February 22nd, 2012

Competitive Intelligence: 5 things you can learn about your competition through social media

How often do you keep up with your competition? Once a year? Quarterly? Most businesses track their rivals through trade publications, reports from the sales force and/or observing marketing tactics like ads, billboards, radio and television commercials or online campaigns.

The problem with these tactics is it really isn’t competitive intelligence. It’s old news. Businesses are reluctant to share any relevant news with trade publications any more. Why should they give away their secrets to the competition? By the time your sales force shares information with your marketing department, it’s too late. Besides, shouldn’t your marketing department be giving your sales team information it could use on a monthly basis? You may have collected all the collateral from your rivals’ last marketing campaign, but do you know if it actually worked?

Social media is a fluid platform full of millions of posts each day. These posts are full of opinions not only about your business, but your competition as well. How would you like to get a weekly or monthly SWOT analysis on your competition?

Below is a list of questions any brand can answer if they have the right listening tools and people who know how to use those tools to pull out the important information and deliver it in a package you can use.

 Competitive Environment

  1. Who are our major and minor competitors? We all have a list of our competition. The list is usually compiled once a year for a sales meeting, marketing plan or corporate retreat. This list needs to be updated monthly not annually. Know who your true competition is, don’t guess based on old information.
  2. What are people saying about my competitionDo you really know what your customers are saying about your competition? This would be good information to know before it’s too late. If people are unhappy with your competition, you need to know ASAP to take advantage.
  3. What are they saying about my businessFind out what people are saying about your business. Not just on your Facebook and Twitter feed, but everywhere. People are talking about your business on blogs, in forums, social bookmarks, Wikipedia, through videos, comment sections on news articles and much more. You need to know what’s working and what isn’t as it happens.
  4. Whom are we compared to? Are people comparing your company’s products or services to the industry leader or someone else? Know exactly who your competition is.
  5. Is their current campaign working? If not, why and how can my company take advantage? What if you could know that your competition’s current marketing campaign isn’t working? What if you could have that information in time to capitalize on it?

The internet is full of information that can give your business a competitive advantage. Smart businesses are going to use this information to gain market share and give customers what they want. The key to competitive intelligence is knowing what to listen for and how to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your marketing strategy. How well do you know your competition? 

February 8th, 2012

Tattoos and Social Media

Let me start off by admitting I don’t have any tattoos. I admire them though. Tattoos allow people to use their bodies as a canvas for art. It becomes part of them, sometimes in full view of the public and sometimes in private places only to be seen by a select few. Either way, for the most part, tattoos are permanent and I would imagine most people put a lot of thought into their body art and share an emotional connection with it. They are proud of their art and want people to notice. 

Whether you have tattoos or not, you should treat each social media post, picture video or blog post as a tattoo. For the most part, what you post on the web is permanent. Just like you can remove a tattoo, you can delete most things you post on the web. There are still consequences though. We see it all the time from companies, celebrities and politicians. Once you post a thought to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, your blog, or any other social media platform, it’s becomes public. People will judge, comment, applaud and sometimes make an example of it. 

Is this a tattoo or a social media post?

Regardless of the changing privacy policies on social platforms, treat everything you post on the internet as a tattoo. Put thought into it. Understand how your social media profiles represent how people perceive you and in some cases your company. My friend Ken Mueller posted a great blog about this, Small Business Tip Tuesday: Don’t Get Caught in the Two Twitter Trap

Social media is still in its infancy. Twenty years from now, we’ll probably be using different platforms. You’ll tell stories about back in the day when you used Facebook to connect with friends and family. Technology is making it easier to communicate with each other and allowing the masses to have their voices heard.

Just remember, social media should serve as the tattoo of your life now. Almost everything you do is documented on some social media platform. It’s the canvas of your life and it’s documenting your history one post at a time. If you would like people to remember you or your family, just jot it down on your Facebook status or Twitter account or post some pics on Pintrest. Be careful though, it just may be how you are remembered. 

February 7th, 2012

3 Questions to ask when starting your social media efforts

Start-up social media strategies often include integration with major social networking portals, and for good reasons. There are over 800 million users on Facebook today and Twitter has over 100 million users that tweet every day, and these numbers keep growing. But just because certain platforms have a lot of users doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right forum for your business. Force yourself to look beyond the numbers and make sure you’re picking the right social platforms for you.

Ask yourself a few questions before you even consider a social media program. These are fundamental questions that need to be answered before you get to the tactical (and most common) questions like:

  • How much time does it take?
  • How often should I post or tweet?
  • What are the best times to post or tweet?
  • Who should be responsible for execution?
  • What if somebody says something negative?

These are legitimate questions, but there are more important things to consider before diving into social media tactics.

1. Why do you think social media needs to be part of the marketing mix?

If your answers are along the lines of, “Everyone is doing it” or “We want to be on Twitter and Facebook,” in the absence of other compelling reasons, a different strategy might be more effective.

One of the first things you need to do is define what you want to accomplish. Social networks offer the opportunity to engage with your target audience, humanize your organization, create a dialogue with specific demographic groups and deploy creative applications that allow users to participate directly in your online and offline community. If this sounds appealing to you, then social media can be a very effective tool for your business.

Social media also can be used to distribute information, drive traffic, build brand awareness and in some cases, increase sales. However, if this is your main objective, your social media efforts will most likely be in vain. Social media is two-way communication. If all your business does is promote its own services and products and attempt to drive people back to your website, that’s one-way communication and you’ll be doomed for failure.

2. Who is your target audience, where are they and what do they need?

It starts and ends with your target audience. Define your target audience and find out three things: 1.What social media platforms are they using (if any)? 2. How do they want to be engaged? 3. What are their pain points? If you’re going to engage your target, you not only have to find them, but find out why they’re using the social platform and how you can engage with them. This includes providing them with solutions, feedback and information that’s important to them, not you. To be successful on social media you need to be unselfish. If your business isn’t willing to be unselfish, then social media isn’t for you.

Different target audiences require different social media tactics. Once you’ve defined clear answers to these questions, then you can ask some tougher questions that will help you assess the feasibility of social media for your business.

3. Why do people use particular social platforms? 

It’s important to think about why people are using a social media platform. What is their mindset? For example, when most users are on Facebook, they’re there to interact with family and friends. They talk about a variety of topics, but the majority of conversations are NOT about business. Most people don’t even let others know where they work. In contrast, LinkedIn is a platform for business networking. Very few posts on LinkedIn contain comments about people’s personal lives.

Make sure you consider the social media environment and understand why and how people are using the platform before you chose to engage.

Bottom line

Thinking strategically about social media can save time, money and embarrassment. Participating in social media just so you can say you are doing so is not a strategy. Many organizations spend time and money to establish the social media tools needed to engage but never have a plan for where to go from there. 

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I blog about my passions, social media, public relations, sports and media.

I have over 19 years of public relations and marketing experience developing and directing a wide variety of communication, social media, media relations and marketing programs. This experience includes marrying traditional marketing tactics with social media tools.