5 ways to monitor your competition with social media

There are more ways than ever to find out what is working and not working for your competitors. Tools available to all businesses include monitoring websites for popularity using Alexa Rankings or compete.com. MSN and Google link-domain services allow you to find out who is linking to their site. Set Google alerts to industry topics, product names or anything you want to keep track of. Thinking about buying Google ads? See who is buying Google Adwords with Googspy.

Brick and mortar businesses have observed the competition for years. Tried-and-true techniques include tracking their approaches to marketing and advertising, understanding their resources and profiling employees that might be a good fit as a future hire. A walk down any business-to-business or consumer trade show aisle offers a look at their employees, their culture and how they interact with customers.

Media competitors swim, if not almost drown, keeping on top of their competition’s output every day. Typical monitoring of a broadcast competitor might include team-assigned viewing or listening, paid monitoring services, or executive offices that feature a wall of televisions – each on a different channel. As a regional magazine publisher, I subscribed to over 60 magazines each month plus scanned dozens regularly for design and content ideas to try in our market. Checking competitor page counts, looking for new advertisers or purchased scanning services are the standard in publishing.

Add social media monitoring to whatever ‘tried and true’ competitive monitoring strategy you have been using to get a verbal ingredient missing from digital analytics and time-consuming or costly techniques. You’ll uncover valuable comments of the sort you’d find from focus groups or an extensive qualitative marketing study that includes anecdotal comments.

5 ways to monitor your competition with social media:

1. Start with their website. If your competitor is using social media as part of their strategy, you’ll find recognizable icons for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn or Share buttons right on their home page. Look for their active social media real estate, but locate places where they started and stopped too. These are good indicators where they are building traffic and conversation, and where they did not see much return for their effort.

2. Use search engines. Plug in your competitor’s company name, product or their industry category. Start, but don’t limit to Google searches. Try YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, bing, Twitter. Be willing to follow the trail.

3. Follow discussion forums and blogs that turn up on search listings. Blog mentions and comments can be quite revealing, but also biased. While there is a lot to sift through, you’ll start uncovering general positive and negative themes about your competition, and maybe, about your own business too.

4. Check out their Facebook Fan Page. You are not required to ‘like’ it! What posts generate conversation? How often do they post? Check out their fan count, their tabs, how long they have had a page and applications they are using to customize their pages.

5. Discover the #Hashtag with Twitter. This is a terrific tool for uncovering real-time trends and conversations. Set searches for categories, brand names, industry news or any subject that impacts your business.

While you are looking for what they are saying about the competition, be on the lookout for what they are saying about your brand while you’re at it.
• Benchmark your own social media real estate while in this ‘monitoring zone’ so you can keep track of what is working and not working.
• Are your own customers using your physical location to check-in playing Foursquare? Who is the mayor?
• Use Insights, Facebook’s built-in analytics tool to study your fans. The latest version of Insights offers real-time analytics. Check to see which posts are generating your highest feedback or the most impressions and which pages are receiving top views.
• Review your Twitter followers and clean out the spammers who clutter the conversation for your true followers. What are they saying about you?
• Where is the social media real estate vacuum in your industry where you might create true impact and reach the right customer with a little effort? Video and photo sharing sites are ideal for demonstrating products and services or to cover engaging events. SlideShare and LinkedIn are logical choices to build your company and staff’s reputation and credibility.

Include valuable social media monitoring to learn more about your competitors, your industry and your own position. When the volume becomes overwhelming, check out CRM tools that feature social media monitoring as a capability. For now, add this powerful habit for a comprehensive competitive snapshot that won’t cost a lot of money and will be time well spent.