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4 things you can learn about your competitors on Facebook

4 things you can learn about your competitors on Facebook Doug Schumacher

Savvy marketers have always used their competitors' activities as a way of building up industry intelligence. By analyzing even a few of your competitors, in a year's time you'll be privy to significantly more information about engagement levels, brand positionings, and audience preferences than if you were to scour only your own company's activities.

Each marketer's Facebook page produces a wealth of information, publicly available through the Facebook API. In this article, we're going to take a look at some of the data, and how you can view and interpret findings to augment your industry knowledge and maximize the social media impact of your brand.

Note that you can pull this data through various sources, and in these examples, we're using charts from our social media analytics company Zuum. After each example listed below, you can also click through to see a live demo of each data type.

So let's go through some things you can learn about your competitors on Facebook.

What their market research tells them about the audience

There are only so many openings in a brand's content calendar, so the messages that get posted typically have considerable thought put into them. If you share a common audience or have similar products to the competitor, then their content and the type of response it generates will likely be relevant to you and your social media efforts.

The audience appeals they're addressing
When they post, what are the rational and emotional drivers they're touching on? When they talk about their products or services, are they using humor, fear, statistics, testimonials? The product descriptors used are strong indicators of how brands think the audience will relate to their products and services.

How they're positioning their brand
What brand strengths is the competitor trying to reinforce? A competitor's research also tries to define the type of company the audience wants to do business with. Is their tone low key and down to earth, or lofty and aspirational? Are they using elitist or populist language? The type of image the brand casts indicates a lot about how they see themselves relative to the target audience, as well as relative to other brands in the industry.

Charts: Top posting themes for Mercedes and Porsche, September 2015
While Mercedes and Porsche may both appeal to users with very similar demographics, viewing their most common posting topics shows each pulling at different heartstrings. Mercedes posts often on topics of luxury and comfort, whereas Porsche leans more toward driving and performance.


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Live demo data showing what Facebook fans are saying about energy drinks

Where they put their money

Money talks, so knowing which content pieces a brand is most heavily promoting can present an interesting financial POV on their content. You can get a reasonable estimate of how much a brand promotes a given post, or a given topic, and that information can provide insights into the relative value or urgency the brand places in getting that message across. (More on how you can estimate a competitor's paid promotion of posts on Facebook here.)

What topics are most valuable to them?
When brands allocate extra money to promote an agenda, you know they're serious about reaching a goal. If they've selected one product of 100 to focus on, it's likely they have information indicating that product should appeal to the audience more strongly than other products. Again, likely based on research they've done on their product features and benefits, and how they relate to the target audience.

What promotions they're running
Promotions, often indicated by hashtags used in the posts, are another interesting glimpse into the hot buttons brands try to push, and can indicate a number of things about why the brand is putting additional resources into the initiative. It could indicate which products aren't selling well, products with higher than normal margins, how frequently they run promotions, and the size and value of the offers they run.

Chart: Naked Juice campaign for charity
Naked Juice's campaign #drinkgooddogood is showing heavy promotion, indicated by the large difference between total engagements and engagements in the first 24 hours of each post's lifetime in the upper right "Engagements" chart (more on that method for determining competitor post promotion here). In this case, they're spending money on a charitable cause, so this initiative is most likely about establishing certain brand qualities they want to be known for.

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Live demo data showing a campaign with significant promotion for Burn Energy Drink 

The size and impact of their brand influencers

Brand influencers can generate significant lifts in overall brand impact, so understanding who are likely influencers and to what level they're willing to participate can help you estimate costs and potential returns in employing influencers for your own brand.

What's the impact of influencers relative to the brand's content?
To measure this, we can find the total social media impact of an influencer's posts (measured in engagements generated) on the brand and compare that to the brand's own content. This indicates how much effort they likely put into their influencer's marketing, as well as what impact you might be able to expect from a similar approach, were you to pursue it.

Who are their influencers?
For the record, influencers don't have to be international celebrities. Even local communities have people who stand out. It's also interesting to note an influencer's relationship to the brand. Are they experts in the same or a related field? Even influencers who emerge organically from the community are good clues as to the demographics or characteristics of the people likely to become influencers. And of course, that could be a good group to promote certain types of content to.

What are the influencers saying?
Influencers vary greatly by what and how much they'll say about your brand. Some will mention the brand casually, some very enthusiastically. Some will post a lot, some a little. And of course there's the perspective they bring to the post. Are they making a testimonial to the brand, integrating the brand into their daily routine, or just mentioning the brand per a possible endorsement contract? When it comes time to reach and connect with your own influencers, the more you know about the relationship between your competitor brands and their influencers, the more prepared you'll be to set up a mutually beneficial relationship with your own influencers.

Chart: Top influencers for fashion brands, September 2015
While not surprising to see major fashion brands employing celebrities to help get the word out, it's interesting to note that the celebrities are generating far more impact than what mentions in popular news sources are generating. That's why they get the big bucks.

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Live demo data shows impact generated by top influencers in the energy drinks category

What their customers like and dislike about them

Marketing isn't just a matter of considering what customers may like about your company's products and services. You also have to take into account the other options they have available to them. So knowing your competitor's pros and cons can help you understand how to best present your own features and benefits.

Most positive
What are your competitor's fans most complimentary about? Is it an area in which you can compete, or should you direct the audience's attention to something else? And how do the compliments your products garner compare to those of your competitor?

Most negative
What do their fans dislike about their product, and how vehement are they about it? Does your product suffer from similar criticism? Or, is your product a good alternative that could be promoted as such?

Are your competitors' problems persistent, or quickly resolved?
When the company runs into negativity on a given issue, how effectively is that negativity resolved? Is the issue going away, or expanding? Has the issue continued for months on end? This knowledge can not only help you create more emotionally relevant content messages, but give your product team a deeper understanding of the competing products and customer preferences.

Chart: Increase in fan posts on topic "aspartame" on Pepsi's U.S. page
In the chart below there's a sharp increase in fan posts on the topic "aspartame" on the Pepsi page. Interestingly, it's a case where Pepsi's removal of aspartame is causing significant fan buzz, most of it positive. How the Pepsi community responds, and its relative impact, are good intelligence for any beverage brand considering a similar move.

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Live demo data shows fan reactions to a new watermelon flavored energy drink 

Keep in mind that the above examples are only a few of many. The main point is to be aware of your competitor's activity on a regular basis. And as is often the case in research, simply exposing yourself to what's going on can give you a fresh perspective that generates new insights and observations.

What other learnings could you see springing from analyzing your competitor's Facebook activity?

Doug Schumacher is cofounder at Zuum.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Social networking" image via iStock.

Doug Schumacher is the co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. Zuum reveals a number of key insights into what type of social media content will generate maximum impact for a given industry. His interactive career began in 1996...

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