BY KEVIN MANAHAN
There was a time when constantly checking Twitter updates at work would put you on the fast track for disciplinary action. But for many businesses these days, it might actually be advantageous to devote some work time to exploring the potential of social media and how it can help you understand your business, while also keeping an eye on the competition. Scoping out your rivals’ Facebook friends could help more than you think.
That was the message at this year’s SearchFest, the annual conference held by Search Engine Marketing Professionals of Portland (SEMpdx). Speaking before attendees at the spacious Heritage Ballroom in downtown Portland’s Governor Hotel, three industry experts – Brian Carter of Fuel Interactive, Neil Patel of KISSmetrics and Jordan Kasteler of Search & Social – held a seminar on applying competitive intelligence to social media marketing.
Monitoring website traffic on your competitors’ sites, finding out which of their content is shared and bookmarked, seeing who their fans/friends/followers are – they’re all tactics that fall under competitive intelligence, Kasteler says. Checking social media sites to see what people are saying about your company is also a part of the strategy, and more businesses are starting to catch on; 33% of marketers currently use social media to gain competitive intelligence, compared to 21% who use it but not for competitive intelligence. The goal, Carter says, is to see what you can find out using social media to give you an advantage over your competition.
What can you use to gain that intelligence? Patel says common tools like Twitter searches and Google Trends are easy places to start to see what the hot trends are, and to find out what people are saying about your or your competitors; you can adjust your marketing based on what they like or dislike about the services offered.
But Patel adds that you shouldn’t rely solely on the popular social media sites, and instead use tools like Social Mention (which allows you to search for any topic across multiple social sites, blogs, comments, videos, etc.) and TweetMeme (which aggregates popular links on Twitter to show you what people are sharing). Patel suggests sorting TweetMeme results to focus on the up-and-coming trends instead of what’s already popular – and then acting quickly on those trends. Kasteler threw in recommendations as well, citing Trendistic, BlogPulse, WhosTalkin.com and BoardTracker.com as useful competitive-intelligence tools.
The strategy isn’t without its obstacles, of course; the workload of scouring social media, even with web tools that simplify the task, can be huge. The impact and success of competitive intelligence can also be hard to gauge because microtrends are hard to find, Carter says, and the temptation to imitate another company’s social media tactics can be hard to overcome.
But it’s worth the effort to get an honest sense of brand perception from your customer base while getting a leg up on the competition. “If you know your customers better than your competitors do, then you have the advantage,” Carter says.