Using Twitter for competitive intelligence

Twitter by Jurgen Appelo

We’ve discussed using social media to engage with your customers, for example through Tweetchats. But have you thought about using it to gather information as well? After all, with so many companies on Twitter nowadays, there’s much you can find out about your competition by simply sitting back and listening to other people’s tweets.

Following up

Your first step is to find some people to follow. There are several groups that you really ought to track down, including your competition, your suppliers and your customers. You want to know what everyone in your network is saying, so put in a bit of time to work out who falls into each of these groups. For your competition, don’t just look locally, but think more widely: who else is doing what you do globally, because you could learn from them.

Then find them on Twitter. You can either search on Twitter, or go via their websites, where there is almost certainly a link to their Twitter accounts. The advantage of going via their websites is that you can find out easily if they have more than one Twitter account. Some companies use one for customer service, one for sales and so on. And many also have individual staff accounts, so do look out for those.

Once you’ve found most of your network, it’s time to turn your attention to commentators, like the industry press, analysts and any key opinion formers. They will have interesting things to say about you and your competitors. And don’t just follow the main feed of the press, but follow their columnists too. Follow conferences for your industry, and the conference organisers. You should also make an effort to track down the regulators or government agencies, if there are any, that affect your industry.

The final group to look for are those in your competitors’ networks: their suppliers and customers. It’s harder to track these people down, but there are two obvious places to start. First, who’s following your competitors? They probably have a relationship of some sort with them. Second, search for your competitors’ handles. That way, you find out who’s talking about them, and you can pick out the key accounts.

And that brings us on to the next step: analysis of Twitter content.

Who’s saying what and how?

You probably already know who’s saying what about you (and if you don’t, why not?). But what are people saying about your competitors? A quick search for your competitors’ Twitter handle will soon track down any tweets from other people about them. You can see whether comments are broadly positive or negative, and also whether they are responding to tweets about them.

But more than that, you need to look at what your competitors are saying, what’s working for them and what’s not. You don’t want to make the same mistakes as them; you want to learn from their successes. Whether they’re tweeting about their products, or sharing cute pictures, you want to know who’s engaging with them, and which tweets get retweeted. In other words, look at the style and tone, and learn from that what gets engagement.

Your next step in the analysis is to consider wider social media. Fortunately, you can do a lot of this from what you can learn via Twitter. First of all, what are the keywords in your competitor’s Twitter bio? Search for them using Google, and see whether your competitor is ranking highly on Google, or using paid ads, for example. That will tell you a good deal about their marketing strategy.

You can also find out where your competitors are posting information, because the chances are that they will tweet about it. Whether it’s a new video on YouTube, or a company blogpost on their site or on LinkedIn, it will probably end up in the Twitter feed, and all you have to do is follow it. It takes a bit of time, but you should soon have their social media strategy unravelled.

You can also use various Twitter analytic tools to dig down into your competition’s activity and give you even more information. TwitterCounter, for example, tells you about how quickly your competitors are gathering followers, how often they tweet and so on.

An essential tool

Why would you care what your competitors are doing on social media? It’s simple. You need to know where you’re in direct competition for customers’ attention, and then you need  a strategy that will win. Twitter gives you the information that you need for that.

Image credit: Jurgen Appelo

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