Social media is great for getting messages out, and it’s free. That makes it attractive for your company to use. That also makes it attractive for your competitors to use. And if your competitors are going to use it, well, it would be rude not to pay attention. You might learn something along the way, too.
We talk a lot about how to use social media to connect with your own customers, but here are a few ways to use social media in stealth mode, checking out what your competiotrs are doing. While there are some great paid tools (a few of which we use here at SMC), you can listen with free tools as well. Here’s a useful list of them.
1. Your Competitor’s Owned Media: The most obvious thing to do is to monitor what your competitors are doing on their owned media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al. All companies that are any good will be broadcasting lots of information over these platforms, and it’s there for the taking. In general, this information is not going to include anything terribly secretive, but it can be very useful for building up your dossier on each competitor — who works there, who likes them, and what they are telling the market.
2. Your Competitor’s Earned Media: Where are your competitors being talked about? Something as simple as Google Alerts or Twitter search can help you pick up information about your competitors that they may not want released. For a deeper dive, paid tools like Sprout Social or Radian6 can eavesdrop on conversations across multiple platforms.
3. Your Competitor’s Paid Media: What Keywords are they buying? Where are they running ads? While this is an inexact science, Google Alerts and simply searching for hypothesized keywords can get you a partial picture very quickly.
4. LinkedIn Groups: This is trickier, but can yield useful information. Join the relevant groups for your industry and see what the competition says. Just make sure that your answers in the group don’t give away too much.
5. LinkedIn Employees: Some people are not very clever about how they share information in public. If you were to connect with a competing sales rep on LinkedIn, and his privacy was not locked down as tight as possible, you could see (a) all his existing connections and (b) all his new connections as they come in. Those connections might very likely constitute the majority of his pipeline. Knowing who your competitors have pitched, are pitching and might pitch is very useful information. Equally, connecting with your clients is a good idea. If your competitors come up as new connections of your clients, you will want to know.
All this does a great job of generating data, which is not the same thing as knowledge. Knowledge requires synthesis, analysis, and rigor. Generating this data is a great start though.
CI is a valuable tool in a market that’s getting more competitive and global (and that’s just about every market these days). There are some good firms if you’re interested in working with professionals, but you can get a good start on your own.
Adrian Blake is not worried about what other people say about him.