These days, spying on your competition is easier than ever.

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Twitter is one of the most popular social networks for businesses, and it gives you an advantage that you may never have had before. Because so much Twitter data is public, you can easily use that data to learn so much about your competitor’s followers and strategies.

In this post, we will look at seven ways you can use this data to look behind the scenes of what your competitors are doing.
Before We Get Started

If you are not already using a Twitter management client, I would suggest you try one. It will help you manage most of the following information in one place.

For these examples, I am going to use my Twitter management client, HootSuite, as you can do everything discussed using a free account. You can also do similar setups in other clients such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic, CoTweet, and other applications.

1. Follow Your Competition on Twitter

One of the best ways to get to know what is working for a competitor is to watch what they do.

You don’t even have to directly follow them. Just create a private Twitter list (only visible to you) and add your competitor to that list. If the competitor has more than one primary Twitter account, or all of their employees are on Twitter, include them as well. This way, you will have a stream of incoming information telling you exactly how they handle their Twitter strategy.

You can create a private Twitter list on Twitter by selecting “New List” on your homepage sidebar, or created it directly in HootSuite by adding a new stream, selecting your Twitter account, and Create a New List. Then add all of the relevant Twitter accounts.

In the above example, I am following two accounts from Best Buy. Within just a few moments, I see that one account is helping people with their technical questions, while the other is sending out advertisements, as well as mentioning blog posts from employees active on Twitter.

They are even leveraging the ability to include @replies to celebrities when applicable with their latest deals, maybe in hopes that one will pick it up and comment or retweet:

2. Monitor Their @Replies

Why watch just one side of the conversation?

Setting up a search for your competitor’s @username will give you a look into what people are saying to your competitor. This way, you can see what their fans (or enemies) like or dislike about them, as well as questions they have. You can create a search in Twitter by simply searching for the @username of your competitor and using the “Save this Search” option, or creating it as a new stream in HootSuite.

As you can see in the above example, you can create a more advanced search query in HootSuite. This one uses the keyword search for both of the company’s Twitter usernames. Now you can have one stream showing mentions of either username.

Now, imagine if, while analysing your competitor, you find that they are not answering their customers’ questions, but you can. Or you are seeing specific complaints about your competitors about a particular product or service, and you can offer them something better.

For example, when I was having hosting issues, a few of my followers @replied me to tell me about hosting services they used that didn’t have the same kind of problems. When three different people told me about the same host, I went and checked out their company.

Please note, however, that you have to have a good strategy in place to let those people know about your site. I might have been less likely to check out another company if the company had been messaging me instead of my followers.

The lesson?

Replying to someone with a blatant sales pitch might get you labeled a spammer. But simply offering a helpful suggestion about how to choose the right product, and then leaving it up to them to make the decision is a lot more likely to pay off.

3. Analyse Their Followers

Have you ever wanted to get some insight into your competitor’s client list?

Well, now you can.

Services like Tweepi allow you to bring up their follower list and sort it by the number of updates their followers have, their following count, etc. so you can essentially find out who some of their most active and influential fans are.

You can also run your competitors through TwitterCounter, which will show you how quickly your competitor is getting followers, how often they tweet per day, and the number of days it will take to reach their next milestone of followers.

Use this information wisely, though. Don’t just start spamming your competitor’s followers with tweets, hoping to grab their attention. Use the above tools to find out who the influential people in your niche are, and then work to build a genuine relationship with them.

4. Check Out Their Toolkit

One way to see what tools your competitor uses to manage their Twitter is to see where their tweets are coming from.

In HootSuite, or directly on their Twitter profile, you will see the timestamp for each of their updates and via the tool the update was sent with. By clicking on this, you can see what applications, services, etc. they use to update their account.

If you’re monitoring your competitor’s @replies, you will even be able to see which updates by your competitors get the most response, and then follow the update to the tool that it was created by and try it out yourself.

. See What They Do on Other Social Networks

Many people connect their Twitter account to other social networks like YouTube, Facebook, and others, so many of their status updates from those networks will trickle through their Twitter stream.

And assuming your competitor has a good Twitter background design, they will probably list their primary social outlets on that as well. These will be good opportunities to find out what other networks your competitor uses and how they use them so you can include them in your own strategy.

6. Keep Up With Their Blog Posts and Articles

Blogging and other forms of content marketing are great strategies for generating traffic and building relationships with your customers. It gives them new visitors a reason to visit your site and current customers reasons to keep returning for more.

If your competitor is getting a lot of attention based on their blog posts and articles (something you will likely see if they get a lot of article retweets in their @replies), then this is a strategy you will want to start utilising as well. And even if they’re not, it may be a way you can gain an advantage over them.

7. Get Their Score

Want to know more about your competitors’ overall Twitter score? Twitter Grader allows you to enter the username of anyone on Twitter and get a rating on their Twitter presence.

This report will also show you the top most mentioned keywords in the user’s tweets. You can compare your score to theirs, and see suggestions in the report for what you could be doing better.

You can also sign up for Klout using your Twitter account and analyse the influence of your competitor. This report analyzes the interaction a Twitter user gets from their followers, retweets, follower to following ratio, and other factors that determine the true reach of a user’s tweets.

Do You Stalk the Competition?
Have you ever followed and monitored your competition to see what it is that they are doing that you could be doing better?
What have you learned that benefited your own Twitter and social media strategy?
Please share your experiences in the comments.

Warren Knight thanks Kristi Hines


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