Social media is a part of modern life and for any business owner, it should be a daily activity to check on – and post to – your company accounts.
I’ve talked before about the importance of social media analytics, not only for your conversion rates but also because tracking the right social media KPIs can help you understand how your potential client base behaves.
But the same information can also be used to get social intelligence about your industry, marketplace, and competitors. Any marketer worth their salt knows that keeping an eye on the opposition is just as important as what you’re doing with your own strategy.
Having a competitive marketplace is good for all. It encourages brands to constantly strive to meet the needs of consumers better than their competitors and it means consumers are able to choose from a variety of sources for their products and services.
However, finding the information so you can be ahead of the game isn’t an easy task and success in any industry means you need a thorough understanding of the competitive forces and consumer trends fueling the landscape.
Your marketing department is not responsible for gathering this information, you all are. Every employee can contribute to gaining an understanding of the market landscape – and applying those learnings to their role, from sales to customer service to products – is one method in which your business can excel.
This is where social listening and competitive intelligence come into play. Both involve collecting and analysing, information about the marketplace your organisation operates in and the other companies competing within it.
According to Investopedia, competitive intelligence is: “The act of collecting and analysing actionable information about competitors and the marketplace to form a business strategy. Its aim is to learn everything there is to know about the competitive environment outside your business to make the best possible decisions about how to run it.”
What this means is quite simple – learning everything there is to know about the competitive environment outside your own business so you can make informed decisions on how to run it effectively – and ethically.
You need to be able to gather information quickly while staying within the rules and guidelines of business practice, no corporate espionage here, please!
It needs to be all-encompassing and must take advantage of all sources available. Social listening involves monitoring – either manually or, more likely, through the use of a tool like Mention – online conversations on social media which relate to your brand, marketplace, product or service.
Competitive intelligence also differs according to the subject so, for a sales rep, their CI could include tactical information on how to bid for lucrative contracts against competitors. To an executive or someone in management, it could mean how they gain marketing insights to gain market share against competitors.
But whatever the focus group, the ultimate aim of CI is to help make better decisions and enhance the organization’s performance by identifying – and acting upon – both risks and opportunities.
More Than Just The Competition
An effective competitive intelligence strategy will use a mix of industry analysis, rival positions, and market insight to work out how to deal with disruptive trends or a fast-paced marketspace.
As the Harvard Business Review’s Benjamin Gilad states: “The essence of the competitive intelligence perspective is the view of the competitive set as a whole. It means identifying risks and opportunities early enough to allow the company to adapt its strategy or in extreme cases, change it.”
He adds: “Used properly, CI leads to greater strategic agility — the ability to adapt to changing market circumstances. To become more agile, start by rethinking your competitive intelligence process.
“That means having a clear definition of scope and role, as well as following a few simple steps — such as mandating intelligence reviews at critical decision stages, ensuring the CI analyst has direct access to and input into strategic meetings and reviews, and smartly tapping an informal internal community of practice.”
Common Mistakes To Avoid
There are a few ways businesses can get it wrong with how they use social media posting intelligence. The prime one is that they don’t do it often enough. Competitive intelligence gathering shouldn’t happen once a year, or even once a quarter. It should be done daily.
Real-time analytics are crucial to any strategy which involves building up competitive intelligence and using social listening. Ellie Mirman, CMO at Crayon, uses a brilliant example of a company failing to use CI properly in an article on Entrepreneur when she refers to Blockbuster’s inability to recognise the threat of online streaming company Netflix when it first appeared on the scene.
She writes: “Blockbuster failed to recognize the growing threat that was Netflix and the changing tide in the world of on-demand entertainment. It wasn’t until 2004 that Blockbuster’s leaders realized the threat and tried to act — but it was too late; the company’s decline continued until it filed for bankruptcy in 2010.”
Of course, this is an extreme example, but the principle is sound. You need to be monitoring in real-time within your market space so you can easily identify disruptive trends and consumer demand changes.
Another common mistake is not to take into account all the information available. CI is hidden everywhere, and the most valuable intelligence can be found in surprising places. Usually, people focus on easy to find and identify small activities like social media posts, news mentions and feedback from customers.
But according to Mirman, there’s holistic information everywhere. She points to a survey carried out by Crayon – 2018 State Of Marketing Intelligence Report – which includes details on where to find it including job vacancies, events listings and – if you’re really lucky – your competitor’s in-house training videos.
Finding The Advantages
Marketing information is only useful if everyone is aware of it. Most respondents in the Crayon survey expressed the wish that information would be shared more regularly and while 29% share CI on a weekly basis, 37% wish their companies did.
Instead of CI being the focus of the Marketing Department only, perhaps shared with the CEO and a few stakeholders, it should be disseminated throughout the company. Those who have an integrated CI strategy within their business plan are the companies getting it right – and they’re often those who are the fastest growing too.
These organisations will have a team actively collecting reviews, news articles, marketing information, product documentation, social media postings, reading blogs, checking those job notices, and then analysing the information to find trends and highlight possible market disruptors.
It’s not just up to the team though, everyone in the organisation should be checking the industry marketplace for ideas they can pass along to the marketing department as well as finding inspiration from outside the sector.
Check what’s being said about your competitors by the people who know them best – their own customers. Is their social media active and full of happy comments? Or is there perhaps an angle you can exploit with your own offerings?
Your competitor’s unhappy customers can give you ideas for what to focus on within your organisation’s messaging so you can ensure you’re not making the same mistakes.
When it’s used properly, Competitive Intelligence results in greater strategic agility – an increased awareness of the changing market and the flexibility to be able to deal with rapid changes.
Ensure your organisation stays in front by streamlining your CI processes and making sure there are clear definitions for scope and roles within your marketing team, as well as keeping a few steps in mind:
- Schedule intelligence reviews at key critical decision states
- Ensure the person responsible for CI analysis is involved in all strategic meetings and reviews
- Tap into an informal internal network of CI and listen to what’s being said outside of the marketing department.
Identify strategy changes by looking at what your competitors are doing. Map each competitor’s digital footprint on and off its website, including blogs and support documentation, review sites and those often overlooked job posting sites.
Connect the dots between what your competitor is doing online and what events they may be attending. If they start blogging on a new product or in a new market space, are they intending to move into that arena and is it somewhere you can follow?
Monitor and listen. This forms the basis of all social media posting intelligence. Incorporating it into your whole business, not just your digital marketing strategy, gives you the necessary information to stay ahead of the curve.
CI should be used by your HR team to understand opinions on your business which might affect hiring policies. Your research and development teams, if you have them, can see what features are important to the consumer and whether your offering meets those requirements.
The marketing department uses it to monitor the impact their messaging is having on your market space and to benchmark against competitors and the sales team should be using it to understand what common problems potential clients have and how your business addresses those issues.
Ultimately, competitive intelligence is about understanding what’s going on around your business so your brand can compete effectively. Using social media posting intelligence as a key element of your daily business activity gives key decision makers the information they need to understand, and act on, changes in their market space.