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How to Succeed on Social Media By Using Your Competitors

Benchmarking is an essential practice for staying ahead of the competition on social media.

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Social media marketing can all be a bit of a haze, especially if you’re going into it with an untrained eye. Your posts are getting interactions, but are they getting enough? What could you do to make them perform better? Are the conversions you're making off of social media ads enough to justify the time spent?

Data is what’s going to define success. Being able to measure how well your content is doing will ultimately tell you if you’re succeeding in the digital arena or not. 

In the past decade, brands have flooded to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more — and many of those brands are your competitors.

What does benchmarking help you achieve? 

Benchmarking is an essential practice for staying ahead of the competition on social media. In a world where nearly every brand is at some step in the process of creating a digital identity, you want to be following the example of the ones who are doing it the best.

You don’t have to spitball key strategies of your campaign — like how often you should be posting or at what time of day. By having informed benchmarks set up, that guessing game is removed from the situation entirely.

Related: How Not to Benchmark Your Way to the Bottom

Benchmarks are very similar to key performance indicators (KPIs), but while KPIs can get a little muddled in wish fulfillment rather than reality, benchmarks use competitor and industry data to help markets define goals that are both actionable and achievable. For instance, if you set a KPI for increased Twitter engagement month-over-month by 20%, that certainly sounds like an ambitious goal. But if even the brands with the highest awareness in your industry are only shooting for 5-7% on the same metric, you’ve given yourself a goal that's pretty much doomed.

Benchmarks are especially useful if you have stakeholders. Success on social media can be nebulous and hard to define as is, and if you aren’t actively engaged in it, social media strategy can look unreliable. People — especially decision-makers — respond well to data, so that’s what you should give them. Show them your goal, show them how close you got to it and then show them competitor stats with the same benchmark. 

Using competitor data

Scoping out your competition is going to be essential in setting your benchmarks. But first you need to define who your competition is (if you’re a small tech startup, your competition isn’t Google.) Measure yourself against businesses that are of similar age, size and profitability to your own. 

Measuring a competitor's success isn’t as easy as measuring your own. You won’t have access to the vital information you use to analyze your performance like click-throughs, engagement rate and ad buys. Here are the three factors I would use to judge a competitor's success and help set your own goals:

  • Number of interactions
  • Volume and frequency that your competitors post
  • What keywords and hashtags your competitors using

But don’t spend man hours doing this research. Use a competitive analysis tool that can pull this information for you.

Related: The 5 Key Metrics Every Business Needs to Track

The three benchmarks for beginners

As your analysis habits evolve, you’ll know what items to measure your success against. But for marketers just diving into benchmarking, it can be overwhelming.

Here are the three benchmarks I would recommend for your first time around.

  • Content performance: Find out what’s considered top-performing content in your space. I suggest tracking three or four of your closest competitors and here’s why: One brand getting good reception on a specific kind of post is a coincidence, but four brands is a trend. Be sure to take note of all the factors that could be playing into the success of their content. What type of stuff are they posting? Is it image-heavy, video-heavy or mostly text? How often do they post? What are their key posting times? Producing quality content isn’t enough — you need to help it out a little and play by social media’s rules.

  • Growth rate: Publishing fresh content, rolling out new campaigns and interacting with your audience is a great way to grow the brand, but it isn’t a flawless method. You need the right combination of these things to attract and win a loyal audience. Invest in a growth analysis tool and see how quickly your closest competitors are gaining their social media following. Then, take their most successful methods and fine-tune them to fit your brand.

  • Popularity: Every brand wants mentions. It’s a sign that audiences are talking about you naturally without you having to solicit responses. Social listening is a critical tool that'll help you meet benchmarks for mentions. You can find out who’s talking about you and — more importantly for your goals — your competition. But, also take into account that not all conversations are positive for the brand that’s being talked about. You might see one week that your competitor's mentions shot up 200%, but if your competitor just accidentally gave a bunch of customers food poisoning, those aren’t the kind of mentions they want. Performing a sentiment analysis will help you detect these kinds of nuances.

The benchmarking process will improve and yield you better metrics the more you do it. The sooner you start incorporating it into your strategy, the more of a leg up you’ll have on your competitors who are behind the curve. And that’s exactly the position you want them to be in. 

Related: The Most Important Marketing Metric You're Not Measuring

Christopher Tompkins

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Christopher Tompkins is the CEO and founder of The Go! Agency and an internationally renowned expert in digital marketing. With more than two decades of experience, he has turned The Go! Agency into a top-ten marketing agency in Florida and a top-25 digital marketing agency nationwide.