Every business owner knows that no matter how long your business has been around, a key to longevity is understanding your competition. Knowing what your competition does, and how, is an important piece of not only keeping your customers and clients happy but also gaining a leg up on your competition.
Fortunately, it’s significantly easier in this day and age to research your competition than it used to be. While word of mouth, visiting, and even advertising can tell you important things about your competition these days, social media can help provide you with a wealth of information with relatively limited digging.
While there are multitudes of social media sites, today we’re going to concentrate on some of the biggest and most popular. While sites like Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Google+, or Flickr are gaining popularity (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them, not everyone has!) they aren’t necessarily sites that can provide a lot of information about your business competition.
Facebook boasts 900 million active users that comment and like content 3.2 billion times per day. A great portion of those shares and likes, and those active users, are in relation to a business. Facebook can be used to find out how your competition interacts with its users. Also very telling is if your competition chooses not to interact with their customers. This tells you if they both fail to see value.
When people “Like” your competition, do they actively participate when the “fans” makes posts? Does the business interact with them? What happens when a consumer or customer leaves a comment (positive or negative) on the Facebook page for that business? How does your competition handle their interaction?
Another very useful tidbit is researching how your competition works to engage “new” customers; they may post sales, contests, or advertise special occasions in an effort to attract visitors. Are these things you can do, or do better than your competition?
In this shot of Facebook, you can see a local microbrewery in Denver and some of their connections. They’ve interacted with me directly after asking a question.
You can also see some of their “likes” and associations, as well as recommendations from users. You can also see the business advertising events at their location. In this specific instance, the brewery is advertising that they will have food trucks/carts at their location to provide food for their guests!
A “microblogging” platform based around very short status updates, Twitter exploded in popularity in 2007. According to Twitter, they have over 500 million active users, as of April of 2012. Like Facebook, much of this activity is related to business and commerce. Visit twitter.com and use the search bar in the top right-hand corner, search for your competitor, and what do you find?
Twitter is often used to share industry-related information, and is a great way to have something about your company spread from one person to many others with relatively minimal effort. Many businesses use Twitter as a way to share information about themselves, just like Facebook. Companies may use Twitter to advertise specials and events, or post photos and share information about themselves.
It can also be a useful tool for brand awareness — by sharing industry-related information, content has the chance to get circulated broadly, with your business’ name attached. How do your competitors use Twitter? How do their followers engage with them? Could this be a successful tool for your business?
I stumbled upon a great blog from DigitalLabz.com that detailed 4 key mistakes a business can make when interacting with influencers on Twitter. It’s important to understand that while participating in social media and being interactive with followers can be a great benefit, it’s easy to slip up!
Here’s a great example of a local business. In this case, a popular restaurant in Denver is not only interacting with followers in a great way, but also cross-posting content from their Facebook page, advertising food they have available.
They also active “retweet” content, which is a simple and easy way to forward content that exists about your business. It helps to further your brand, and can serve as a great method of self-promotion.
LinkedIn is a site that, while mostly used for professionals looking to network, has also proven useful for business entities themselves. Your competition may use LinkedIn to connect with various networks and communities within your industry. It’s a great place to find out who your competition is connecting with, and what they’re talking about.
Maybe they’re learning about new technologies, discussing emerging industry trends, finding potential partners, or simply hoping to find the best and the brightest talent to bring on-board. Join LinkedIn and see what’s up with others in your industry.
In this shot of the Level 3 Communications LinkedIn page, we are presented with several opportunities to learn about our competition.
We can see some of their featured products and services, as well as people that recommend their services.
Are the people that recommend them potential clients for you, too? Who do you have acting as evangelists as your brand? Do you offer them a place to publicly offer their recommendation? Do the products and services offered match your company? Can you learn about what your competitors are doing to help you do something different?
Yelp! is a user-based review site. Primarily for service and location-based businesses, Yelp! is a perfect way to find out what users have to say about your competition. If your competition doesn’t deal directly with consumers, Yelp! probably won’t prove to be a good resource – however, if anyone in your industry does deal directly with consumers, it’s a great way to find out how they’re doing, and what people have to say about companies in your industry. You never know, there might be a way you can strengthen your brand and get a leg up!
Yelp! reviews will often detail customer service-type experiences, and will detail thoughts and opinions on products. It’s a quick and easy way to learn what your competition is doing right, and what your competition is doing wrong. Learning from Yelp! reviews and other feedback about your competition can help you position yourself to recreate their success, or pick up their lost customers.
In this shot of the Yelp! page from a local bar and restaurant near where I’m located in Denver, we see a lot of very general business information. What’s important to note here is that while the business is allowed to own a page for their business, the content that appears is still all the result of public reviews and ratings.
The qualitative information at the bottom of the red box, like “Best Nights” or “Good For Dancing” are all answered by reviews. The answers are aggregated and included here. You can also see the average of all reviews written near the top, below their name. Think about how you can use a site like Yelp to better understand how people view your competition. Can you compare that to how people view you? What are some similarities and differences? What can you learn to do better or differently based on what people say about the businesses with which you compete?
In this second screenshot, also of Boone’s Tavern, you’ll note that I wrote a review after a negative experience at the establishment. You can also see that the business reached out to me directly to address the review, and I’ve since updated my review to include relevant information about how they addressed the situation.
If you were a sports bar in the Denver area, there would be several things to learn here. Among them is that negative experiences DO happen, but the business proactively addresses them.
The establishment took very seriously any potentially negative publicity and worked quickly to address it. This particular business works hard to control their perception, to take charge and turn negatives into positives. What can you learn about your competition from this? Can you find a way to improve your own business from this?
What if they aren’t on Social Media?
Many SMBs don’t have a Social Media presence at all. If you’ve searched sites and social networks and have been unable to find your competition, then their absence is your gain. Their lack of presence could indicate many things: lack of tech savvy, no desire to interact with existing and potential consumers, or perhaps they simply aren’t aware of the importance of social media and the opportunities it allows in today’s business landscape.
But whatever it indicates, what you have learned about your competition is that they have opened the door for you to join social media (if you haven’t already) and earn the trust, respect, and business of a new branch of consumers.
It also gives you a clear path to building your brand with significantly less competition in the social arena. The inaction has presented you with a perfect opportunity to take advantage and find success for your business. Are you taking advantage?