We're all taught as children that eavesdropping is rude and impolite. Of course, the adults probably told us that to try to keep us from listening when they were having conversations they didn't want us to hear.
We eavesdropped then, and if your goal is to be at the top of your game, you should still practice this naughty behavior every day.
This time, your goal isn't to gather juicy gossip, but to learn more about every part of your business by carefully paying attention to what the other guys are doing.
Competitors often use their social media profiles to announce new initiatives and even often communicate about internal affairs
In the first part of this series we talked in general terms, defining "social listening," sharing examples of a company's success with it and introducing you to the general, all-around tool Hootsuite. We hoped it would get you started.
This time, we're going to look at some very specific things you can do and show you how doing them can give you a competitive edge.
Know whom you're up against
Everyone who spoke with us said the most important result of successfully "listening in" was getting to know more about your competitors. Oh, and it's easy.
Of course, like any other course of study you begin, you'll get better the more you do it, but getting started with your ear at the door is quite simple. You're doing a lot of these things already, most likely, but maybe you haven't pulled them all together into one bundle.
That's where we'll help.
"As someone who recognizes that all information is power, I have learned the more you know about your market ecosystem, the more advantage you gain when you face your competitors in the market," explains Matthew Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com. "Competitors often use their social media profiles to announce new initiatives and even often communicate about internal affairs. That can be quite valuable to someone surveying the competitive landscape."
Reischer says, sometimes, it isn't even the information your competitor shares; it's more the information you get from others.
Perhaps the simplest and most direct way to learn about how your competitors are doing is to search Amazon by your keywords of choice and see what customers are saying about your items and the third-party sellers who provide them.
"Pay close attention to the two- and three-star reviews," recommends Orun Bhuiyan, co-founder of SEOcial, a digital marketing agency. "These generally reveal product weaknesses from a comprehensive and educated angle. Address these concerns in the messages conveyed by your site and product, and you'll set yourself apart."
The more you learn from eavesdropping, the more techniques you'll develop to protect yourself from sharing some of the information you've learned by snooping on others
As you set about exploring the vast world of social listening, keep in mind that each social media outlet is different. Strategies that work for one may fail for another.
Each outlet has its own pace, culture and shared understanding.
Twitter is especially useful for your type of social listening because it's strong on news and announcements, and it thrives on quick bursts of information to keep the Twitter universe humming along. That can lead to some very juicy bits and pieces for you to scoop up.
Bhuiyan shared simple step-by-step directions.
- Find a competitor with a similar product and a medium-sized to large Twitter follower count. Bhuiyan suggests 200-plus followers for a statistically significant data set.
- Go to Followerwonk and connect your Twitter account. Next click "analyze followers." Add the name of the competitor you've chosen and follow the links to analyze their followers.
- Once it completes the analysis, Followerwonk presents you with a report that includes graphs of useful information. "They contain a lot of data about the behavior of your competitor's followers," Bhuiyan explains. "This is good to know because presumably they're your potential customers, too."
In the example search Bhuiyan shared with us, he found special interest in studying the activity times of his competitor's followers.
"It looks like around noon EST, and to a lesser extent into the early afternoon, is the best time to engage this audience," he says. "Use this data for your future email campaigns, ads, social media communications, etc. to manage your impact."
Just as you can now look over your unsuspecting competitors' shoulders as they engage their customers on social media, they can do the same thing. The more you learn from eavesdropping, the more techniques you'll develop to protect yourself from sharing some of the information you've learned by snooping on others.
Every act on social media is an act completed in a public forum
Matthew Reischer told us how he used Twitter to see what customers were saying when a competitor solicited feedback from their Twitter community about a product they were rolling out.
"They needed beta testing from their users," he says. "Our company was amazed that we were able to see product roll-out way in advance as we were in the middle of building our competing module for this segment. Obviously we were elated that we could see our competitor's market intentions months before they formally launched their product."
Reischer and his company modified their product because they learned such valuable insights from early access to their competitor's reviews.
"Another example is a competitor CEO who recently, while bantering with his Twitter users, seemed to be hinting that they were working with venture capital to obtain equity financing," he recalls. "We were considering looking for financing ourselves but have decided we would wait to get a sense of our competitor's terms before possibly moving in this direction."
Now, certainly the CEO who just couldn't help himself would be very unhappy to know that his competitor (or even competitors) now knows this little tidbit. He's giving away gold, and all because he forgot that not all of his Twitter followers are actually friends and supporters.
Every act on social media is an act completed in a public forum. Forewarned is forearmed, so now you'll remember to snoop like you had to as a kid, quietly and without revealing yourself.
In our next segment of this series, we'll explore specific tools to help you get deeper into other peoples' businesses. We've gathered some useful tips from people using their favorite products and from the companies that produce them, too.