When trying to make impactful and lasting changes to your organization’s social media presence, it can be challenging to decide where to start. While it is imperative to periodically assess your own footprint and evaluate from within, don’t stay there too long. If you don’t take the time to look beyond your mirror, you’ll miss out on the valuable (and free!) information you could learn from examining the performance of your peers.
Although this process can be relatively time consuming, it provides invaluable insights. However, just scrolling through competitors’ Twitter feeds doesn’t cut it.
Here are some tips for how you can take a targeted, insightful look at your competition:
Identify your peer competitors
Develop a list of five to 10 competitors to form your “audit list.” Include known competitors as well as “aspirational competitors.” These might be firms that have a larger marketing budget than yours or firms that you generally respect for their thought leadership or social media and marketing strategies. It’s also worth determining if there are other competitors that aren’t top of mind that you should be paying attention to. For example, who shows up on LinkedIn on your “People also viewed” panel on the right side of your company profile? Who appears in the “Companies to Track” section on LinkedIn analytics? Who comes up in online conversations about your industry? If you do a quick Google News search of your most common products and/or services, what names regularly show up in the news? If a spokesperson at your firm is quoted in an article, who are the other people/firms quoted?
Identify key factors to assess for each company
Don’t dive into this exercise without clearly defining what you are looking for. Suggestions:
- What social media platforms are they on?
- How many followers do they have on each platform?
- How often do they post? Consider looking at the last three complete months, count posts for each month and calculate the average. If you are looking at promoting a specific product or service, you could narrow down your competitive assessment to posts specific to that topic.
- To what extent do users engage with the platforms? Look at likes, comments, @ mentions and shares of content.
- How do your competitors promote their social media platforms on their website, marketing materials and other communications?
- Who is the intended audience of each platform? For example, do they leverage LinkedIn primarily for prospective employees and Twitter for prospective customers?
Content and Style:
- What content are they sharing? How does their social media content strategy seem to align with their overall brand? Is this consistent across all social platforms?
- How often do they retweet/share content versus post original content?
- What is their overall style or tone of voice? Again, how does this support their overall brand image?
- Do they elevate a spokesperson? Is this person active on social media via his or her own social platform? If so, how does the brand interact with the individual spokesperson?
- What kinds of images do they share with their posts?
- Can you identify any social media campaigns or consistently used hashtags?
- Are there unique features or innovative ways you see your competitors using social media?
- Do they use a service such as MailChimp to push out content?
- On LinkedIn, do they have showcase pages, affiliated companies, a Life Section and/or a Discussion Group?
Once you’ve gathered extensive notes and observations on your competitors—perhaps an Excel sheet impressively full of stats…what do you do with all of it?
First, look for overall trends. Using the quantitative data you’ve aggregated (number of followers, frequency of posts, etc.) create tables and graphs in Excel or Tableau. Consider the following questions to guide your assessment:
- What seems to be the industry standard in each of the categories you assessed? Calculating averages and highlighting any obvious patterns will help you determine this.
- Are there any noticeable shooting or falling stars? Are any of your competitors performing particularly well or poorly in a certain area?
- Are there any companies that buck the trends you observed? An example of this could be a competitor receiving surprisingly high levels of engagement despite having fewer followers than others or on the flip side, having a huge following but rarely garnering engagement.
Next, try to ascertain if certain social media behaviors seem to translate to more followers and/or engagement. Start with identifying what the leaders in these categories do that no one else does. Expand this to probe other specific behaviors and potential effects, such as:
- Do the companies with consistent branding and intended audiences across platforms also have consistent levels of followers?
- Do the companies that frequently post with images garner high levels of engagement?
Finally, it’s time to shift your focus inward again—now with more perspective to evaluate how your firm stacks up against your peers. Where do you shine and where do you need work? Getting out of your own head can help—if you were an outside consultant evaluating the data you gathered, what changes would you recommend to your company?
The most important requirement to complete this deep dive (besides access to the social media platforms) is the willingness to stop looking in the mirror- at least long enough to acknowledge that you can learn a great deal from your competitors!