Spying on the competition using social media

By Ryan Pinney

Pinney Insurance Center, Inc.

Many people think of social media as a marketing tool, which it can be, but social media has another less obvious and sometimes more important functionality — research.

If you knew that your competition was running a promotion or advertising a specific product or service, would that be useful? What if you could see which of their clients, prospects, or friends were interested in their promotion or service? What if you could see your competitor’s clients and companies they worked with? If you could be listed or promoted for free every time they talked about or promoted their own products and services, would you?

Any of these examples would give you a competitive advantage and surprisingly, it can be very easy to do using the search tools and trending topics functionality built into today's most popular social media sites. Let's discuss some of the most useful, and easy-to-use, subversive tactics available.

1. Link hijacking – Despite its name, this perfectly legal strategy is best described this way: Your competition shares a link to a third-party article (one not written by them but instead provided by a reputable third-party, Yahoo!Finance for example) that may be of interest to their clients and prospects. In doing so, they make a common and potentially fatal mistake by not commenting on the content being shared. Using your ability to comment on the same content, you do so and provide an additional link or reference to your own content that adds to or expands on the initial information being shared.

Here’s how it works: Your competition shares an article about proposed changes to the new health care law. You comment on the article being shared and link to or reference an article that expands on this topic and tells the readers how these changes will affect them and what they can do about it. You benefit by being seen as a more authoritative source by adding valuable related content, which may lead to additional opportunities to present and sell your services.

2. Piggy-back advertising — Another common way to take advantage of the advertising dollars of your competition. By running a similar but competing marketing campaign, you can benefit from the additional marketing dollars of some of your biggest competitors.

Let's look at an example: GEICO, Progressive, eSurance, and other major marketers in the personal lines (home, auto, etc.) marketplace run regular campaigns to attract new customers. By writing blog posts, articles and social media posts that discuss these companies and compare their offerings and services against those of other, lesser known or smaller brands (your local property & casualty agency as an example), you can increase the traffic to your website and benefit from the marketing dollars and near constant branding of these larger competitors.

Differentiate through association — This may sound like an oxymoron, but it isn't. Instead, it is an easy and effective way to show how you are more professional, committed and up-to-date in your industry than your competition. By highlighting your membership and association in professional organizations, political activities, and community outreach or service, you drive a subtle wedge between you and your competition. This is especially true when competing against brands that may have larger marketing budgets.

An easy way to do this is to share what you are doing in the above mentioned areas to protect your clients and give back to the community.

For example, I recently went to Washington, D.C. and participated in the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors National Conference. At the conference, we discussed legal issues and pending legislation that may adversely impact our clients and the insurance industry.

In response, nearly 1,000 members from all over the country had scheduled meetings with 336 representatives of the Congress and Senate to discuss these issues and share how our clients would be negatively impacted if the proposed legislation were to pass. The meetings went well and many of the politicians we visited agreed to do further research prior to voting or agreed to vote against the proposed legislation.

If written as a blog post and shared via social media, this short statement shows I am a member of my professional association, that I am actively involved in local and national politics, and that I am fighting for the rights and benefits of my valued clients. Is my competition delivering the same message? Chances are, they aren't and that I have the advantage in this area.

Obviously, social media has the ability to provide you with marketing intelligence on your competition and can give you a leg up on them. But it can also be used against you in the same way. Do the above and make sure that you are commenting on any information you share from a third-party source and you will significantly reduce the ability of your competition to do the same to you.