Editor’s Note: This post was written by a guest blogger. Learn more about them in the bio below this post.
England needs James Bond in order to stay one step ahead of their enemies – and if you’re running a business, you need to be performing your own spy operations as well. Knowing your competition has always been a key staple of a successful business. In 2012, the opportunity to spy on your competitors is much greater than ever before. With the digital tools available to you, you can not only see the results of what they’re doing as they do it, but also see where their area of attack is next and adjust your position to take advantage of the competition’s weaknesses.
Find That Competition!
The first step to monitor activity online is identifying who or what you want to follow. Talking to your client (or if it’s in-house, every member of your team) will give you a preliminary list to work off of. Talking to more than one person is crucial here! Sometimes, knowledge of new found competitors is only caught by those working at a micro-level, so the more people you can talk to, the better. Send a friendly email around the office asking for the list of competitors that people can name off the top of their heads. Making sure to CC everyone from the CEO to the rookie intern who doesn’t yet have a desk will ensure you cast a wide net to ensnare everyone.
But even the smartest cast of employees won’t be able to find every brand name you should be monitoring – and they definitely won’t be able to name your competitors who’ll be starting one or two months down the line. So you’ll have to use a little technology as well.
Searching for Anyone You Might Have Missed
Just like the double agent that betray Bond about 2/3 of the way through every one of his films, it’s costly to not realize all of your “enemies”. How do you make sure you’ve found everyone?
For starters, search for your product or services in local directories. A quick Google search for “[Your Service] [Your Zip Code]” will pull up their local maps listings. Make sure to repeat this query on Bing and any other niche directories you find applicable (such as Yelp for restaurants.)
In addition, you should always be checking that the search term you’re using for your services or products matches what customers are actually using. Google Adword’s Keyword Tool is a great way to find out the long-tail terms that you might otherwise skip over.
Beginner’s Online Monitoring Tools
Google Alerts, if it isn’t already, should be your best friend. This tool will send you an email every time Google’s web-crawler spiders find a new website with your selected search query on it. First off, you’ll want to at least be tracking your own company’s name. But then add in all of your competitors. Finish it off with key phrases of your products or services. I’d suggest setting the “Result Type” to everything, and making it come in “Once a Day.” This will allow you to do a morning check-up every day of all of the emails quickly, to make sure there is nothing you’re missing out on. Of course, if you have the time and the situation warrants instantaneous responses, then “How Often” should be set to “As-it-happens.”
The next step is social media tracking. At the beginners level, this means liking your competitors Facebook Pages, Following them on Twitter, and adding them to your Circles on Google+. Use a fake account to cover your footsteps – don’t worry, you’re not the only one – although we’d suggest giving it a slightly more realistic name than Mr. Nat DeCompetitor.
Become a Competition Super Spy
If you’re in a very competitive market (or you’re just ready to take things up a notch), those basic tools won’t be enough. A full-scale monitoring tool is required.
At the cheapest level here (starting with their free plan,) we’d suggest HootSuite. With very strong Twitter monitoring, and more than ample monitoring of all the other major social networks, it can handle most tasks that you’ll require. In addition, it will scale quite well as your business does, so there’s certainly room to grow.
Right above HootSuite is SproutSocial. Stronger analytics and reporting as well as a better mobile app (in our humble opinion) makes this the perfect tool ready for the business owner about to take a more serious jump into their social media monitoring.
And of course, there’s the Aston Martin of monitoring you and your competition: Radian6. Their services start at $5,000 a month, but if you’re ready to take the plunge – make sure you have a full-time employee ready to be using and applying their dashboard for every decision you make.
Putting Together Your Master Plan
Now that you have a torrential amount of data coming your way, what should you do with it all?
There’s dozens of ways to use all this information. If you’re looking at competitors for your services that are in far away markets, feel free to borrow their ideas & promotions – after all, no one in your neighborhood is doing it. If a competitor is talking up a local event that you somehow didn’t hear about, be sure to mention it in tomorrow’s blog post. Can’t let them get an advantage!
You can also be very aggressive with this information. Be careful, though. There’s a difference between being competitive and being evil. Still, if you see a competitor ignoring a customer with a complaint on their social media page, you can make the decision to reach out to that client. Their loss is your gain.
How much will a little spy work benefit you?
Flynn Zaiger is the CEO of Online Optimism, a digital marketing agency located in New Orleans. Their specialties include website creation and promotion, search engine optimization, and localized New Orleans Social Media Management.