Social media is a powerful platform. In just a matter of seconds, you can connect with customers from around the world, but the question is — how do you stack up against your competitors?

These days it’s impossible to implement a digital marketing strategy without including social media. Not only is it cost-effective, but it also allows you to connect with millions from all over the world and in real time.

Before you get started, take a step back and reflect on the foundation of successful social media strategies. According to Social Media Examiner, 97% of small businesses use social media to attract new customers, but many also struggle to implement an active social media marketing strategy especially in industries where trends are always changing.

One of the secrets to a successful social media strategy is an in-depth competitor analysis. This article covers the seven steps to performing and analyzing a competitor analysis:

  1. Identify competitors
  2. Discover post schedule
  3. Find out post frequency
  4. Determine post types
  5. Use data to implement a strategy
  6. Analyze strategy
  7. Improve

1. Identify Competitors

Vector illustration characters sitting on laptop
Image by Julia Tim

The first step of any competitive analysis is to identify your social competitors. Think about the businesses in your industry, and within that, that businesses that cater to the same audience. You should list at least two competitors, but try to hit five for a well-rounded analysis. If you work for a brand new startup and you’re having trouble identifying direct competitors, try identifying some brands you admire.

List your competitors on a spreadsheet and keep track of this data:

  • Platforms they use
  • Handles on each platform
  • Follower count on each platform
  • Engagement numbers on each platform (the average amount of likes/retweets/repins/etc.)
  • Brand voice (adjectives that describe their social presence, i.e. funny, inspirational, etc.)

Tip: Use competitor analysis tools to avoid doing your research manually. 

2. Discover Post Schedule

Vector illustration woman hanging onto hands of clock
Image by Julia Tim

The timing of your posts can affect your levels of impressions, engagement, and click-through rates. There are many suggestions floating around about when you should post. Some sources say that it’s best to hit the lunch crowd, while others think the best time to post is during the morning commute. This advice is generalized – no one but you will know the best time for your company.

One way to find the most optimal post time is to analyze the timing of your competitors’ posts. Notice the timing of their most and least engaged posts and don’t forget to record this information on your spreadsheet. On Facebook, you can tell when a post is published. For Twitter and Instagram, it will be harder to find the exact time, but you can try to estimate the period when their followers are active based on when they post, update their story, or start tweeting. Use this data to gather some insight into consumers’ behavior.

3. Discover Post Frequency

Vector illustration characters on smartphones
Image by: Julia Tim

As you navigate your research, keep in mind the frequency of your competitors’ posts. How many times are they posting daily, weekly, and monthly, and on which platforms? These numbers are benchmarks you should work towards. If your competitor is posting twice a day on Facebook, try to work up to that frequency.

If you’re not able to find the information, here are some suggested frequencies to follow:

For beginners:

  • Facebook: 1/day
  • Instagram: 1/day
  • Twitter: 3/day

Industry standard:

  • Facebook: At least 3/day
  • Instagram: At least 3/day
  • Twitter: At least 10+/day

4. Discover Post Types

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Image by: O.darka

While you’re gathering data, don’t forget to take screenshots of your competitors’ social posts. Notice what kind of content they post and be sure to check quarterly. While their chosen platforms and schedule will probably stay the same, your competitors will always be experimenting with new content, just like you. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are they posting native content?
  • Do they cross-promote?
  • Are there specific posts that encourage engagement (a Q&A or a poll)? If so, what are they?
  • If they are sharing content from other sources or publications, what sources and articles are they sharing?
  • Are they using hashtags? If so, what are they?

Notice if there is a particular category of social content that their community responds to, like:

  • Entertainment
  • Inspiration
  • Education
  • Conversation
  • Connection
  • Promotion

5. Use Data to Implement Your Own Strategy

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Image by elenabsl

Once you have gathered all this information, put it together in one spreadsheet or database. Compare the results between each of your competitors. You will notice certain similarities in post type, timing, and frequency. Usually, one or two brands will stand out.

Use these patterns to inform your own social media plan. For example:

  • First competitor posts between 9-3pm, four times a day, using inspirational pictures that yield high engagement
  • Second competitor posts between 1-3pm, one time a day, sharing articles from their site that yield low engagement
  • Third competitor posts between 12-3pm, two times a day, sharing educational articles that yield medium engagement

Based on this, you might test posting between 12-3pm, two times a day, sharing inspirational pictures to start.

6. Gather Data from Your Channels

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Image by: Dmi T

Now that you’ve implemented a post schedule, post frequency, and post type, make sure you keep track of incoming data. Gather analytics every month. Keep a list of successful posts to discover what type of content and timing resonates with your audience. Analyze the posts that do not perform well to see what isn’t working. On top of assessing individual posts, take a big picture view of your social channels. Are you seeing growth or is follower count and engagement stagnating?

Aside from gathering your data, keep tabs on your competitors as well. Updated your competitor analysis at least twice a year. Research if they have changed their social plan. Keep these questions in mind:

  • Are they doing better from the last time you checked?
  • How did they improve?
  • What changed?
  • Will this information affect your social strategy or schedule in any way?
  • What can you do to stay competitive?

7. Improve

Vector illustration characters using large smartphones
Image by: Andrii Symonenko

The final step of a competitor analysis is to think of ways you can surpass your competitors. Fine-tune your social media schedule and strategy constantly. Think of new and innovative ways to improve your content. Consider refreshing your channel and posts designs, exploring new post types like videos, or even using new platforms, like IGTV.

For example, the New York Public Library recently tried out a new content type and a new medium, creating #instanovels on Instagram Stories. This probably took quite some time to produce, but the results paid off in a big way: The New York Public Library earned more than 21,000 new followers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and test out different techniques.

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