Competitors can see you as a subscriber on YouTube, so you should not do it with your business YouTube channel.

What do people say about competitors?

Knowing what people say about your competitors can give you a feel for the type of engagement you will receive through social media. For example, do people ask your competitors sales questions and support questions? Do people talk positively or negatively about the industry to them?

Tools like Mention can help you track conversations about your competitors on blogs and social media. You may even be able to identify a few ways you can tailor your products and services to fill in areas your competitors products and services miss. Overall, it should prepare you for the type of conversations you may run into for your business on social media and give you ideas for how to handle them.

What social plugins do competitors use?

Social media isn't just happening on social networks. It's happening on your competitor's websites as well. BuiltWith is a free search engine you can use to determine what social plugins and tools your competitors use on their website. Just search for your competitor's domains for the following insights:

  • Type of social advertising your competitors
  • Social analytics
  • Social sharing buttons

You may also see social media login platforms or other social media plugins. Be sure to research each to see why your competitors use them and what benefit they could get from them.

What groups do competitors join?

Do you know the key people who work for your competitors? If so, you can do a little research on Facebook to find the groups in which they participate. Just do a search for groups that specific people join.

This list will include most of the groups the person belongs to that you may be able to join as well. You can do similar research on LinkedIn by going to the person's profile and looking to see if they have their groups listed.

You may be limited in your research on this network simply because some of your competitor's key people are not in your network. Also note that many LinkedIn users can see who visited their profiles.

Once you find groups to join, you can watch your competitor's activity in those groups or just start posting. You will likely find that the group contains either great advice from colleagues or great customers to connect with. Either way, you will likely gain value from these groups, and make sure your business is equally represented when related comments and questions come up.

Where do competitors publish content?

Some may consider this more content strategy than social media, but the truth is, you can grow your social media following exponentially by contributing to popular blogs and online publications. So finding out where your competitors publish content beyond their own websites can help you find new audiences for your own business.

There are two ways to do this. First, find out the names of people who blog for your competitors. Search for their names on Google in quotes and you will likely see where they blog.

Then set up Google Alerts for their names. You will be alerted to new blog posts they publish on other publications. Alternatively, you can use tools like Monitor Backlinks for alerts to new backlinks that your competitors have attained for their website. Amongst these, you'll find guest posts they have published on other websites and even new social networks they joined.

Your goal from this point would be to generate some great content that you can publish on the same and similar sites. This way, you get more exposure for your business and give other blog audiences more choices beside your competition.

Final Thoughts

You don't have to start social media from scratch. You can always rely on examples from your industry to get the inspiration you need to create a successful social media campaign for your business. With these insights, shape your social media strategy; over time, as you measure your success and create valuable posts, your company will become the newest benchmark for your industry.

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