Most companies, brands, and not-for-profit organizations post massive amounts of material and commentary on social media in order to promote themselves and gain new followers. That frequent sharing provides a windfall of information for competitors as well as consumers. Consumers sometimes fear that posting on social media will make them vulnerable to identity thieves and burglars. Yet many companies post truly sensitive information on social media.
Competitive intelligence, or collecting publicly available information about competitors, provides numerous benefits.
“The more you know, the more you grow. This is certainly the case when using social listening to keep tabs on the competition. Social media offers a pool of competitive insight that will benefit your brand tremendously,” states Juntae DeLane, founder of Digital Branding Institute.
Competitive Intelligence Benefits
Product information. Social media listening exposes what consumers are saying about competitors and their products, and what they like and dislike about them, including possible customer service issues. Your organization can exploit their weaknesses and copy their strengths. If their top executives start mentioning a new technology or partnership, they might be preparing to launch a new product or service. That timely warning could provide your organization time to prepare a counterpunch.
Marketing. Companies can track trends in engagement levels, follower numbers, product messaging and other metrics. Some monitoring services can complete a sentiment analysis which rates brand mentions on a positive to negative scale. You can learn about competitors’ audience profiles by analyzing people who mention competitors, which help better define your own target audience.
Public relations. Media monitoring reveals competitors’ earned media coverage, both negative and positive. PR can compare their efforts to competitors’ by comparing changes to share of voice and sentiment over time.
Sales. Competitive intelligence can spot openings for possible sales. If social media listening uncovers a negative mention of a competitor’s product, your sales staff can contact them and engage them in a conversation. It’s import to follow proper business etiquette by offering information the consumer may find useful and avoiding an immediate hard sell.
Competitive Intelligence Challenges
Although competitive intelligence offers clear benefits, analyzing the massive amounts of social media posts can be overwhelming, says Bonnie Hohhof, an author on competitive intelligence and adjunct professor at George Washington University. In addition, non-standard vocabulary, the need to track social media across several languages, and placing social media content in its proper context pose challenges.
The solution is to find the right social media monitoring and measurement tool, and determine the right keywords to track, Hohhof says. Selecting the most appropriate service can be problematic, given the wide range of considerations and needs of different departments. Free tools have drawbacks. They lack service contact people, provide only quantitative or statistical reports, and generally provide only a limited amount of English-language coverage.
Hohhof recommends seeking a media monitoring tool that can:
- Gather information in near real-time from many different sources, channels, and forms (posts, pictures, videos), plus multiple countries and languages.
- Identify and discard unwanted information, including spam and duplicates.
- Send alerts on new topics, new correlations, or changes in intensity from historical norms.
- Analyze the information, including pattern and bias identification.
- Provide results through a wide range of visualization tools, including dashboards.
Steps to Developing Competitive Intelligence
Hone keywords. In developing keyword queries on competitors, follow the same media listening techniques you use to track mentions of their own company and products. Basically, replace your search terms with those of competitors. Include competitors’ company names, product names, products, misspellings and other keywords that describe industry issues. Employing Boolean search terms, or words like AND, OR, NOT and punctuation like parenthesis and quotes, can produce more meaningful data and eliminate irrelevant mentions.
Share the data and insights. Public relations departments who typically first view media monitoring results should share data freely with other business units. Sharing data with other departments, functions and country managers ensures the entire organization benefits. Other departments often find additional insights that PR can miss.
Seek insights. In assessing media results from PR and marketing campaigns, many communications professionals concentrate on the data and pretty graphs produced by media monitoring and measurement services. While comparing PR or marketing performance with competitors is undoubtedly useful, the most valuable nuggets of competitive intelligence usually come from looking beyond the numbers and seeking insights from the content. To find those insights, organizations need knowledgeable staff members or a third-party service to review media mentions for both content (including data) and context.
Bottom Line: Companies can gain a competitive advantage with the competitive intelligence that social media monitoring and measurement provides. Wading through the massive amount of information poses the greatest obstacle. Organizations can glean priceless insights by carefully selecting keywords and working with the right media monitoring tool.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.