April 9, 2015

5 Simple Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge on Social Media

In On The Art of War, Sun Tzu expresses the sentiment, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

While you may think your brand has no enemies—think again. Social media is a highly competitive landscape where companies battle each other every day to win consumers over for top-of-mind glory. And while so many articles focus on how you should be paying close attention to your friends—or customers in this context—to build a strong social strategy, take Tzu’s advice and get cozier with rival brands for that ever-coveted competitive advantage. But before we can make the leap ahead to a future sparkling with ROI from the seeds of competitors’ labors, let’s get back to the basics.

Remember the Five W’s? It consists of who, what, where, when, and why. As elementary as they may seem, the Five W’s are just as useful today as they were back when you were writing book reports. So much so, that for this piece, they will serve as the basis, and guidance, for our competitive analysis across social.

WHO Are Your Competitors?

First and foremost, before you can identify who the competition is, you need to recognize your own brand. This comes with answering simple questions like:

  • What’s my service or product?
  • What’s my core demographic?
  • What’s my industry?

These simple responses will initiate the next step in the competitive analysis: finding WHO your competition is. Using your responses as qualifiers, you will search for companies that would respond similarly to your brand. The list of brands may be short or long, but in any case, don’t let the quantity distract you. Pick the brands to which you are often compared or to which you lose business. If you’re a small business, that should not deter you from seeing national brands as competitors—and vice versa. Your competitors can be classified as direct (the aforementioned), companies that compete for similar audiences as yours, or businesses with a similar content strategy (regardless of their audience/industry-type). In the grand scheme of things, no matter how large or small the company is, if you are fighting for market share, then you are clearly competitors.

WHERE Are They Active?

Now that you have a solid list of competitors, it’s time to research where they are on social. Start with the company’s website since, most often, this will be a one-stop shop with links to all social profiles and blog platforms. Once you compile a list for each competitor, visit these pages and gauge where they stand alongside your brand and others on the list. Are they on the same channels? Are they on new and emerging networks? What you want to walk away with is a clear understanding of where you fall relative to each competitor and your industry as a whole. It may not be as clear at this point to determine how each brand ranks, so you might need further analysis into these social networks. This is where the WHAT comes into play.

WHAT is Their Strategy?

Revert to your list, and visit each brand independently. Assess their presence on their social networks. You will need to dig deeper at this juncture since the main take-away will be pinpointing WHAT their social strategy entails. Unfortunately, there is no one way to identify a competitor’s true strategy without having some insider knowledge, so the best you can do is evaluate their public-facing content. Here are few things you will want to consider as you visit a competitor’s social profiles:

  • What’s their creative bandwidth? And what types of content does this include? (Copy, custom photos, designed images, infographics, videos, gifs, etc.)
  • Organic vs. paid content (Have you been served any of their ads?)
  • Are they using hashtags?
  • Are they partnering with influencers and/or other brands?
  • Are they using links? If so, to where are they directing people?

Eventually, key trends and metrics will crystalize into implied KPIs and objectives. Ultimately, all this data will expand into a strategy. Getting to know your competitor’s social strategy is the toughest part of the competitive analysis, but after having thoroughly combed through their social pages, the knowledge you gain will help you realize the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in the market.

WHEN Are They Engaging?

With all this accumulated data, identifying WHEN competitors are engaging becomes much simpler. Measuring both the time of day competitors are interacting, as well the amount they are interacting, is imperative to building your social strategy. Some things to determine in this phase are:

  • How often are they posting?
  • What is the day and time of day with the most engagement? What about the least engagement?
  • Are they playing more defensive engagement or offensive? In other words, is the brand just responding, or are they initiating the discussions?
  • How much of the engagement is lead generation/prospecting?
  • How much engagement is nurturing current clientele?

The significance of knowing a competitor’s engagement rate and frequency is to help solidify a benchmark. When the time comes to build momentum on social, creating a baseline of social activity will give you enough knowledge to make smarter decisions toward strategic resource and time allocations among your team—be it internal or outsourced.

WHY Are They Successful or Failing?

In this part of the competitive analysis, we’re highlighting one grand idea: your value proposition. The fact is there is no other way around figuring this out without learning about your competitors. Through your exploration, you will find that some brands on social are doing things really well. For some, not so much. But in either case, every competitor will display their strengths and weakness. When you are able to connect the dots and find an underlying weakness that all of these brands share, this becomes your opportunity. When your brand is able to move the needle on consumer demand and maintain agility in a dynamic market like social media, then you are working with a social strategy that offers a robust source of competitive advantage.

With the competitive analysis and Five Ws in mind, you will have the tools necessary to craft a social strategy that can withstand the competition and cut through the noise. As brand equity falls deeper into the control of today’s social consumer, we must leverage every chance to gain the control back. (That means keeping a closer eye on our competitors.) By analyzing these “enemies” and their performance, we can better optimize for a successful presence on social.

Tags: brand management, Social Media Strategy

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