You might call it stalking or even stealing. I call it using the information publicly and readily available for your organizations benefit. Think customer acquisition and competitive intelligence.
As more individuals get involved in social activities online, more and more information is being published about them. The same can be said for companies.
Many of your competitors are publishing information regularly that can help you and your business. So are their customers. It’s up to you to harness your inner hunting and gathering skills to suss it all out.
Some of these things *might* make you a bit uncomfortable. That’s okay. You don’t have to do them, nor do I suggest that you do, but I do suggest that you be aware of the idea’s and concepts behind these ideas. In the end, just because you don’t want to do this doesn’t mean your competitors won’t.
Take a look at updates from employees. Follow the company profiles. Take note of updates. Are they hiring? What positions? Perhaps employees are leaving…all of this can be culled together to form a somewhat meaningful picture of the kind of moves the company is making. Or is not for that matter.
The first bit is a fairly obvious one. Create a list, and keep it private, of all of your competitors that are on Twitter. Include as many employees as you can find. They’ll be far more likely to give you insights into your competitors than the official biz accounts.
Take this a step further and pay attention to who these people are talking to and about. Follow them. Jump into conversations. Take advantage of the community they’re building/have built and capitalize on it.
Here’s the part that involves a bit of diplomacy. I suggest you keep a running search, whether in a client like TweetDeck or using a tool like RowFeeder, for disatisfied customers of your competition. For example if I were someone like Pepsi I might have a standing search query for “Coke is gross” or “I hate Coke“. (Of course you have to carefully craft your queries or you’ll end up sifting through buckets of nonsense.) Would you just look at all of those opportunities to jump in and convert haters of your competition to lovers of yours? mmmmYummy!
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the opportunities that exist on Facebook.
The first and most obvious is to keep an eye on your competition’s pages. Are they running Facebook specific promotions? Are they leaving money on the table that you can capitalize on in any way? Or are they setting customer expectations that you need to be aware of.
Something I have seen recently targeted towards employees of one company were recruiting ads. The headline went something like this: “Hey, [redacted] employees! Are you unhappy or recently laid off?” Well hello there. That is bound to get someone’s attention right?
If you’re comfortable with it, (and I’m not saying you should – please consider the wrath you could be incurring from competition and the marketplace in general) one could easily craft up as that targeted employees of the competition, but also people that had ‘Liked’ your competitors pages. Utilizing this one-ups-manship while calling to mind something they’re already familiar with can be successful when done carefully.
4. Social Mentions
Regardless of the social platform you use, from Google Alerts to something more robust like Trackur, you should be monitoring your brand mentions.
What you may not be doing is the same for your competitors. Track mentions of their brand across the web. Monitor their sentiment just as you would your own. Find the forums they’re being talked about in.
If appropriate you can jump in there or simply gather information. I’d hesitate from using these opportunities for sales, rather offer help and assistance. You and your brand become the hero where your competitor fell down.
5. In-Bound Links
Run regular checks on your competitors websites to get an idea of who is linking to them. There are a variety of tools that can help you do this, but I personally prefer the seo tools available from SEOmoz for this bit. Once you know who is linking to them….well.
There’s so much information to be gleaned here from relationships they’ve build to determining fans and detractors that it almost warrants another post. Suffice it to say – good stuff! While you’re paying attention also pay attention to any broke links you may come across. That’s opportunity knocking!
Not yours, but theirs. Take a look at their tags/meta descriptions/linking structure/etc and you will find a wealth of information about their goals, intent and areas of focus. Also pay attention to their ranking in the search engines for keywords you’re interested in and other things like Page Rank, mozRank, etc.
A good SEO tool set will again prove invaluable to you for this bit of work. Use this information for information on what they’re up to, and to discern areas of opportunity for yourself. Get to know as much as you can about SEO. The more you know, the more valuable this bit of your work will become for your business.
Once you’ve set up a comprehensive competitive intelligence plan you’ll become an expert on your competition and industry in short order. Think strategically about the information you’re gathering and be sure to share it with as much of your business that makes sense. Competitive intelligence can have positive impacts for nearly every aspect of an organization! Go forth – and spy on!
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