Do you know what your competitors are up to these days?
As a small business owner, monitoring your competitors regularly can help you refine your own company’s position in the market. When you decipher you competitive set on a local, regional or national basis make it a priority to learn more about their business. Most importantly, tracking competitors makes good business sense.
However you might be amazed at how many businesses don’t track competitive activity. I’m always surprised when I talk to our competitors and they have no clue what we are up to (especially since we are such an open book in many ways).
There is no excuse for not monitoring your competition, especially with all the online cloud-based tools now available. If you are unsure where to start, here are five ways to keep on top of what your competition is doing and use that intelligence to set your company apart from the rest:
1. Subscribe to competitive company blogs.
This is pretty obvious, but whenever your competition posts to their company blog, you should be the first one to read it. Usually company blogs contain information regarding new features, partnership launches and hires, and they can also give you insight into their company culture.
2. Use competitive products.
You should have an account set up on each of your competitors’ websites (if needed), and every couple of weeks, poke around. A lot of your competitors will soft-launch new features weeks before they release them to the press.
If you are using a competitors website, you will know about their feature launches long before they are announced. Don’t forget to subscribe to their email newsletter and other brand communications as well.
3. Check out your competitors’ social media photos.
Most companies post photos on Facebook, Pinterest or Flickr. You would not believe how much you can actually learn from really looking at these pictures.
For example, I have figured out how many employees our competitors have, what they are planning for the future, the computers they are running, even what their culture is like within their office. One of our competitors even posted a picture of a whiteboard within their office, which had a list of to-do items. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff my team learned from that one picture.
4. Monitor competitive press releases and news.
The Web is huge, and to really get your hands around the information being released about your competitors, you will need to set up Google Alerts. Once you have signed up, you will receive an email whenever your competitor’s company name pops up online.
5. Keep on top of competitive activity on Twitter.
There is so much being said on Twitter about your competitors (and about you, too!) that you should monitor and respond to (if applicable) on a regular basis. I use social media dashboards, like TweetDeck and monitoring services (TweetBeep) to ping me if someone mentions my company or our competition.
Of course, monitoring your competition is great, but unless you analyze and react to the information you are receiving, it’s pretty much useless. Figure out why your competition is receiving the press they are, why their customers are reacting the way they are and most importantly, what you can do differently to get a leg up on your competition.
Derek Johnson is the founder and CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango. Tatango is a profitable Angel-backed company that services businesses and organizations looking for user-friendly, easy-to-use text message marketing services. Named by BusinessWeek, Derek is one of the top 25 under 25 entrepreneurs in the United States.