How to Find Competitive Insights in Social Media Data

What social posting patterns and consumer conversations can tell you about your competitors

Millions of social media posts are published every minute. If you’re tasked with monitoring and mining this data for takeaways, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed with seemingly endless information. Yet, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s that much more important to leverage the data available to find opportunities to get ahead of your competitors — information about their campaigns, changes to their messaging, how consumers are engaging with them, and so much more.
So how do you find these competitive insights? How do you focus on the meaningful data to find trends, insights, and, ultimately, takeaways for your business?

What is “meaningful” competitive data?

First, we must understand what makes social media data meaningful for competitive intelligence. What’s hidden in every social media post is a small reflection of the company’s marketing strategy, and there are a few ways these reflections can add up to a meaningful insight:

  1. Anomalies/Changes: Changes in activity or unusual types of activity can help you identify a strategic decision by your competitor.
  2. Focus: Concentrations in topics, channels, or approaches help you uncover where a competitor has placed their bets in their marketing plan.
  3. Feedback: Audience response to a company’s marketing efforts can give you insight into your audience’s interests.

Let’s dive into each of these approaches to identifying meaningful competitive insights from social media data.

How to Spot Anomalies / Changes

Anomalies or changes in behavior among your competitors’ presence on social media is a great place to start with finding meaningful competitive insights. This requires taking a broad view to see which channels, topics, and frequencies your competitors are engaging on social media on a regular basis, and spotting deviations from that norm. Did a competitor recently increase their Twitter posting frequency? Did they previously focus on Twitter and Facebook but only recently start interacting on LinkedIn? Are they publishing content for a new audience beyond the target persona you expected? These are the types of changes you want to pay attention to.

How to benchmark social media strategy

It is just as important to identify changes in activity as it is to benchmark that activity. Understanding where your competitors are investing in their social media strategy – and where they are not – is key to find opportunities to excel. Consider each of the dimensions that factor into social media focus: channels, audiences, topics, media formats, etc. and then take an inventory of your competitors’ activity along each of those dimensions.

The insights from this type of competitive analysis are two-fold: (1) where are our competitors focusing their social strategies and what lessons can we learn, and (2) where is the white space in the social media landscape for us to differentiate and stand out with our own strategy?
If you are both analyzing and crafting the social media strategy for your company, you’re in luck: these insights and takeaways are meant for you! For example, if you see a competitor is focused on posting to Twitter and LinkedIn, you can create a stand-out social strategy by creating more visual content for Facebook and Instagram and easily win over an untapped audience. Competitor social media benchmarks are a critical input to inform and improve your social media strategy by applying best practices and crafting a differentiated strategy.

How to leverage public customer feedback and consumer conversations

Until now, we’ve mostly focused on the social media activities of your competitors. But for a fuller understanding of your competitive marketplace, you must not only look at the social posts of your competitors, but also of the consumers they (and you) are targeting.
One of the unique benefits of social media is that you can get a front row seat to customer-company interactions. Not only can you see what a company publishes, but you can also see how their audience responds. Once again, consider the channel, topic, and media of the social media content that performs the best for each key competitor. This is also a great opportunity to look at your indirect and aspirational competitors’ social media success – specifically looking at companies who serve a similar audience but with a different type of solution. These sets of companies can be a great source of social media insights.


Look for trends in the top performing posts based on likes, retweets, replies, and so on. After assembling the top performing posts, see what patterns emerge in channels, topics, and media that get positive responses vs. negative responses vs. no response.
While Google Trends can give you a peek into the terms and topics people are searching, this type of social media intelligence analysis can reveal the topics and media that people engage with most. For example, you may find that visual content featuring customer quotes are the highest performing posts among your aspirational competitors’ social media channels. You can use this insight to test your own customer-focused visual campaign on Facebook to start and validate that this strategy will work for you as well. With this type of insight, you can establish takeaways around best practices to use for your social media and content marketing efforts.
Social media is also a great place to learn more about how consumers see your brand in relation to your competitors. People often post about two (often competitive) brands together, and these posts are a goldmine for understanding how your brand is perceived in the context of a larger conversation.

For example, when consumers discuss Honda, do they typically do so in relation to Toyota? What about Ford and Chevy? By analyzing online consumer conversations about you and your competitors you can get a full picture of the landscape.
Here’s a chart showing the most-mentioned car brands in each other’s online conversations.
And it’s not just about branded conversations. Social media is filled with consumer opinions about and reactions to your competitors, even if the posts don’t specifically mention you or the brands in your space. These conversations are helpful for giving you a better understanding of the consumer preferences and behaviors that define your marketplace.
For example, if you’re a beer brand trying to beat your competition to the next ‘in’ flavor, you can mine social media data for the most-discussed beer flavors in the consumer conversation about beer. Even unbranded, this is incredibly valuable competitive intelligence.

Pulling it all together: Step back to move forward

It can be easy to get lost in the wealth of social media data available from your competitors. The key is to step back and monitor for key sources of insights – anomalies, benchmarks, and engagement trends – to uncover smart strategies. Start by taking the high level view to spot trends and insights, and use that to direct deeper dive analyses and, ultimately, takeaways and action items for your team. There is an incredible amount of competitive intelligence hidden everywhere, from social media to company websites to review sites and more. The most effective intelligence teams leverage the full range of market intelligence data to uncover competitors’ strategies and find ways to out-market them.

For more on how social media data and consumer conversations can help you understand your competitive landscape, download our new guide: Social Media Analytics for Competitive Intelligence

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