A Checklist for Spying on Your Competitors’ Social Media
So, you want to use social media to promote your food brand but you’re not sure where to start?
A smart starting place is “social recon”: scouting out what your competitors are already up to on social media.
This is a strategic first step because surveying the social media playing field will help you…
1) identify which food brands, platforms and types of content are really killing it with consumers; and
2) differentiate and crystallize your brand identity and messaging in a way that will help you stick out amid all the noise.
But, before we begin, does the idea of spying make you uncomfortable?
For starters, spying is a bit hyperbolic since all the marketing content we recommend researching is already published and publicly available. So stop that Amazon search for “spy gadget bugging devices” you just started.
Secondly, not doing your homework in this area leaves your brand vulnerable to repeating others’ failed ventures, wasting time and money, as well as at risk of accidentally creating content that too closely resembles another brand’s, giving your brand an unoriginal, copycat vibe.
The last thing you’d want is to put a lot of time and effort into social marketing only to come off as a knockoff.
Now that you’re ready to get your spy on, where should you begin?
After making a list of all the national, regional and local competitors in your category, start making notes about the following (an excel sheet may be in order!):
What platforms do they use? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are the most popular for food brands, though you may also want to check to see if they’re using YouTube or LinkedIn (B2B purposes!) to good effect.
2. Number of Followers
While scouting out which platforms your competitors make use of, you should also note the size of their audience by the platform. Whether they’re called “likes,” “followers,” or “page fans,” this number will help you key in on which brands are doing the best job of using social media to attract potential customers.
Keep in mind, though, if a brand’s page has hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, you shouldn’t feel disheartened. They may have created an account in Facebook’s early days before Facebook made it much harder for companies to invite people to follow them. Keep in mind, also, a large following doesn’t always equal an engaged one, which is why buying followers is never a good idea either.
3. Types of Content
Once you identify a few competitors with enviable numbers on social media, peruse their posts, tweets or pins by skimming through their profile’s feed. What different types of content do they use?
First, look for what multimedia they tend to use–is it images, GIFs, short or long-form videos, infographics, just straight text all by its lonesome? Most likely it will be some mix. Of course, some social media platforms allow for a greater variety of content of multimedia than others.
Next, consider what their content tends to be about.
Are they promoting their products? Offering discounts or promotions? Giving business updates? Celebrating corporate milestones? Running contests or giveaways? Sharing behind-the-scenes stories of their brand? Celebrating customers’ stories? Announcing events? Voicing their industry expertise? Promoting local business partners, civic engagement or other relevant organizations?
All of these have their place and time. However, while analyzing their mix of content you’ll want to pay special attention to…
4. Engagement Levels
What’s getting the best reaction from social media users? What’s generating likes, loves and positive comments? The algorithms of most social media platforms reward content that garners a response. That means if you can create content people will view for an extended period of time, click on, like or comment on, you’ll get increased exposure for free because of it.
Along with types of content and levels of engagement, you should also note a competitor’s posting frequency, or how often they are posting content.
Social media marketers need to develop a cadence that works for their audience and the platform alike. Post too often and you risk fatiguing your audience, over-saturating their feed with your content and potentially turning them off to your brand. Post too little and you risk losing touch and failing to be the top-of-mind brand for your product category.
But that cadence will vary based on the platform. Each social media platform has its own decay function–or the average rate at which newly posted content “decays.”
Because most social media feeds are based on a reverse chronology, showing you content users in your network have posted most recently, older content will eventually sink to the bottom of the feed never to be seen again.
Twitter, for example, has a much higher decay function than Instagram, and thus calls for more frequent posting in order to get content seen. Whereas a post on Instagram may be visible in a follower’s feed for days after posting, the average tweet is unlikely to be seen after a number of hours–unless it’s garnering a lot of attention, that is.
6. Paid Social
So far we’ve only discussed how to appraise a competitor’s “organic” (as opposed to “paid”) social media marketing. But what if you want to see where your competitors are willing to invest their dollars?
Some platforms include an easy way to do so. Facebook, for example, introduced an “Info and Ads” tab to each business’s profile in June 2018. Find this feature on the lefthand sidebar menu of a business’s Facebook page. It enables you to see all the paid content a brand is currently running. Intended to increase transparency among political advertisers during campaign seasons, this feature helps businesses quickly investigate their competitors’ messaging, creative, current promotions and more.
7. Customer Service Opportunities
Finally, your social media reconnaissance would be incomplete without a peek at how your competitors handle customer interactions.
The beauty–and sometimes horror–of social media is that it’s a two-way street. You can reach large audiences relatively cheaply, but they can also reach you. Not only will customers respond to your content, but they’ll also expect a response in return.
Pitfall or opportunity–which will you choose? Brands that fail to honor social media’s two-way street often end up embittering otherwise would-be passionate followers. Brands that have a customer response plan in place often forge strong personal connections with customers instead.
So keep an eye out for how your competitors are managing audience interactions. Do they optimize buttons and links to redirect fans to places where conversations can be more easily handled? Do they have auto-chat messaging up and running to handle the most frequently asked questions? Do they have strategic boilerplate responses ready to streamline their interactions?
Or do they let sincere customer concerns go unattended? If this happens in your posts’ and ads’ comment threads, be warned: it’s an easy way for a competitor to swoop in and whisk away your customers. And, in the end, it’s your fault for making social media, well, anti-social.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this topic, please reach out to the NewPoint team. If you are interested in more food marketing topics, please visit our “Intel” page or check out NewPoint’s Patrick Nycz’s book: Moving Your Brand Up the Food Chain.