Nowadays, everyone who’s anyone has at least one form of social media with the purpose of promoting their business. Most people probably have at least three, in fact -- and these are great places to start. Now, you won’t learn any trade secrets here (unless your competitors are Tweeting them, in which case, uh, lucky you?) but you will at least be keeping up with the news in your particular industry. It’s easy enough to set up a private Twitter list, but if you want more robust features, there are a whole host of social listening tools out there that will not only monitor for what your competition posts, but also any posts that mention them. As a bonus, most of those tools will work for mentions of you and your company too -- a time saving multitasker.
Cast a Wide Net
Now that you’re watching everything your competition Tweets about, posts to Facebook, or shows on their Instagram page, that’s it, right? Hardly. In fact, you can and should adapt this same automated monitoring technique for the entire searchable Internet. If it sounds daunting, don’t worry -- setting up a Google Alert is painless, and once it’s done, you’ll know when they get mentioned online. The only caveat is that Google Alerts can sometimes miss mentions, so if you notice that happening, you may want to find a more robust monitoring tool. (P.S. At the very least, you should set up a Google Alert for your brand. If you only do one thing after you read this blog, make that it.)
Monitor Their Marketing
Go ahead, subscribe to their email list! You might cringe at the idea of being another viewer statistic on their ads, but remember, you’re not looking to buy -- you’re looking to see what’s working and what’s not. Look at how they talk to their customers; is their tone casual or formal? Are the emails short and sweet, or novel-length masterpieces? Try out different tactics with your own marketing efforts, taking inspiration from your competition, and don’t forget to record your results so you know what works best. (Another pro tip -- use a smart filtering and folder system to keep these emails out of your inbox, so they aren’t popping up and driving you nuts every time your competitor hits “send”. Of course, there are tools out there that will make this process even easier, but what beats “free”?)
Putting it all together, then, you have almost everything you need to put together a clear picture of your competitors: You can quickly see what they’re saying about themselves, what others are saying about them, any new mentions, and any upcoming deals or promotions. Once you’ve got all this information, keeping good records will let you look back and analyze -- for example: did that last email campaign they ran work well, or are they sending out bigger and bigger discount offers? Sounds like they need to move that stock fast. That new product they just launched; are people singing its praises on social media, or has someone taken to their blog and written a diatribe about why you should avoid it forever? You get the idea.
Here’s the real key, though: you have to automate these monitoring processes, or you could find yourself obsessively checking out your competition’s website and digital presence at the expense of your own. We’ve given you some ideas on how to do that, but of course, there’s a specialized tool for everything. If you take a look at what’s out there and you’re still not sure how to do it, of course, we’re always right here!