Whether you are brand new to your industry or a seasoned veteran looking to maximize your brand success, performing a competitive analysis can help you determine your strengths, weaknesses, and areas of greatest potential opportunities.
Competitive analysis is a tool for identifying where you fit in your field. Are you performing as well or better than your competition? Are your competitors seeing success in areas where you are struggling? If so, what are they doing differently, and how can you do it better? Are there content providers who are successfully engaging your content audience, who can you learn from or possibly even work with?
Most importantly, what opportunities are your competitors missing that you can capitalize on to become the unique and dominant voice in that space?
Determine Your Closest Competitors
There is no point comparing yourself to Walmart or Apple because unless you are also one of the most recognized brands in the world, their objectives are different from yours. They also don’t have to work as hard to find an audience as you do. Before you conduct a competitive analysis, you need to identify those brands that most closely align with your business.
Chances are you can immediately identify two or more competitive companies in your field. There are probably dozens out there; your job is to identify the ones performing close to or (preferably) better than you. In addition to the companies providing similar services to yours, you will also want to identify successful content providers writing in the same space as you, since these will be your biggest competitors on social media . Some of these companies may overlap but keep searching until you have several of both to compare.
Like Services – The simplest way to identify your direct competitors is through a Google search. Simply search for the type of products you are marketing, and see which companies come up highest in the results. Again, skip the big names and look for companies you can reasonably compete with.
Audience Competitors – Who is actively engaging with your audience? Look for companies that aren’t competing with you for sales but who are creating content that appeals to your potential customer. They are competing with you for your potential customer's attention. Identifying what they do well can help you create content that engages that same audience.
Identifying your competitors doesn’t have to be a daunting task. There are plenty of tools available to help you identify your competitors (we’ll discuss a few below) and determine which ones will be most effective to study based on your goals.
Industry conferences can also offer valuable information about your competitive field and trending topics. A quick look at the schedule and speakers list will tell you which companies are represented and what topics are being discussed. Look for those companies whose messaging closely aligns with your mission, and keep an eye out for places for your company to capitalize as a thought leader.
Determine What Information You Need
What you are looking for in a competitive analysis will vary depending on your goal, but many factors will be consistent regardless, such as:
How big of a reach do you really have? Your Facebook page may have a million likes, but if your closest competitor is Target, with well over 20 million likes, you are probably not even on most of your fans' radars.
To understand how you rank in your field, look at each social media platform separately, and then combine them to determine the total reach. Chances are you are better at some platforms than others, and this information will help you decide where to focus your efforts.
How engaged are your followers? As impressive as it may be to have a million fans, it’s even more impressive to have 100k engaged fans.
Finding out how you compare in terms of likes, shares, click-throughs, and comments will tell you how well you understand the needs of your audience. If your competitors have better engagement, is that because their content is better suited for your audience, or is it something they are actively doing to improve that engagement, such as promoting conversation within comments?
Make sure your engagement calculations take in multiple factors, including followers. Simply having more shares doesn’t reflect your true engagement if you post twice as often and have three times the number of followers. For a more accurate comparison, use a standard ratio to determine engagement. For example, pick a set number of posts to review (say, their last 20). Then add up the number of shares and likes those posts receive, and divide that by the number of followers the company has.
How quickly do you respond? In the Internet Age, we expect near-immediate answers. If your competition responds to questions faster than you, chances are you are losing customers to them. Acceptable response times vary by industry (based on the complexity of questions and the type of consumer), so researching your competitors is the only way to know if you’re performing at the right level.
Are you posting enough (or too much)? If your competition posts every day, while you are barely managing a post per week, you can’t expect to drive the same level of engagement. On the other hand, if your social media team can’t resist reposting every meme they come across, you may be overwhelming your followers to the point that they start to ignore you.
By comparing the regularity of your competitor’s postings with other factors (such as engagement), you can define your own optimum posting rate.
If you have a specific goal, such as whether adding Instagram to your social efforts will improve outreach, you will want to target your research to your objective. However, you are still going to want to look at the above factors to determine how specific choices are impacting the overall performance of each competitor.
Choose the Right Tools
There are dozens of tools available that can help manage your social media campaign and compare your performance to competitors. Each one offers their own unique set of features and benefits, so it’s best to research several and pick the one that provides the features most closely aligned with your needs. Some of our favorites include:
SEMrush – SEMrush provides a suite of tools for analyzing your own performance and your competitors. You can track your company’s social media performance, research your competitors, and compare aspects such as engagement, activity, and more. And if you are unsure who your competition is, SEMrush can help you identify those by looking at your site’s top keywords and comparing your performance other companies.
Sproutsocial – Sproutsocial allows you to monitor and manage multiple social media accounts, tracking things such as engagement, individual post performance, and demographic data. They also offer a Twitter Comparison Report that compares your influence against your competition.
Simply Measured Facebook Competitive Analysis Report – While limited to Facebook, this report is free and allows you to compare up to 10 Facebook pages to see where your company has ranked over the past two weeks.
Use Your Findings to Inform Your Content Strategy
Will a competitive analysis dramatically shift your content strategy? That depends both on your initial goal and what you discover during your research.
If you want to know whether video posts could benefit your company, and then you discover all of your competitors have tried and failed at video, the simplest solution is to avoid video. On the other hand, if your objective is how to implement video, rather than if to implement it, each of those failures will help you avoid shortcomings in your own attempt.
If your goal is simply to improve your own performance (or to overtake your competitors), the content gap analysis data you gather will directly impact your content strategy . Based on your research, you should ask yourself these questions:
What keywords are driving traffic to your competitors? Identifying successful keywords can help better target your posts for improved SEO. Likewise, identifying missed opportunities could allow you to capitalize in areas your competitors aren’t pursuing.
How much original content do your competitors produce? Original content is both more time-consuming and expensive to produce. If your competitors are benefitting from sourced content, you may consider increasing your own efforts in that area. Conversely, if their original content is driving their success, it may be time to spend a little more to establish yourself as a trusted content provider.
What demographics are they appealing to? Altering your content to better appeal to these demographics could improve your results. Or, if there is a demographic your competitors aren’t reaching, you could capitalize on that as well.
What types of posts are performing well? If short posts are outperforming long posts, it is likely your audience prefers shorter reads. If video has better engagement, you may want to consider incorporating more video into your strategy.
Look for areas where you can benefit from your competitors' successes, as well as any areas they may be missing. You may also find you outperform in some areas; these are opportunities to establish yourself as a content leader.
Regardless of your reason for conducting a competitive analysis, the most important information you will obtain during your research should always be a deeper understanding of what differentiates you from your competition or how you can better differentiate yourself from them.
Simply copying the strategies of your most successful competitors won’t allow you to overtake them, nor even compete with them. To establish yourself as a leader within your industry, you must entice your competitors' customers, and that means providing content or service they can’t get from your competitors.
Look for areas where you excel, and put more of your resources behind those efforts. Find areas your competitors aren’t focusing on, and target your content to capture those missed opportunities. Even if your competitors are doing everything well, pick an area where your team can step up and do it better, and focus on becoming that content leader.