9 essential watch-outs when running a competitor social media review

LinkedIn have recently announced a new ‘competitor analytics’ section to help companies track how other brands are faring. But, competitor social media audits are all too often riddled with misleading information – this post explains how to avoid some common pitfalls.

Please run an audit of our 5 main competitors’ use of social media” is a common brief we receive, and a sensible thing to do when considering how your company will use social technologies to stand out from the crowd.

However, all too often the data that is fed into these audits is misleading and can lead to businesses making incorrect strategic decisions.

A ‘social media audit’ sounds like a nice, neat project that can be rattled off without too much fuss, but in reality there is a considerable amount of nuance to navigate. And that’s primarily due to the incomplete, fragmented view that we’re able to gather (externally) of a competitors’ activity. It’s a jigsaw that needs putting together carefully.

We’ve listed 9 watchouts for next time you’re running (or briefing) a social media competitor review…

1. Leading with followers

It’s tempting for page one of the audit to list the social media accounts of each company and rank them by number of followers. It’s a nice, neat metric that everyone gets. But… in 2021 how significant is follower count? I would argue on many social platforms the answer is “not huge”.

It of course gives a sense of overall scale… but how many of those followers actually see content from the brand (because of low organic reach)? How many were acquired in 2013 when many brands were picking up fans through competitions or paid ads?!

2. Basing it on how many social networks they’re active on

Another ‘easy’ one to discover, but which demands context.

I often see social media accounts which haven’t posted for 3 months, organically at least. So what does this tell us? Well, perhaps there wasn’t strong governance in place to ensure a solid content plan. Or that they’re posting almost exclusively through paid only posts. Essentially, we don’t know – so we can’t be too sweeping with our conclusions.

Instagram is a great example of this… I know brands who are extremely active through paid ads in the newsfeed and on Stories across their different product lines, but to look at their organic content, you’d think it was a minor platform for them.

The other angle is what do they use the social accounts for? Do they run a dedicated customer care account? Do they have a UK account, or just a global one? These points help us build up some idea of how a competitor is strategically thinking about social media.

3. Organic activity is just a small part of the puzzle

Building on point 1, another major pitfall is to base the review on what a company does with organic content on their social media accounts. It’s like only watching Rocky III. It’s good, but only tells part of the story.

Consider that for many companies, social media is now all about leveraging sophisticated paid social media tactics to reach specific audiences with tailored content. Looking at a company’s last 20 organic posts on Facebook isn’t going to give you any true sense of how the company is approaching social media.

This fragmented view of the social media landscape is ultimately at the heart of what makes competitor social media audits messy.

Fortunately on Facebook, Instagram and to a degree LinkedIn, it’s possible to look at the ads a company is running to get at some sense of their paid media approach.

Facebook & Instagram – check out their Ads Library

LinkedIn – visit the company’s page, click on Posts, then Ads

Twitter – sadly they retired their equivalent tool

4. Don’t forget Stories!

Ephemeral content… the latest kid on the social media block, but a beast to track!

If 50% of activity on Instagram is on Stories (a recent estimate), then only looking at the newsfeed is only half of the story – no pun intended! But Stories won’t hang around for you to browse at your leisure on a competitor’s page!

5. Prioritise activity over data

When it comes to presenting an audit report we all want to see stats, charts and rankings.

The challenge is, with all the caveats already mentioned, listing how often a brand tweets organically or their average engagement rate on Facebook can only go so far.

When it comes to benchmarking and ranking we would typically assess how a company is using their social media and score that against a set of best practice criteria (that we’ve built up over time). This would look at factors such as the type of post formats they’re using and whether visuals are tailored for social media.

This approach allows a set of scores to be developed for each competitor and a ranking produced.

6. There’s more to social media mentions than volume

One of the easiest to measure. One of the trickiest to extract meaningful insight from.

The temptation is to head to Twitter and grab all mentions of each competitors’ handle and pop that in a chart. But what does this tell us? Without digging in further, we can’t say.

Company ABC might have received a huge spike in complaints around something that happened in a store. Company B might have been mistakenly tagged in a mention of Justin Beiber and retweeted thousands of times (true story!).

The trick (again) is to add layers of context to understand how people are using social media to talk about each competitor.

7. Customer care activity isn’t always what it seems

I used to hate it when competitor social media customer care reports were published by third parties. If the company in question sat below a certain competitor, there would be much noise as to why this was.

More often than not, the metrics being used to rank the companies were a) easy to automate b) without any context. The % of tweets a company replies to is a great example – more replies isn’t necessarily a good thing.

8. Beware the automated report

Don’t get me wrong, social media management and reporting tools are a lifesaver!

But, the temptation to download a pre-templated “competitor report” can be, without the caveats we’ve been discussing, a dangerous route. I would always suggest using such reports to inform your own commentary and observations, and never use them ‘out of the box’.

9. Social media does not = Twitter

This point impacts on most of the above. Twitter, as the most open and easy to access platform, is a researcher’s dream. But… think about who is using Twitter – is it representative of your market? Just because the data is easy to access, doesn’t mean it should dominate your analysis.

To conclude: qualitative trumps quantitative

You can probably see a bit of a common thread emerging here… that the numbers on their own are rarely that helpful.

More than possibly any other type of media report, the competitor social media report must have context and caveats. I would always recommend an introductory page at the start, which outlines these points so that all readers (particularly those who aren’t social media experts) understand the context of what they are looking at.

How else do you measure competitors’ on social media? Please comment below.

If you’d like to speak about running an audit please get in touch 👉 simon@slpconsulting.co.uk / 07970 890468

Image creds: firmbee-com-jrh5lAq-mIs-unsplash, hans-peter-gauster-3y1zF4hIPCg-unsplash

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