There’s an old expression that says, “All’s fair in love and war.” The same might be said for free enterprise — at least when it comes to leveraging publicly available information from your competitors on social media. For example, if a competing business chooses to crowdsource ideas for its new marketing campaign on social media, you have every right to capitalize on this opportunity and gain insights on what it’s up to.

Chances are you already have a pretty good idea who your competitors are. From there, all it takes is a simple Google search like “Competitor X on Twitter” to find that competitor’s Twitter account. Alternatively you can search the company on Twitter itself or go to the company’s website to find its main Twitter account. Once you have your competitors on your Twitter radar, here are three ways you can gain vital competitive intelligence that can ultimately help your brand as well.

This information is also helpful if you want to protect yourself when using social media. Being present on social isn’t optional, so you need to know what you’re putting out there when you build your presence on these platforms.

1. Analyze Your Competitors’ Tweets

Analyze Tweets

The first order of business is to get a lay of the land when it comes to your competitor’s activities on Twitter. Is the company tweeting links to new products, or is it tweeting pictures of cats playing the piano? In either scenario (or anything in between) check out the interactions with its various tweets. Which tweets are getting retweeted or commented on? Who are the accounts that are interacting with your competitor most often?

Analyzing the style and tone of any given company on Twitter can give you a much better sense of what it’s about than simply reading the copy and clicking a few links on its website. Look for things that either confirm or challenge what you thought you knew about your competitors. Correlate any interesting or informative tweets with industry news to see what impact social media is having on reinforcing your competitors’ brand messaging. Make note of anything that you can use to your advantage.

2. Take a Look at Your Competitors’ Followers

Followers

On Twitter, your competitors’ followers are always public and available for anyone to see. With just a click of the ‘Followers’ link on their Twitter home pages, you can see all the folks who think that “Brand X” and “Brand Y” are worth following on Twitter. Maybe you can use this information to find a new supplier — or to find people and organizations that you can begin to build relationships with yourself.

Followers are not necessarily customers of your competitors but it’s a safe bet to assume that they have at least a positive sentiment about your rivals (or they wouldn’t have followed them in the first place). There’s nothing to prevent you from following your competitors’ followers on Twitter. They won’t know how or where you followed them from, however, so just establish relationships with these new people as you would if you came across them randomly. Of course, it’s always a good idea to follow-up immediately with any new account you follow.

Alternatively, consider creating a private Twitter List where you can add competitors’ accounts (and any associated followers or supporters’ accounts) to keep track of the daily conversations of competing businesses and their supporters. You just never know what insights you might uncover about your rivals (or the customers who support them) buried among the unfiltered conversations they’re having on Twitter.

3. Study Competitors’ Bios

Twitter bio

A well crafted Twitter bio tells the world a lot about you. It also tells the world (and your marketing department) a lot about your competition. Study the keywords your competitors use to describe themselves on Twitter, then drop some of those keywords into a Google search. Does your main competitor’s company rank in the top five search engine results for those keywords? Do you? Is your rival sponsoring ads on Google for keywords relevant to your business? These are all vital pieces of information in the larger puzzle of determining your competitions’ relative rank within your industry.

Next, study any external links within the bios of your competitors. Do these links go to corporate websites or Facebook Pages? Perhaps there’s a temporary link to an upcoming webinar a competing company is hosting (if so, sign up). By noting the links and where they appear in a bio, you can get a sense of the relative importance the company itself places on these links. For example, if a link to a corporate website is conspicuously absent whereas a link to a Facebook or Google+ Page is featured prominently, this can give you some clues to the marketing priorities the company has entrusted to those platforms. You may find you’re now competing on fronts with your competitors to which you have a distinct advantage (or disadvantage).

A good marketing strategy considers your brand message and how best to present that message to your target audience. However, any marketing strategy worth its salt will also take into account how other companies in your sector are attempting to do the same thing. You can save a lot of time and money by focusing on areas where you’re best prepared to counter the efforts of your competitors. Twitter, and its many subtle and not so subtle features, can provide you a very sharp tool with which to prepare your marketing counterattack.

[Image credits: expertinfantry, visualpun.ch, MatJhsn, US Embassy New Zealand]