“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Whether you’re a cinephile who has heard the words of Godfather Michael Corleone, a student of Chinese strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, or, well, anyone else, you’ve heard this advice time and time again. While we don’t refer to others in our industry as enemies, this advice can still apply to them. We get it. You’re competing for market share, and that competition turns into a rivalry.

Social media allows us to keep track of favorite brands, celebrities, and competitors better now than ever before. There are just a few things you should know while trying to keep up with your competitors.

Categorize Your Competition

Following your competition on social media may go against everything you feel you should do. While we’re talking about why you “should” follow your competitors, we need to touch on some reasons not to follow certain competitors too overtly. You don’t want them to think you’re keeping tabs on them, copying their content, and stealing their business. This can create some nasty exchanges and dirty reactions. 

The best way to avoid this is to divide your competition into direct and indirect competition. Your direct competition sells the exact same product or service you do. They exist in the same niche that you inhabit. An example of popular food franchises that are in direct competition with each other would be Pizza Hut and Dominos. Both businesses serve pizza to satisfy their customers’ need for food. It would be advised to avoid “following” direct competition because they view you as a direct threat to their business and would probably get agitated seeing that you’re keeping tabs on them.

Indirect competition is a company that offers different products or services that can fulfill the same need as your business. Sticking with our earlier example, think about Taco Bell and McDonald’s. Both satisfy someone’s need for food, both are in the fast-food industry, but one serves Mexican-inspired food and the other serves hamburgers and fries. 

You should network with these companies because it will help you build your name recognition within the industry. You can create conversations with other companies on current trends in your industry, and this will reflect well on your business. This is where you’re most likely to find willing collaboration.

You can also learn from these indirect competitors. Pay attention to their content and see what trends they follow. Don’t forget to look at their reviews. Maybe they’ve found a creative way to satisfy consumers through customer service, or maybe the inverse is true, and your business could fill a need left unfulfilled by your indirect competitor.

“Following” Your Competition

As previously mentioned, you need to be careful following direct competition too overtly. It is still a good idea to follow these competitors, you just have to be more careful about how you go about it. The first thing you can do is just search your competitors regularly. 

Twitter is especially helpful when searching this way. You not only see your competitor’s page, but you also see people who have mentioned their page. Looking through these mentions can give you a better idea of what your competition is doing, whether they’re engaging with people, and how you can do what they’re doing even better. You can see how people react to their content in both negative and positive ways, translating that to your content strategy. 

On Facebook and Twitter, you can create private lists of all your competition, enabling you to see everything they post and the engagement those posts generate. Facebook’s function called “Pages to Watch” is especially helpful. Not only can you see what your competition is posting, but you can also see statistics on how your competition’s pages are performing compared to your own. This allows you to determine where something of interest is happening and then dig in further to figure out why engagement and/or likes are up.

Why Follow Competition?

In business, it is often better to be a leader than a follower; however, following your competitors can provide benefits and lessons for your marketing strategy. Here are some questions you can ask yourself after looking at your competitors.

Do I Provide Quality Content?

It’s easy to say that you provide quality content for your followers when you never see what anyone else is doing. Maybe the competition is more analytical in their blogs, or maybe they have a unique voice. This could be a wake-up call for you to start looking for better content ideas.

How Do I Respond to Criticism?

Customer engagement is vital to success, and you have to do it right. Think back to this previous blog on how to respond to customers, and (don’t) take a page from this guy’s book. Does your competition treat their customers better than you or provide them with better incentives to be their patrons? Or do you have an edge with your customer service and realize that is something you should be promoting to your followers?

Do I Have A Clear Brand?

Look at the content your competitor is providing. Is there clear branding there? Can you read a blog and recognize the brand based only on the voice and information? The better question is, could someone read your content and know that it’s from YOUR brand? If not, you might need to focus on building a stronger brand.

Surveilling your competition can force you to truly think about the way you are doing business and how you can do it even better. It can bring up lots of ideas and questions. If you have questions on how to provide quality content, create a stronger brand, or give a better response to online reviews, Little Red Writing can help. We have 50+ years of writing and marketing experience in a wide variety of industries. We haven’t met an industry that we couldn’t work with, and we would love to help you with your brand-building needs.