You can track your business competitors’ pricing, personnel changes, product introductions and, in general, get a pretty good idea of their strategy just by watching what pops up about them on the web and in social media. It‘s free, it’s legal – and you can bet they’re doing it to you.
First, make a list of your competitors and their owners and key executives, if you know the names. Next, do an online search for your business type to find any local or web-based competitors you might have missed. Then start your sleuthing about the competition.
- Monitor news about them. Google Alerts scans news sites, reviews sites, blogs, Facebook—if it’s mentioned on the internet, Google will find it and email you the results. Set up an alert for each of your competitors.
- Watch their people. LinkedIn started as a social network for professionals to connect, but increasingly, all sorts of business people sign up to build their careers. Chances are you’re connected through mutual acquaintances to your competitors, meaning you can view their LinkedIn network. This could give you a peek into the window and you can see their customers, suppliers, bankers and other useful intelligence. LinkedIn also publishes company pages, where you can see employee lists and new hires.
- Follow their hiring. Job listings are a valuable insight into what’s going on at competitors; the job descriptions often reveal a lot about where the company plans to grow. Set up searches for competitor companies on Indeed.com, a site that collects listings from all over the internet.
- Listen to their chatter. On social media sites Twitter and Facebook, companies talk to customers and customers talk about companies. All kinds of useful information get mentioned. Search for company pages that your competitors may have set up and see what messages they’re sending out. For example, is your competition offering a special offers or discount? Is another accountant or attorney now offering a certain type of free consultation? Sign up to follow the personal Twitter accounts of key executives; you never know what details they might reveal about, say, their travel plans. You can also see who’s following a company site on Twitter, probably including key clients and other business contacts. Facebook is rapidly becoming a customer service hotline as customers use company pages to air complaints or just get help. This will give you a close-up look at how your competitor is really doing.
- Check their pricing. From restaurant menu sites to car sites to hotel sites to gas station price sites to eBay, your customers have more ways than ever to comparison-shop, meaning you have more reason than ever to closely follow competitors’ pricing. And you have more competitors on price than before; you may have already had a customer walk into your retail store, hold up a smartphone and demand the Amazon price on a product. Keep a close eye on the pricing sites particular to your business. If you run a local retail business, download Google Shopper or ShopSavvy to your smartphone—these apps claim to display store prices by neighborhood. It’s still in the early stages for these local-pricing apps, but you can expect them to only get better.
And finally…protect yourself! Use reputation management tools to find out how you look online to competitors checking up on your business.