You and your competition are neck-and-neck. Suddenly, you pull ahead – you just gained 25 new Twitter followers, bring you to over 1,000, while they’re still stuck in the high three digits.

But before you celebrate, ask yourself why you’re comparing the number of Twitter followers you have with the number your competitor has. What information does that reveal, really?

Competitive benchmarking is an incredibly useful method of ensuring that you are aware of where you stand in comparison to your top competitors. After all, exploring raw statistics about your social campaigns – like clicks, retweets and comments – lacks context if not held up against your competitors and industry. However, it is important to use the right metrics and insights to actually measure useful attributes – not vanity metrics.

There are dozens of fantastic social listening tools that can update you when your competitors post a new photo to Instagram, gain new Twitter followers or have a one-on-one exchange with a customer. These tools enable you to listen to and observe a wide variety of social actions and can offer useful insights into how your competitors run campaigns and what type of content they create.

However, understanding what your competition does on social media is not enough. To conduct effective competitive benchmarking, you must understand what they are saying and who they are saying it to.

The attributes of your competitor’s audience can reveal a great deal about how they are performing on social media.

For instance, rather than counting the number of Twitter followers you each have, consider leveraging social insights to determine how targeted these followers are. Do they fit the demographic and psychographic profile of your target audience? Are they aware of their need for your product? As you answer these types of questions, you’ll begin to realize that whether you have more or less followers than your competitor only scratches the surface. Those 1,000 followers you have might be all the more valuable if you realize that your competitor is not reaching a targeted audience.

Social insights can also tell you whether your competitor is speaking to an audience that is ready to purchase their product, or one that is weighing its options. By exploring your competitor’s audience’s intent to purchase, you will be able to place them along the buyer’s journey. Discovering that their audience is in the consideration stage, for instance, could help you position your content to capture a portion of these undecided future purchasers.

You can set up campaigns to capture audiences speaking directly about your competition, or those who use certain keywords related to your industry in general. Comparing yourself to a handful of top competitors, as well as industry trends, can be useful when honing your own social media marketing efforts.

So next time you’re tempted to count up Twitter followers and leave it at that, remember that digging deeper into audience insights can help you truly get ahead of the competition.