Pop quiz: How does your social stack up against your closest competitors? Seems straightforward, but how much of your team’s knowledge is based on assumptions vs. data-driven insights?

Measuring success on social media is tricky. Should you be happy about those 100 retweets? Is a 2.4% engagement rate on Instagram cause for concern or celebration? Comparing likes, shares and other performance metrics doesn’t mean much in a vacuum. You need context.

And that’s where competitive intelligence and competitive analysis come in. Competitive analysis gathers and analyzes information about competitors’ strategies, products, market positions, and performance. And in order to understand how your company stacks up against competitors, you can conduct competitive benchmarking.

Through benchmarking, you will better understand where your company is winning and uncover opportunities to improve your strategy. Watch our video below to hear which 2023 social media benchmarks you should know and how to use them:

What is competitive benchmarking?

Competitive benchmarking is the process of measuring your company’s performance, processes, or strategy against that of your competitors or industry peers.

By tracking specific metrics and standards in these areas, you establish realistic benchmarks to assess your industry performance.

The same rings true when it comes to benchmarking on social media.

Social data doesn’t just dictate your content strategy—according to The 2023 State of Social Media Report ™, 92% of leaders believe social media data and insights help with improving competitive positioning.

Rather than second-guess whether a campaign or piece of content performed well, look at your benchmark and get a data-driven answer as to how it compares to similar efforts by competitors.

Difference between competitive benchmarking & competitive analysis

Competitive analysis and competitive benchmarking can feel clearly like the same thing– even though they are different.

Let’s take you on a journey by explaining how they are distinguishable. First, let’s acknowledge how competitive analysis and competitive benchmarking are very similar.

Both are methods of analysis businesses use to stay relevant in their industries. Each method involves an exhaustive process of analyzing a company’s competition.

And, companies use both to find strategic opportunities to improve or discover new opportunities in their market.

Now, let’s acknowledge how they are different.

Competitive analysis and competitive benchmarking have separate purposes. And each approaches understanding competition in a slightly different way.

Competitive analysis focuses on expansively painting the bigger picture of the market and what competitors are up to. It brings to the surface who’s doing what and how. It dives deep into how it compares and contrasts in all major areas. Some examples of its analysis include products and services, target audience, market share, financial performance, and marketing strategies.

The purpose of competitive analysis is to gain a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape within a specific industry or market segment.

On the flip side, competitive benchmarking zooms in on specific details of a market landscape to gauge performance. Competitive benchmarking takes its own performance data and lines it up side by side with competitors. The goal of this is to see who takes the lead in specific areas.

The purpose of competitive benchmarking is to compare a company’s performance against that of its competitors. And this is valuable to companies because it helps them draw insights to understand how much they need to improve in specific areas.

Got it? Good.

Now that you know competitive analysis and competitive benchmarking are not the same thing, let’s jump into the types of competitive benchmarking there are.

How to use competitive benchmarking

Benchmarking isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of exercise. You need to use different lenses to see how your social campaigns stack up to others in your industry. Here are three types of competitive benchmarking to use:

1. Process benchmarking

Process benchmarking involves analyzing and comparing your company’s processes against your competitors. For example, how quickly do your competitors respond to comments, messages and mentions? Are your competitors ignoring negative reviews or customer complaints, or do they address them head-on? If the information is publicly available, also check how your competitors find and vet influencers, and which analytics tools they use.

Ideally, you want to identify opportunities to improve your response times and provide better customer service through social than your competitors while making your processes more efficient.

Let’s compare the jewelry brands Mejuri and Hey Harper as an example.

Mejuri regularly responds to most of the comments they receive from customers. The brand also keeps an eye on customer feedback and passes it on to their product team.

Screenshot of Mejuri's Instagram post showing customer engagement

Hey Harper, on the other hand, is not as responsive to customer comments, which is a gap they can address to better meet consumer expectations in the space.

Screenshot of Harper Lee's Instagram post showing silver hoop earrings

They can boost engagement by acknowledging customer comments and questions and increase loyalty by showing they listen to their customers.

Competitive insights such as these guide you on how to structure your process, understand customer needs and preferences, and of course, level up your social strategy.

2. Strategic benchmarking

Your social presence is a piece of the larger marketing strategy. Strategic social media benchmarking lets you compare your company’s goal-setting, content strategies and other tactics with others in the market.

Here’s what you should focus on:

  • Brand positioning: Check how your competitors position their brands on social media. Their tone of voice, visual branding and messaging are good places to start.
  • Content marketing: Take a look at your competitors’ content marketing strategy. Note the types of content they create, the topics they cover and their distribution channels.
  • Influencer marketing: Analyze the influencer marketing campaigns your competitors are running. Check who they work with and how they’re promoting it.

To see this in action, let’s look at budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet.

Ryanair’s social presence is all about humor. They take a lighthearted approach toward issues such as customer complaints and even consistently use a plane with a face in most of their videos to make them more fun and engaging.

Screenshot of Ryanair's TikTok account

Ryanair’s brand positioning is all about self-awareness. The video below garnered over 15 million views and 1.4 million likes, is based on the same sentiment.

Ryanair TikTok screenshot

The team knows it’s a budget airline and instead of trying to create an image of luxury, they play on the fact that they know their customers are looking for affordable flights. The consistency and humor build engagement and brand awareness while helping Ryanair stand out from other budget airlines.

easyJet, on the other hand, takes a more serious approach to its social presence. Its content focuses on showcasing its crew and providing travel advice.

Screenshot of easyJet's TikTok account

The content is more informational and behind-the-scenes, which establishes a sense of trustworthiness and reliability. For example, in the video below, they provide helpful advice on how flight attendants can help nervous flyers.

Easyjet TikTok screenshot

Ryanair and easyJet have different strategies to their social presence and each has its own strengths. Ryanair is definitely stronger on TikTok since it has over 2 million followers compared to easyJet’s 230,000. A satirical approach makes the brand’s content shareable, but it could be missing potential opportunities to build trust with its customers. On the other hand, easyJet may need to create more buzz worthy content if it wants to increase engagement and followers on TikTok.

This is an example of how competitive benchmarking helps you optimize your strategy by identifying content opportunities and the platforms you should be investing in. Take a peek at what your competitors are doing on each network and the kind of strategies they’re implementing to brainstorm fresh ideas to increase your share of voice on key networks.

3. Performance benchmarking

Performance benchmarking is all about measuring and comparing how well your social media efforts are performing compared to your competitors. Track key metrics, analyze data and identify areas for improvement.

Look at how many followers you have, how much engagement (likes, comments) your posts receive and how many people click on the links you share. Then compare these numbers to your competitors’ social media performance to see how you equate.

For example, if you’re comparing Mercedes and BMW’s Twitter accounts, Mercedes has more followers and tweets than BMW. Looking deeper at their performance, such as average likes and retweets across posts, and each account’s engagement rates will help identify gaps and opportunities for BMW to increase their following and customer loyalty on the platform.

Screenshot of Mercedes-Benz's Twitter account

Screenshot of BMW's Twitter account

This type of data analysis gives you an objective view of how your performance is faring against your competitors. Use this information to adjust your strategy and targeting efforts for better performance. Wondering how to find this data? Competitive monitoring is a great place to start.

How to start the competitive benchmarking process?

Here is the process for doing a comprehensive competitive benchmarking:

1. Choose competitors to analyze for benchmarking

You ideally want to look at competitors whose social presence, industries, product type and target audience closely resemble yours. For example, an independent cafe or retailer operating on a smaller scale shouldn’t create benchmarks based on Starbucks or Target.

Include a mix of direct (similar businesses) and indirect (different but complementary businesses) competitors. For example, Trello’s direct competitors are Asana and ClickUp, since they’re both project management tools. Indirect competitors could be Slack, Basecamp or any other tool that facilitates collaboration and task management.

When you have this list, create a SWOT analysis to look at the Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunity and Threats between you and your competitors.

2. Choose metrics and KPIs to track for benchmarking

Quantitative social media metrics help you benchmark your performance against competitors and also identify areas of improvement for your campaigns. These quantifiable insights allow you to look for patterns and track progress.

While you can measure click-throughs, engagement rate and ad buys from your posts, this data may not be readily available from your competitors. Focus on metrics that you can spot in the wild such as:

  • Interactions
  • Post volume
  • Keywords and hashtags

It’s also helpful to ask critical questions during your analysis such as:

  • Are they gaining more followers?
  • How much engagement are they getting on their posts?
  • How often do they post on social media? Biweekly, everyday or once in a blue moon?
  • What time and days do they post? Just weekdays or weekends too?
  • What hashtags do they use? Are they sticking to one or do they experiment with these?

Asking these questions and tracking the answers gives you a clearer picture of their strategy. It also helps unearth potential opportunities for your brand to stand out.

Say your competitors use trending topics and popular hashtags in their social media posts, increasing visibility and engagement. Meanwhile, your use of hashtags and trending content is less frequent or less strategic. This presents an opportunity to better align your content with the trends your audience cares about, leveraging relevant hashtags to make sure you’re part of the conversation while increasing your reach and engagement.

While you can pull all this data manually, this is where a competitive analysis tool like Sprout Social comes in handy. Our platform compiles performance metrics from competitors and synthesizes how they compare.

sprout social competitor benchmarking report

Beyond social media competitive benchmarks, use additional competitor analysis tools to complete the holistic view of competing campaigns. This might include:

  • Email marketing frequency and campaign types
  • Search traffic, volume of website visitors and target keywords
  • Content publishing frequency, blog post topics and length

3. Choose qualitative data to benchmark

Qualitative research includes reviewing competitor content, reels, social carousels, stories and any other content they share.

Think about any consistent themes they may have and what formats they use. Do they just highlight their product or service, or are they also featuring customer testimonials and behind-the-scenes content? Also, do they stick to static posts like carousels or are they also experimenting with Reels and stories?

You can then compare and contrast your content against theirs. Consider the topics you focus on, how often you post and the formats you use. Check to see any gaps in their content or areas where they may be missing out. This process helps you identify any potential opportunities you may have missed and use their content for inspiration.

Sprout Social streamlines your competitive benchmarking process by covering qualitative and quantitative metrics in one platform. A holistic overview of your competitors’ content and performance metrics helps you better understand how they deliver value and engage their audience.

8 competitive benchmarking tactics for social media

Below is a breakdown of social data points to look at to determine your competitive benchmarks.

1. Content performance

First things first: Marketers need to know what’s considered top-performing content in their space.

When you create consistent posts that explode in “likes” and shares, it’s a clear signal that you’re giving your audience what they want. Similarly, you should know what your competitors are posting that’s scoring them the same sort of love.

The good news? These numbers don’t have to be a secret thanks to competitive analysis tools. For example, with BuzzSumo you can see the most popular content in your industry broken down by keyword. You can also see how well it’s performed across social media.

competitive benchmarking in buzzsumo

But more importantly, you need to start by zeroing in on which pieces of content are working for you.

For example, analytics such as engagement reports in Sprout provide an in-depth breakdown on which of your pieces score the most traction. Analyzing impressions, engagements and clicks gives brands have actionable insights on what they should be posting on a day-to-day basis.

sprout social engagement report

By weeding out underperforming posts and content, you’ll consistently fine-tune your post performance over time. Identifying those posts that are consistently reliable, middle-of-the-pack performers serve as your benchmark of where your brand’s social content needs to be.

2. Timing and frequency

Timing is a critical competitive benchmark as brands try to maximize the number of eyeballs they get on any given post.

Based on our data, the best times to post on social media vary from platform to platform.

Based on data from Sprout Social, a data heat map show shows the best times to post on X (Twitter) globally in 2024.

Either way, if you aren’t publishing your posts when your audience is most active, you’re inevitably stifling the reach of your content. You’re also risking an opportunity for competitors to swoop in for your followers’ precious attention.

Brands should not only be aware of when they’re posting but also how often. For example, if your competitors are consistently posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter multiple times today, and you’re not, there’s likely going to be a significant difference in terms of your social followings.

Take some time to conduct a competitive audit that examines when, where and how often your competitors are posting. Doing so clues you in on “dead” periods of time where nobody in your industry is posting or networks they aren’t using effectively. This will open your eyes to opportunities your competitors are neglecting.

Sprout's listening competitive analysis performance report

3. Engagement rate

It can’t be said enough: Your follower count isn’t the be-all and end-all of your social presence. As a competitive benchmark, your brand’s engagement rate is much more important because it pits your follower count against how many likes, shares or comments a post scores.

Here’s a breakdown of average Instagram engagement from Phlanx. Note how smaller accounts typically have higher engagement rates versus bigger ones. This is something to consider if you’re an up-and-coming company creating benchmarks versus big-box competitors.

phlanx instagram engagement benchmarks

A brand with 1,000 engaged, active followers is much more valuable than a brand with 10,000 inactive followers. Whether it’s due to fake followers or lackluster content, there are brands that have seemingly massive “followings” on paper but low engagement rates.

Just like any metric mentioned here, it’s important to understand what constitutes a strong engagement rate in your specific area of business. This isn’t universal by any means and can vary significantly by industry or niche.

Ultimately, higher engagement means higher participation in your campaigns. This enthusiasm is much more likely to result in sales, brand advocates and a stronger ROI for your efforts.

4. Types of content

In pursuit of more engagement, brands should look at the types of content they publish as a key competitive benchmark. Think about it. There’s so much diversity in terms of which formats perform best on which platforms.

Types of content customers like to see from brands they follow

For example, brands like RXBAR publish a combination of videos, carousels, influencer posts on their Instagram and tons of Stories, which you can see highlighted on their IG page.

RXBar's instagram highlights a variety of content, including different uses of Stories

The takeaway here is that competitive brands don’t just post the same type of content again and again and expect results. Similarly, you should have an idea of how your content strategy serves as a contrast to others in your space.

As part of auditing your competition, try to see which types of content or promotional tactics they’re sleeping on. Maybe it’s video. Perhaps they don’t do much in terms of user-generated content and hashtags.

Regardless, there are so many social media ideas to ensure your content strategy doesn’t look identical to your competitors’.

5. Growth rate

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you consistently post and engage with your social followers, your presence will grow. Publishing fresh content. Rolling out new campaigns. Going back-and-forth with fans. The list goes on and on.

And while these are all great actions to take, brands should be aware of just how much their social following grows as a result. As a competitive benchmark, growth rate examines how much your following has grown versus raw numbers which don’t mean much by themselves.

For example, while 1,000 followers in 6 months might seem like a flood to you, that might be a drop in the bucket to a major brand.

Reports such as Sprout’s audience growth analysis track your growth rate over time alongside your competition. This helps you see if certain campaigns were more effective than others, and likewise if your competitors put together a top-tier campaign themselves.

Sprout's growth competitors report

6. Share of voice

Do you consider your brand to be a leader in your industry? An up-and-comer? Somewhere in-between? No matter what space you’re in, you’re likely gunning for a position among your competition.

Share of voice is a competitive benchmark that measures just how much you’re being heard against similar brands via social. For example, are you up on all of your industry hashtags? Are you sitting on the sidelines when it comes to controversy in your space or are you taking a stand?

Boosting your share of voice ultimately involves contributing more to your industry’s conversation. This means posting thoughtful content, engaging with your audience and taking a stance on issues within your industry.

7. Sentiment analysis

There is more to social media than just being the loudest voice in the room.

We live in a day and age where not all press is good press. Sentiment analysis is a competitive benchmark that measures whether or not your brand mentions are positive, negative or neutral in the eyes of your audience.

This metric is particularly important if you’re laser-focused on customer care and interacting with your followers. Sentiment analysis should be part of your social listening strategy to ensure that you capitalize on positive mentions and address negative ones.

Sprout's sentiment analysis report

8. Social mentions

Scoring social mentions is an essential goal for any brand. Being able to participate in conversations provides moments to sell your brand in a personalized way to audiences that have already made an effort to engage with you.

As a result, you need to know who’s talking about you and likewise who might be talking about your competitors. Again, this is why social listening is so important for tracking competitive benchmarks.

Sprout Social Twitter mentions

Because after all, not all mentions should be treated the same. Scoring a shout-out from a major industry player or influencer serves as social proof for your brand. The ability to track, measure and respond to mentions in real-time also signals you as a more active participant in your industry.

From benchmarking to action: Competitor mapping

Competitive benchmarking provides foundational data and insights, but to take this to the next level, teams need a way to act on it. Enter competitor mapping, a strategic tool that empowers businesses to make informed decisions and seize opportunities identified in their benchmarking data.

Competitor mapping puts your benchmark data into context and helps you identify concrete next steps that align with your organizational goals. Mapping also involves using competitor data to set realistic targets and refined success metrics.

What does your competitive benchmarking strategy look like?

Competitive benchmarking is a crucial piece of any social strategy. The better you understand your benchmarks, the easier it is to come up with high-performing content and well-rounded strategies to grow your social presence.

Benchmarking is an ongoing process that you need to consistently review and adjust. Follow our suggested tactics to get a clearer picture of where you stand and what changes might be necessary as you evolve your marketing strategy.

Take a look at The 2023 Content Benchmarks Report we developed to help you organize and prioritize your social strategy.