Behind Enemy Lines: Tracking the Health of Your Competitors

Analyzing competitors’ share of voice and brand health on social media

Every day, businesses of all sizes bus in dozens of their customers, funnel them into a room and then pepper them with questions about their opinions of the brand in question. Do they view the company and its products favorably? What words do they associate with the brand? How do they feel about the company’s new tagline? These information-gathering sessions are, of course, focus groups, and they’re incredibly valuable for market research, but they typically miss one incredibly important line of questioning: the competition.

Everyone knows how valuable it is to get access to consumer opinions about your brand, but the other side of the coin is much less heralded. If you’re able to make better decisions about your brand by knowing how your customers feel about it, wouldn’t it be just as essential to know what your competitors’ customers are saying about them?

Thanks to social media, this is no longer a marketer’s fever dream — it is a concrete reality. Brands can now use powerful AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies to analyze millions of consumer conversations about their competitors.

Let’s look at how marketers can use social media data to keep tabs on their competitors and:

  • Measure Brand Health
  • Understand Share of Voice
  • Identify Conversation Drivers

There are a few metrics you can look at to understand the health of your competitor’s brand, including brand awareness and brand reputation.

Brand health starts with brand awareness. Regardless of the sentiment around your brand, it can’t truly be healthy unless consumers are talking about it somewhat regularly.

The simplest place to start is by identifying how many people are following your competitors, how many likes, retweets and shares they get on their posts. But branded engagement is just the start — it’s also important to look at how often your competitors are getting mentioned in organic online conversations. Analyze the volume of organic mentions of your competitors and compare it to your brand. Search against a set of competitor names and see who has the most awareness across social.

Looking at basic social stats and examining mentions by competitors names gives you an idea of how aware people are of your competition, and how much more (or less) they are talked about compared to your brand.

But volume and engagement analysis is just the beginning of competitive intelligence. Understanding brand health also means understanding the sentiment of the conversations around your competitors’ brands (brand reputation). Just because a competitor is talked about a lot, doesn’t mean it’s all positive conversation. For example, take the conversation on social around Nike’s latest ad with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ads have generated a lot of conversation, but not all of it has been positive.

What emotions are you finding in the conversations? Are people happy? Angry? Disgusted? Shocked? In Nike’s case, there is a mix of emotions around the Colin Kaepernick ad and you need to dig deeper to understand if the ad was successful. If you’re a company like Puma or Adidas, it’s incredibly valuable to know, not just how many people were talking about Nike’s Kaepernick ad, but also how they felt about it and whether it changed their opinions about Nike.

You can also look at the overall sentiment consumers have towards your competitors to understand how the brand is perceived. Look for spikes and drops in positive and negative sentiment, then dig deeper to see what caused those changes. You may learn that consumers talk about a competitor more than you, but the sentiment is very negative. In this case, you would want to understand what that brand is saying that is generating the negative sentiment, so you don’t do the same thing. Understanding sentiment tells you if there are things you should or shouldn’t be talking about in your own messaging. It can also spark ideas for ways you can differentiate your brand.

Analyzing the brand health of your competitors can also help you better understand why certain brands are discussed more online than others. Comparing the conversation volume of all the competitors in your space can give you an accurate picture of the organic conversation in your industry, and where you fit in.

Understand Share of Voice

Share of voice is simple: how much are consumers talking about your competitors compared to your own brand? It could be the overall conversation around a topic or product category. Or it could be share of voice across an audience or a combination of the two. The more granular you’re able to get in terms of measuring share of voice, the better able you are to isolate exactly which conversations (and audiences) you need to prioritize.

Comparing the volume of mentions against a topic or keyword will help you understand how much a competitor is mentioned within the context of that topic. In this case, you are trying to understand if your competitors are more well known than your brand in the categories you want to be known for.

You can also compare share of voice across specific audiences. So, for example, how much more is Nike talked about among millennials, compared to Gen X or Gen Z? Or how much is Ikea talked about with young parents compared to Walmart or Wayfair?

If your share of voice is lower than your competitors, then you need to dig deeper and see what conversations they are having that you need to be having as well. What are they doing to effectively engage the audience? Look at campaigns, product messaging, and thought leadership content shared across social and how each audience perceives it. Then look for ways you can improve your messaging, conversations you can start, or campaigns you can run that are similar or fill a needed gap.

Identify Conversation Drivers

You can spend a lot of time writing content and creating social posts, but how do you know if your audience will like what you are talking about? Try looking at what your competitors are doing. How popular are their conversations and is the sentiment positive or negative? Which topics are they discussing that are disproportionately generating high volumes of conversation?

By looking at competitors’ conversations, you can streamline and optimize your social media efforts. Identify the key topics your competitors are talking about. How do you rank against them for the same topics? What is the consumer sentiment around these topics?

For example, what brands are mentioned most in the DIY home improvement category?

Search for keywords or phrases that you have identified as important and see which competitors are using them in their social posts. Are certain topics trending? How often are competitors talking about these topics and what is the general sentiment? Is there an angle that your competitors aren’t using that you can?

You can also look at what your primary audiences are talking about and determine if there gaps in the conversation (whitespace) that you can take advantage of to capture market share.

Understanding and identifying conversation drivers is one of the most important uses for social media analytics. Many brands are tracking the follower count, engagement metrics and raw share of voice of their competitors, but only the best are going the next level deeper and understanding exactly what is causing the variance in brand health and share of voice.

What Your Competitors Can Tell You If You Are Listening

It important to understand what your customers think about you, and there are plenty of ways you can find that out through focus groups, social media and other voice of the customer programs. But it’s just as important to understand what your competitors’ customers are saying about them because it can help you find ways to improve your own messaging, content and products.

We’re not just talking about current competitors either. If you are trying to gain market share with a new product or a new audience, then look at the competitors in that space and see how well they are doing. The analysis will help you identify things you need to work on to get known in that market.

Brand Health and Share of Voice tell you how well known and liked a competitor is. They can tell you where a competitor is doing well and what they are doing to drive awareness and positive sentiment. Conversation Drivers help you understand what the key topics and messages are with your competitors, where you may need to expand your conversations and if there are any gaps that you can fill to build market share.

Having competitors is a good thing. It means you have a product that people want. Your job is to make them want your product more. So know what your competitors are doing and find a way to do it better.

For more information, download our full guide: Turning Social Media Data into Competitive Intelligence

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