Shakespeare stole ideas from Christopher Marlowe and Lenny Kravitz stole from Bob Dylan who stole from Len Chandler. Coaches steal plays from each other and comedians rip-off each other's jokes.
Your turn, business owner.
Particularly if you're just getting started using social media or if you've had profiles on a few channels but haven't really devoted time and energy there, consider examining your competitors' social media strategies as you shape your own. Competitors' successes and failures provide shortcuts that will save you enormous time and effort. Not only can you copy the subjects of their most successful posts, you can learn from their mistakes. Imagine the brainwork and time you'll save!
Take the following steps to create and implement a powerful social media strategy that leverages competitor information for fast and furious results.
FIRST: Clarify Your Own Goals for Your Social Media Efforts
Scanning competitors' channels isn't going to make your social media strategy gel right before your eyes. Only when you understand the elements behind social media strategy, will everything you see on competitors social media channels make sense. Pick competitors who seem to be posting regularly and getting frequent likes, comments and shares. They have probably been using social media for longer than those who don't have these signals. This means, for Facebook and Instagram, they should be posting every day. For Twitter, the sign of a competitor experienced with social media is multiple tweets per day.
As you browse, you'll probably notice that these competitors widen their subject area. With millions for their marketing team, Red Bull is now known as an extreme sports publisher that sells energy drinks on the side. Similarly, Van Winkle's is a sleep health publisher that will get you the mattress of your dreams. By the amount and variety of content coming through on social media, it seems they exist only to make their audience's lives amazing.
Don't be fooled.
Every business's goal for ANY marketing effort is generating revenue. Red Bull and Van Winkles realize it takes many steps and much effort to see those dollars piling up on the bottom line. They're only doing what researchers tell them works: consumers need quite a bit of warming up before they slap the credit card on the counter.
This warming up includes increasing:
reach (more fans and shares),
conversions (more white paper downloads, email addresses and fans),
credibility (with impressive blog posts that lead to shares, comments, likes),
retention (with email sign ups and more fans),
strategic partners that lead to referrals and sales (building relationships on social media)
media connections (reporters find brands easily through their social media channels)
Therefore, social media goals should include increasing number of:
fans and followers
Interactions with social media influencers
white paper, infographic and ebook downloads
blog post, video, photo and other content shares
comments and business responses to those comments
fans who are complementary to the businesses
There you have it! Concrete, measurable metrics to gauge your strategy by. The next step is to take baseline measurements of all of these components. Measuring again after your strategy has been put in place for three months or more lets you know how effective your efforts were.
We Got Ahead of Ourselves for a Reason . . .
We wanted to share just why sophisticated marketers use the metrics they do. The competitors whose social channels you strive to emulate use these metrics and you should, too. With the educational part over, we want to move onto the active steps you'll take to see the hits and misses of those you're about to overtake and out-earn.
Step #1 Review Which Social Media Channels Your Competitors Use
Marketing research is telling us that the worldwide social media audience seems to be dividing itself by demographics and interests across the different channels.
Facebook: B2C companies, and everyone except the Millennials
Instagram: B2C, retail, Millennials, and teens (shoppers)
Twitter: B2B, sports, and news fans
Google +: B2B, marketers, and tech fans
LinkedIn: B2B, career seekers, corporations, other professionals
Pinterest: B2C, women (72% women; 28% men), and shoppers (Pinterest is acting as an online shopping list for many.)
Which ones your competitors use could indicate where your audience resides . . . or not. It could also indicate that your competitors don't yet realize that Instagram has been winning 40 times more engagement than Facebook and Twitter. Still, get started by reviewing which channel seems to be a competitor favorite.
Consider, too, that perhaps your competitor has only had time for one or two channels. Consumers today expect companies to have several channels. They want to be able to reach their favorite brands easily and social media provides those platforms. If a competitor hasn't quite gotten around to Instagram yet, it may be smart to go after that audience first. The more empty channels give your content more of a chance of being seen.
Step #2 Create a Quick Spreadsheet to Compare
Getting real insights requires sweat equity. This part may take a few hours, BUT it will save you headaches, time and money when you discover the social posts that resonate with your audience and those that fall flat.
Go to your three main competitor's websites and find their social media icons in the sites' headers or footers. Create a spreadsheet with the competitor and their channel along the vertical y-axis. For example, Stonyfield Organic Yogurt may consider its biggest competitors to be Oikos and Chobani. Down the y axis, Stonyfield would write:
. . . and so on.
At the top of the X or horizontal axis, create columns for:
number of followers
posts per week,
type of post: tally the types: how many memes, non-native article shares, blog post announcement, p.r., photo of the business, announcement, etc.
style of post: tally the number of educational, entertaining, informational, promotional and contest posts
post with most likes (single post)
post with most shares (single post)
post with most comments (single post)
average engagement for meme post
avg engagement for blog post announcement
avg engagement for photos
avg engagement for video
avg engagement for non-native article share
average engagement for educational post
avg engagement for entertaining post
avg engagement for informational post
avg engagement for promotional post
avg engagement for contest post
We encourage you (or an employee) to do look through one entire month of your competitors' posts and then write down what you find. One month will avoid data overload. Just scrolling through to "get an idea" of what a competitor is doing may work for today, but you won't have the data to return to month after month, nor will you be able to back up your social media strategy ideas to a boss, a business partner or even your employees.
Step #3 Consider Using Free and Paid Analytics Tools to Explore Competitors
If our idea of creating your own spreadsheet above gives you the willies, you can use some free tools and Facebook and Twitter's competitor analytics to get some numbers behind your competitors' actions. You WON'T, however, get to see every post, a step we think is indispensable.
For Facebook, use the "Pages to Watch" section of your admin panel and add your competitor's Facebook pages. A similar tool exists on Twitter. Twitter Counter displays competitors' follower growth for three months.
Free trials provide great insights as well. Typically, SaaS companies will give you two weeks to explore their tools, lots of time to get as much as you need on competitors, IF you dedicate time to this task.
Social media analytic company Simply Measured's Facebook Competitive Analysis Report lets you measure the success of each of your competitors' posts. Displaying the likes, comments and shares of 10 competing Facebook pages starts to give you an idea of what type and style of content competitors' audiences respond to most. Simply Measured also throws in an overview of which brands have the best overall engagement. They create similar tools to analyze competitors' efforts on Instagram, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Vine. While these save you the time it takes scrolling through competitors' pages, you will need to spend time figuring out their tool and interpreting the data as well.
These free tools will help to guide you in creating your fledgling social media strategy. After you've finished developing your strategy and put it in place is not the end of your journey - be sure to revisit your strategy and its successes and failures, and be sure to learn from both. Continue to study competitors and compare their results to your own. What can you tweak to become more competitive? Staying informed is one of the best tools to have an up to date and competitive social media strategy for your company.