There’s a lot to learn from your competition—from what they’re doing well to what they’re not and everything in-between. We’ve created this guide to help you perform a social media competitive analysis that lets you better understand the organizations you’re going toe-to-toe with.
It is by no means scientific—doing so would involve gathering, analyzing, and interpreting thousands of data points and that’s not a realistic endeavor for most entrepreneurs or their budgets. But it will provide a clear picture of what’s happening on social media and help shape your strategy into a winning one.
So, what is a competitive analysis?
According to Entrepreneur, it’s “Identifying your competitors and evaluating their strategies to determine their strengths and weaknesses relative to those of your own product or service.”
In the context of social media, it’s a little bit different—it’s looking at your competitors’ social accounts and activity, as well as getting a better understanding of what the social media landscape looks like in your industry.
How do you conduct a competitive analysis?
To understand your competitors and know what they’re up to on social, you’ll need to know who they are, gather intelligence on them, and break that data down into something you can understand—all of which we’ll explore in this guide. We’ll also point you towards some very effective online tools that make doing all of this infinitely easier.
Find out who your competitors are
For some businesses, identifying the competition is a no-brainer. For others, there may be some work involved, especially if your business isn’t localized and offers products or services online or internationally. Nevertheless, doing this now—and doing it properly—puts you in a good place. Here are a few steps you can take:
Google is your friend—search for keywords and phrases that you want to rank for. For example, different terms like “Cajun restaurants in Tacoma,” “spicy food in Sea-Tac,” and “best Jambalaya in town” will likely show you the purveyors of these Southern delicacies in the Pacific Northwest.
If your organization is a little more decentralized, use the search terms that best describe your business and see what comes up. Think “cheap car parts” or “best takeout”—it’s not as geographically specific, but it’s where your competitors are.
Know who your audience follows
Look at who your audience is following on social media. See any brands like yours? Write them down.
Choose your foes
Once you’ve accumulated a pool of potential competitors, cull the list into something a bit more manageable. Choose three to five strong competitors to benchmark against. Any more than that and you’ll be dealing with more information than you’ll know what to do with. Any fewer and you won’t have enough data to paint an accurate picture.
Now that you’ve identified your primary competitors, get to know them better. Here are several metrics you’ll want to make note of.
What social networks are they on?
Some organizations are only present on Facebook or Twitter. Others will be active on every social network. It all depends on the brand, their objectives, and which platforms they’ve experienced the most traction with.
Make a list of which competitors are on which social networks. Also note if any of those networks aren’t being used or updated.
How big is their following (and how quickly is it growing?)
Make a note of how many followers your competitors have on each network. Then check how many they have the next week. And then the week after that. Is the number of followers trending up or down? And how quickly?
How often do they post?
Make a record of how often your competitors post to their various social networks. You’ll probably find that some post a lot, others not enough. Note which networks they’re posting on with the most and least frequency. Use this data to help you determine how often you should be posting to your networks.
What are their engagement numbers like?
How many likes are they getting on their posts? How many retweets or shares? Comments? These metrics are extremely important because they demonstrate how successful their social presence is. You don’t have to tally these metrics manually. There are a number of powerful online tools that will do it for you—scroll down to learn more about them.
— Hootsuite (@hootsuite) November 28, 2016
Conduct a SWOT analysis
The SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is the cornerstone of any successful business strategy—and it’s more relevant than ever in the realm of social media.
To keep your information neat and organized, we recommend creating a spreadsheet and plotting the SWOT data within it. That will make the data easier to cross-reference at a glance and present to others.
Strengths to look for
What do your competitors do well on social? Maybe they’re great at finding relevant content in a timely way. Maybe they’re good at promoting their business in a non-intrusive way. Maybe they’ve found new and interesting ways to use social. Maybe they’re just straight up clever. In addition to providing you with important competitive data, your competitors can be a great source of inspiration for your brand.
Weaknesses to look for
Where do they fall short? Inconsistent posts? Spelling mistakes? Bad customer service? Inactive social presence? Overly promotional? Whatever it is they suck at—make note of it.
Opportunities that may be present
Now that you have a general understanding of your competitors and what they’re both good and bad at, think about any opportunities that may have been revealed. Perhaps their response time in social is really slow (or non-existent). That presents a huge opportunity that isn’t being met by the current market.
Threats that competitors may present
What could go wrong? It could be anything from spoof accounts to disgruntled customers. It’s important to be acutely aware of any threats that may become a reality, and put a plan in place for dealing with them.
Competitive analysis tools
Trying to gather and interpret all of these important data points on your own is a bit of a fool’s errand—you’ll spend a whole lot of time getting not a whole lot done. Luckily, there are ways to avoid doing that kind of heavy lifting.
BuzzSumo lets you measure the amount of social shares competitor content receives. It’s a lifesaver in the saving-time-and-effort department while you’re gathering intelligence.
Set up streams in Hootsuite to follow your competitors’ Twitter activity—not to mention look for specific keywords and hashtags—in real time. This not only lets you see what the competition is up to, but how their customers perceive them.
Learn how to get even more out of Hootsuite with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.
Brandwatch is a robust social monitoring tool that provides deep consumer insights on your product category, competitor content, and more. Best of all, Brandwatch integrates with the Hootsuite dashboard, so you get the data up front and center.
Pro tips and best practices for conducting competitive analysis on social
You didn’t think we’d send you off without a few nuggets of wisdom that come from nearly a decade of slaying social, did you?
Inspiration, not duplication
Your competitors will do some things well—really well. But there are a myriad of small, immeasurable factors that go into making a social media presence successful. And what works for them may not work for you. Avoid copying what others have done and instead try to understand the “why” of competitor success.
Leave your biases at the door
It will be easy to start forming a narrative about what the data is telling you early in your research. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions because they’re almost certainly wrong. After all, the dropping divorce rate in Maine is nearly identical to the per capita consumption of margarine over the same period—but it would be absurd to assume they are connected. Instead, seek to understand what’s happening, why some organizations are successful, why others are not, and where you fit into that equation.
Look for outlier activity
It’s said that fortune favors the bold. Are any of your competitors doing something unique or unconventional? Running a type of campaign or contest that no one else is? Taking a different approach to engagement? If so, how is it performing? How are customers reacting? Make note of and pay attention to anything original that’s happening in your industry.
Find the gaps
Successful organizations are ones that answer needs that haven’t been met yet. Using social media is no different. Look for places your competitors are lacking in social—maybe their customer service is a bit on the slow side. Or maybe they’re missing some pretty important information on their social profiles. Anything they lack is a chance for you to do it better and give your brand an edge.
You’re going to be accumulating and analyzing a lot of data. The only way to make sense of it all is to keep it as organized as possible. Everyone has different methods that work for them, but we recommend a spreadsheet to plot that data into neat, cross-referenceable cells that are easy to read.
Keep at it
Like anything else, establishing a successful social media presence takes time and effort—a competitive analysis is one part of that. Popular and effective social media presences are the result of years of strong strategy, consistent analysis, ruthless optimization, and thoughtful engagement. In short, it doesn’t happen overnight and demands more than a fleeting thought. But it’s worth every second you put into it.
A social media competitive analysis is by no means a silver bullet or a guarantee to success in social. But it is the most effective way to get a strong understanding of the pie you’re fighting for a bigger piece of, and give you a competitive advantage by providing you with the insight and information you need to create a winning social media strategy.
Whether you’re conducting a social media competitive analysis or taking action on insights, Hootsuite can help.