There is no question that following your main competitors on Twitter is a good idea. Your competitors activity on Twitter might give inspire you when you can’t think what sort of content to post and, by monitoring their sentiment analysis, you can discover the best ways to connect and communicate with Twitter users.
The real question is whether you should follow your competitors openly or monitor their Twitter activity in secret: by following them openly, you can build solid relationships and maintain an honest, friendly Twitter strategy; by monitoring them secretly, you can steal their best ideas and their disgruntled customers.
Both choices have positives and negatives, the one you choose really depends on how you want to portray your company on Twitter. To help you decide, here is a description of the two options:
Following a competitor on Twitter openly is easy: simply click the “Follow” button next to any one of their tweets or on their profile page. After following a competitor, why not try to build up a rapport by retweeting their tweets or mentioning them in a tweet of your own. If your competitor blocks you, and monitoring their Twitter account was proving beneficial, then read the ‘Secretly’ section of this post.
On Twitter, most small companies follow a number of other businesses local to them who provide similar products and services. By networking amongst themselves on Twitter, small companies can help each other out. If two companies follow one another, the clients and customers who follow one company might be encouraged to follow the other one. Of course, it’s always a good idea to follow and connect with the most influential followers your competitor has, so why not actively approach them instead of waiting for them to follow you.
Competitors can enter into conversations with one another on Twitter about developments in their industry, or retweet each others content. By networking in this way, local companies who would otherwise be rivals will not only build potentially lucrative relationships with each other, they will also promote their brand on Twitter to anyone who takes an interest in the conversation. Actually engaging someone in conversation is the best way to network and promote your brand on Twitter.
If you and your rival are following one another and you have built up a mutually beneficial relationship, you might be persuaded to recommend one another when a customer wants something that one of you can’t provide. Furthermore, by maintaining an open and honest presence on Twitter, rather than a secretive and aggressive one, people may be more willing to recommend you to friends and strangers alike.
Monitoring your competition secretly might be more time-consuming, but is often more rewarding as well. First of all you need to find the competition. Create a list of industry terms, competitors’ Twitter handles, product names and hashtags that your competitors have used before. Using Twitter’s Advanced Search, experiment with various combinations of these keywords. Advanced search also allows you to analyse the sentiment of results, so you can search for negative and positive comments about your rivals. When you find a search with useful results save it using the cog at the top right of the results stream. You can then see saved searches by clicking in the search bar.
Having found the competition, organise them into lists using Twitter’s list tool. Lists allow users to follow accounts without the owner of the account knowing. Make sure all your lists are private so that your competitors aren’t aware that you are following them.
Monitor your lists and continue to update your advanced searches frequently, then strike when the opportunity presents itself. For example, if someone complains about a competitor’s product, or tries to get your competitor to respond to a complaint, you could swoop in and contact the complainer yourself. How aggressive you are depends on the situation: if the customer is complaining about a B2C product, just tweeting them to say that you’ve heard their complaint and responded when your competitor hasn’t is probably enough; if the customer is complaining about a B2B product, then it may be a good idea to contact then immediately and offer one of your alternatives. Contact the disgruntled customer privately, via direct message, otherwise you might start a Twitter war. Also, I would advise not being too aggressive, as people don’t particularly like being advertised to directly on Twitter.
Use sites like Tweepi, Tweet Grader and Klout to analyse your competitors and, perhaps more importantly, their followers. Search for your competitors most influential followers and try to connect with them: follow them and start a conversation. By swaying the most influential followers in your favour, you could steal large swathes of your competitors followership.
Keep an eye on the links and Twitter cards that your competitors post. If they post a YouTube video or a link to a Pinterest pin then click through and have a look at their activity on other social media sites. Find out what other sites your competitors use, how they use them and how they connect them with Twitter, it may give you some ideas of your own.
Of course, you can effectively pick and choose strategies from the ‘Openly’ and ‘Secretly’ sections, combining them into something different – I have just laid them out in this fashion to illustrate the two extremes. For example, there is really nothing wrong with using lists to monitor your competitors, as they will never know you’ve done it. However, as they will never know you’ve been monitoring them, they are less likely to have noticed you: by following them, you are openly saying “hello, here I am, let’s connect”.
What I haven’t said yet, but is perhaps what you should take away most from this post, is that, although following your competitors on Twitter is undeniably a useful strategy, it is just as important not to waste too much time following. You need to come up with your own ideas to create a truly unique Twitter profile, if you just follow your competitors you will never do that. By following your competitors too much, you are saying that all you are is a follower, whereas, really, you want to be a leader.
How do you follow your competitors on Twitter?
Contact us on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments below.
Follow us @SocialMediaF & @WillAtSMF
Or go to our Facebook page.