If you're an interactive agency, integrated marketing firm or social media expert, then you need to realize how important it is to construct a social media audit for both your client and the competitive landscape. But before you dive into the project and get too caught up in the numbers, let me offer one piece of advice: Don’t get too caught up in the numbers.
Some competitors will have a massive online following and others will have virtually none. Forget about it. You are going to measure the value of your content against each individual competitor.
Note the emphasis here is on the value of the content - not the number of followers. Stop trying to look over the urinal partition, because size doesn’t matter.
Sure, content is still king. Social media, search and marketing professionals continue to shower that phrase on us with the ferocity of a July thunderstorm in Florida. And they are right. However, there is a defined marriage between content and social media that can’t be overemphasized.
Let's talk about the construction of the social media audit. The first thing you want to do is look for pools of communication, content and activity. This can come in a much broader form than you may be accustomed to. It’s not just about Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube subscriptions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Look for areas of importance not only to your client's brand, but also to your competitors.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it is critically important to seek out the subtle "key differentiators" with a competitor’s business model. Do that analysis before starting to amass countless data points. You might find your competitor is using humor in an effective way, or deploying a video series that resonates. Your job is to look for ways you can edge out competitors by doing something new, or replicating something in a significantly better way.
When looking over a competitor’s website you should be doing all the standard "best practices" due diligence. Look for things such as their perceived activity, how often they update the content, and if they have changed the copyright at the bottom of the page since 2008. Now let's look a little further. Is the website designed for mobile? Is it done in a responsive design?
‘Call to Action’ as the Baseline Goal
Your competitor will have a "call to action." Ideally, this will feed the audience's behavior to perform actions such as download this, register for that, or simply pick up the phone and call. Within the context of that action, you need to discern the baseline trigger. Is it sales? Is it education? Or perhaps it is that the website is performing a portfolio task for your competitor to give the audience a broad-based selection of services. The content and call to action can perform a world of benefits for your research.
Newsletters and ‘Opt In’ Content
Does the competitor’s marketing arsenal include an invitation to connect through a monthly newsletter? If you haven't already done so, subscribe using a rogue Gmail account. This way you can filter all the newsletters and their directives without filling your inbox. You will probably find that the competition frequently sells the farm or gives away competitive advantages within these newsletters. Companies perceive subscribers as safe users and will divulge behind-the-scenes information or give you an edge on what is coming up in their business directives.
When researching a competitor's blog, first and foremost, what is the level of activity from your competitor as far as posting? The next thing to look at is how active are they in engaging their audience with reasons to comment, and in so doing, the conversation from those comments. Believe it or not, this is going to give you an interesting snapshot of how passionate their audience is. One of the last things you should look for is how progressive the blog posts are in terms of embedding video, presentations and linking criteria within content. This can give you a quick understanding of how savvy the writers are and how effectively they utilize other social media channels.
Other Established Communities or Groups
It’s fair to say most of the people who read my posts are a little bit past the beginner stage. That being said, I assume you are going to look for Facebook groups and Google+ communities, then start looking for the standardized forums and community posting boards. There are two important components of this research: Find out how active the community base is, and get a snapshot of the types of conversations taking place.
All conversation and engagement is great on some level. But if there is no real substance to the content, then it is idle chitchat and not necessarily beneficial to the brand. On the other hand, poignant questions and engaged followers indicate a powerful community.
A community audit is so important because passionate loyalists are very diehard. They will rush to a brand during a crisis and offer a trusted sense of passion around the product. Having done countless audits, I can tell you that if the community hasn't posted in six months, and if what they have posted in the past has been undirected, it usually says a lot about the product itself.
Look at the platform type of the community you are reviewing. Is it the old, traditional, default forums board? Or is it a new-school approach with more blog-like commenting threads and perhaps even a gamification model spun around the most active users? This will give you a genuine sense of community expectation. If I'm on a board discussing bass fishing, I won’t expect much more out of the technology used to host set conversations.
Magazines in the Vertical
Why are we even talking about print? When I say magazines these days, it's a broader net than the traditional paper and ink. Think of it as e-zines, PDFs, white papers, YouTube channels, podcasts or any related content silo that might also be utilized for up-sell and affiliated advertising.
But don’t overlook traditional magazines. It still helps to have a general understanding of demographic and psychographic information of the users who subscribe or purchase. Additionally, they are aligned with particular advertising types. The camouflaged sales rep from “Field & Stream” probably won’t target Huggies for a full-page cover insert.
“Okay Justice, why is it important for me to understand my competitor’s advertisers?”
More often than not, the advertisers of your competitors are their competitors as well.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Not exactly, Mr. Churchill. But remember that research is a pebble tossed in a still pond. The ripples from the epicenter can sometimes be as important as core content.
Who Has Prominence in the Vertical?
Much like magazines, celebrities hold galvanizing weight with the audience as it pertains to the brand, and thus your competitor. If for instance your competitor has an extreme sports star such as Ken Block, you can also immediately make assessments against the demographic, as well as the affiliated partnerships that would surround him. Celebrities allow us to get a quick understanding of who might be following the brand. Celebrities act as a physical persona-based manifestation of the associated brand. This is great as long as your celebrity doesn't end up doing meth in Mexico with an underage transvestite.
Celebrities and SMEs Have Their Own Social Graph
And just like the ripples in the pond, the tertiary extension of that social graph can be who follows that celebrity or subject matter expert (SME). Let’s say Ken Block really is your celebrity endorser. Who follows extreme sports stars? Look at his social graph and how he is portrayed. Look at the followers. Look at who he's following. Look at the type of content he surrounds himself with and the social channels he or his marketing team have chosen.
Just a reminder, we are here to look for key differentiators, not necessarily to judge the social graph. So even while a celebrity might be at the furthest extension of your competitor’s marketing strategy, you might find a conceptual nugget to utilize in your own.
Alternative Content Channels
Podcasts: The intelligence you gather from your competitor on their podcast and video podcast can be quite massive. One of which is you get a snapshot of the intellect of your competitor. In addition to that, you also get to see what level of commitment they have to the development of this content, as well as how long they been doing it. Lastly, look at the way that way the content is produced. Does it have an intro? Are they affiliating themselves with other companies to co-brand the content? Are they interviewing others SMEs relevant to your industry? Additionally, take note of the experts, as they might end up being a good source for you to connect with on future related products.
Multi-author blogs or SME collectives: Dovetailing off of the point that I just made about podcasts, multi-author blogs and/or SME "collective"websites can be very popular for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you are aligning yourself, from a thought leadership standpoint, with the best in the business. The content you create inside the silos is also extremely valuable for search engine optimization. Last but not least, you are creating countless touch points that can ultimately refer back to your product, services and/or education.
SlideShare and Scrib: A lot of people take into account SlideShare accounts as a related touch point to your overall social graph. If you're smart during your audit, you're also looking at these channels as proving grounds to the thought leadership of your competitor. Don't just simply browse the images if they have a slide share account, really look at the content and see if it's on point.
What do the presentations look like? You all know how I feel about keeping your graphic design level as high as possible. It interrelates between the value of your content and what it says about your brand. And how much on the slides themselves is indicative of searchable content? Food for thought.
Scribd? Really? Actually, yes. Keep in mind that any Internet space with a repository of searchable and indexed content and indexed is something you should know about. If your competitor is doing an admirable job putting educational or thought-provoking materials online within this channel, it's your job to know it. Also think, is there a way that you can exploit these channels? Either in the same way or some interesting new way that can provide a key differentiator.
This might all seem a bit overwhelming if you haven’t conducted a proper audit before. But the payoff is massive. After doing a deep dive on your client’s social marketing and that of the competition, you will have the proper perspective to evaluate your efforts. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn you are a promotional genius who doesn’t miss a beat. Or you might see gaping holes that will take a lot of duct tape to fix.
Either way, you will be even more valuable to those who depend on your expertise.
Tell me about your audit methodology, your favorite red wine - or your preferred bait for largemouth bass. Yes, all those topics are of great interest to me. I’m either a Renaissance man or the most genteel redneck you will ever meet.