The Competitive Social Landscape

Years ago, before I started my own agency, I worked for a pharmaceutical consultant conducting business research and then later developing marketing and PR programs for his customers. At the time, one of my main responsibilities was a report that provided monitoring and surveillance for pharmaceutical brands.  It was, and still is, a tough competitive landscape.  We kept our clients abreast with a monthly snapshot of their industry, with respect to the drug product pipeline, stock market expectations, industry trends, market issues/concerns, and insight into latest information delivered at pharmaceutical industry conferences.

Each report took almost a month to compile. I would finish one report and have to move quickly to the next’s month’s findings.  Among the many parts of this report, I used to analyze the market, travel to conferences, scour publications and interview numerous people.  I really can’t say that the information was at my fingertips and it took some leg work to uncover the most relevant industry information for the report.

Today, it’s a different story. Brian and I discuss in our book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, that you need to listen to engage properly with your customers and other stakeholders.  The same holds true with competitive information; you need to listen with your ear to the social media landscape to see what’s going on with competitors in the marketplace.  Information is being shared on trends and shifting landscapes and company performance.  This is in real time and on a daily basis.

We just walked a client through an exercise to illustrate how their competitors are participating on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter (which are among the five top social networking sites).  We had previously provided them with a snapshot of where they should engage, using the Conversation Prism and Conversation Workflow Approach.  However, it was when we illustrated how their direct competitors were engaged in communications in some of the largest social networks that they were ready to listen closely. They knew that they could no longer sit back as a spectator in the social economy.

It’s fairly simple to uncover information in a social network.  You can search to see if there are conversations around competitive brands and to evaluate what those brands are doing with respect to engagement.  We did our searches using keywords, whether it was a competitor’s brand name or product/service.  We also looked to see if any relevant trends were being discussed by the competitor.

As you go through this exercise, there are a few questions that you need to answer for your client, as you evaluate the information you uncover on competitors:

  • How is the competitor engaged in social networking activities?
  • What social media and PR 2.0 tools and resources are they using?
  • Is the competitor communicating as a thought leader, customer service representative, news or informational source, or as a helpful resource to a community?  What is their overall strategic approach?
  • Who is communicating on behalf of the competitor? An executive, communications professional, community manager, a customer service rep or a member of another department? Is the competitor being transparent?
  • What type of conversations are taking place? Positive? Neutral? Or negative? You can map this out in a matrix.
  • Do you see a strategic thread of communications across all of the social networks or is communication not concentrated in any one area?
  • Is the community embracing the competitor and has the competitor’s influence grown, for example on Twitter, with respect to their influence, generosity, clout, signal and velocity.  You can use Twitalyzer to research this information.

There are only a few of the many questions that need to be answered so that you can help your client to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) in the marketplace.  It’s imperative to understand this information before you launch your marketing and PR programs.

I hope that you are all thinking about your brand’s competitors and how this information will help you with a better approach to your campaigns and also creates a stronger position for your brand.  The information is there in the competitive social landscape….you just need to listen!