One of the projects I love to work on the most is a social media audit. I review how a business’ social media channels sit in relation to their competitors in the social media space, going through a checklist of industry standard expectations on content, design, frequency, and responses – but also look at things like tone of voice, the audience they are trying to engage and more, drawing recommendations and best practice for an industry.
While we’re often taught in business ‘not to focus on our competitors’. I believe that wisdom makes sense if you compare details like ‘they have x number of followers and we need to match that!’, but this overlooks the full picture of how they got there or what their objectives are. Looking at competitors in the context of an industry snapshot, to learn industry norms, expectations and opportunities, I believe there is a lot you can learn from a social media audit about what your competitors are thinking and doing.
Here’s why a social media audit will level up your business…
Industry Best Practice
When we first start in business, we often do an industry audit as part of a business plan: sweeping the landscape to see who else is in the space. How often do we review our competitors with a fresh set of eyes when we’ve been running a few years? It’s something that can fall by the wayside, or perhaps we just focus on one or two businesses who we see as our direct competitors. But we can learn something from all the competitors in our industry – even if they are small, because they might be nimble, trying innovative tactics.
Even if you’re just looking at the design elements of their social channels: what their cover images look like, is their About section filled out, how often do they post, do they respond to customers, how many followers do they have – you can learn about what is best practice for your industry and how you can improve.
Get out of your pond
One of the first things I do when conducting a social media audit is Google the industry (even if I’m given a list of competitors to audit). Why? Because that’s what customers are likely to do.
It’s likely that the people who rank well in Google search have got their ducks in a row, and that their social media is potentially run really well, too, if for no other reason that they might just have the budget to do so. You might even find the people who rank well on Google are not even competitors you have on your radar because they operate in a different city, but you might find they service clients in your city.
The other thing I really like about Googling the industry in a freeform way is that it gets you out of your pond. Instead of googling local competitors of “Interior designers in Sydney”, I might google “Interior designers in London”. You might know your competitors and everything they are doing – but this is all the same pond. How are people around the world thinking about this industry? Are they doing innovative things that no one in your area is doing?
You might have four competitors locally – but perhaps none of them is doing anything truly innovative. Google your industry in London, or New York or Auckland – what are people doing there on thier social media channels?
Find innovative tactics
When I review the social media channels for competitors, I don’t just look at the big guys: I also look at the small guys. You can learn something from both: a big competitor might have the budget to make flashy graphics and the latest thing (like video cover images, for example, or Facebook chatbots), but the small guys might use other tactics that the big guys miss because they are nimbler. They might a Facebook plugin to grow their newsletter, or link to a niche social network (Houzz, for example, is the go-to social network for interior designers that the big guys often miss), or even link to a Facebook Group they manage. These are tactics a big corporation might not use, but the small guys do, and they are awesome ideas that might work for your business.
Stepping back and seeing the techniques everyone in your industry is using might inspire you with new tactics or approaches.
Explore new markets
One of the things I find most interesting when I’m looking at a competitor audit is looking at the audiences different companies are targeting. While no one explicitly states who they are targeting, you can read between the lines to find this out. Looking at the kinds of content posted, the tone of voice, the style of images, whether the content is something someone outside of a niche group could understand or appreciate, shows who a company is trying to connect with through their content.
Some competitors might target consumers, some might target industry specialists, some might target distributors. Being mindful of how each of these competitors is targeting different audiences means there might be an opportunity to specialise on one overlooked market, or potentially expand into another one.
Pinpoint your customer needs
There is value in sweeping the testimonials and reviews of your competitors. Why? Customers tell you what is important to them in their reviews. What language and words are they using? By isolating the key words customers are using in testimonials, you can see what these customers value: whether it’s speed, or approachability, or reliability or cost (or something else entirely specific to your industry!).
Many social media pages have customer reviews on their Facebook pages, so sweeping these and seeing what people are saying and the keywords they use, means you can have a new understanding of what customers in your space need. You can rework your social media content to emphasise these features or update your website with a focus on the words your industry customers are looking for.
A social media audit of your own social media presence and that of your industry can be a really useful technique to give you new insights into your customer needs, new markets, industry best practise and new tactics and techniques that can be used in your business.
Ready to gain new insight into your industry, get an understanding of who your competitors are targeting on social media and the latest tactics being used? Get in touch today.
Originally published in October 2017, updated in June 2020,
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About Rachel Beaney
Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.