What do massive credit card debt, mystery fridge meat and your competitors have in common? None of these things will go away if you ignore them. Turning a blind eye to the actions of competing companies in your industry is a great way to get caught off guard and you'll miss out on valuable insights that can help your company thrive.
Just as your company is constantly evolving, so are the other businesses within your industry. Ignoring their activities, both online and off, can have dire consequences. Leverage social media to bolster your competitive edge with these three tips:
1. Give credit where credit is due.
A self-assured person isn’t threatened by another individual’s achievements, and a competent company isn’t either. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your competitors and give credit where credit is due, but do be sure to use these moments as opportunities to define how your firm is different from the herd.
Giving a shout out to indirect and direct competitors on social media not only does a great deal for industry relations. It’s also a chance for you to highlight your company's unique value proposition and reiterate its areas of expertise. If Competitor A was just acknowledged as the best XYZ for restaurants, be the bigger company by giving kudos via a tweet.
Then be sure to add some posts to your queue that highlight your company's successes with something related yet different such as a luxury line of products. Remember to keep these well-timed tweets positive and nonthreatening: This is your opportunity to explain how your company is unique, not to blatantly state how it's better.
2. Up your social-media listening game.
There’s substantial value in paying attention to what your consumers are saying on social media, and you can learn equally as much by studying your competitors’ tweets, posts, blogs and op eds.
To do this, you'll need a social media strategy just for competitors. Checking in at random on other companies’ Twitter feeds is better than doing nothing, but having the information in real time can really give you the upper hand.
List six competitors: three companies that directly take business away from you (and vice versa), and three firms that you don’t compete with directly but greatly respect. Designate a point person on your team who is solely responsible for competitor research. Set up Google Alerts for these six companies and arrange for a scan of the social-media pages of the three direct competitors every other day (check their Twitter feed every day).
Your point person should disseminate relevant information in real time and draw up a quarterly strategy document that analyzes the behaviors of competitors. This gives you the information to reasonably predict their focus and can help you tailor your business plans to corner whatever market they're overlooking. Do this same exercise with your three aspirational competitors to examine successful campaigns and adapt any relevant ideas applicable to your company.
3. Find industry allies
You might lose sleep over your direct competitors, but your indirect competitors can (and should) be another story. Companies within your industry that target a different core consumer base can be excellent resources for industry insights and the relative lack of overlap makes knowledge sharing beneficial to everyone.
Use social media to easily find and interact with fellow companies in your industry and take these relationships offline to help strengthen one another’s businesses. Focus your efforts on companies that are substantially larger than yours, those that can’t cater to smaller orders or that don't offer their services on a reduced retainer.
Bigger players are always looking to refer clients that they can’t work with to smaller reputable businesses. With appropriate communication and mutual respect, a noncompeting company in your industry can actually give you that competitive edge.
The bottom line is this: Your competitors’ actions on social media tell a lot about their direction, client base and overall strategy. Use social platforms to your advantage -- as a means of communicating your value proposition, as a source of competitor research and as an industry database. And you'll experience the positive results of becoming a bit more social with the enemy.
Denise Gitsham, a principal at 7 Second Strategies, contributed to this article.