One of the most compelling reasons to monitor social media and online content is competitive intelligence.
In this post I’ll provide a play-by-play guide to using free and paid platforms to become a rock star at keeping current on what your competitors are saying about themselves and what consumers are saying about them.
The examples we’ll be walking through will be from the perspective of a new fast casual brand called Bro!ritto (fictional) that plans to compete with the likes of Chipotle, Qdoba, and FreeBirds.
Staying current with updates about your competitors using Google Alerts
If you’re already using Google Alerts, click here to skip to the next section.
From community managers to marketing managers to sales associates and all the way up to the c-suite, Google Alerts is a tool that everyone in the organization should be using.
So how would we go about using it for our fledgling burrito company? As with all tools in this post, it starts with a query. What is a query? Learn more here.
At the very basic level we’ll want to create an alert for each brand. The alert creation tool gives you options for frequency, sources, languages, how many results, and delivery location.
What isn’t immediately obvious is that you can create more advanced queries to better refine your results. There’s also a handy “Alert Preview” that helps you preview the results your query will be returning.
For Chipotle, we’ll want to exclude results that are about chipotle peppers and coupon spam. We can remove stories with these terms by using the minus sign (-) directly in front of each term.
Chipotle is also publicly traded, so we should probably include the ticker symbol, CMG. You can include an additional term by using the OR operator.
By default Google searches use the AND operator between terms. So, Chipotle CMG would only return results that include both Chipotle and CMG, and we don’t want that.
For Freebirds, we need to put the term in parentheses, otherwise Google will include results for “Free Birds” as well.
We’ll also want to exclude the words Lynyrd, Skynyrd, and Fabulous, as they commonly come up in searches about the term freebirds, but are unrelated to the Freebirds brand.
For greater granularity and focus we could even further refine these alerts using query language to focus on just alerts about new store openings, labor protests, health code violations, supply chain issues etc.
To do this you would write the query linking the brand to the term, for example, [Chipotle AND opening].
That’s it! Now you’ll get alerts on your competitors at the interval you selected and with the information you want to know.
Listening to your competitors and their customers in real-time, for free
Using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite is very much an in-the-moment approach to competitive intelligence.
You’re not going to see analytics, sentiment, or other metrics, but what you will see are brand and audience comments as they happen.
For our particular application these tools are Twitter focused. In this example we’ll use Tweetdeck.
However, Hootsuite operates in much the same way, and because of this you can use the methodology below on that platform as well.
Just like Google Alerts, these tools also rely on queries to pinpoint the conversations you want to pay attention to. We’ll use queries to focus on consumer mentions about the brand.
We’ll also employ a convenient feature provided by Twitter, called private lists, to track what brands themselves are saying.
Setting up private lists
Twitter provides an amazing feature called “Private Lists” for anonymously tracking the comments of accounts without having to follow them. Here’s how to set them up.
Go to a competitor’s Twitter profile, click the settings gear and choose, “Add or remove from lists…”
Click “Create a list” in the dialog box that pops up, then make sure to click “Private”under the next window that appears. Click “Save List”.
Add the lists as streams in Tweetdeck. Click the plus sign (+) in the left toolbar, then select “Lists” for the column type. Finally click “Add Column”. Repeat for each list.
Writing queries for Tweetdeck/Hootsuite
With our private lists loaded and our competitors own comments being monitored, it’s time set up listening for what consumers are saying about them.
We’ll start out with a few basic queries then refine them later to filter out the noise and focus on specific themes.
To begin, click the search icon in the left toolbar. This will bring up a search dialog box that we can start entering our terms and operators into.
Because people online use a variety of different language, including slang, we’ll need to make sure to cover hashtags, misspellings, and alternate Twitter handles.
We’ll also want to make sure to exclude competitors’ comments from these streams so that we’re only getting the voice of the consumer.
Step 1 - The basic format
In the example below we’ll use the to: operator to capture consumer comments directed at the brand while excluding posts by the brand, the common brand name, the handle version of the common brand name, and a hashtag version of the brand name to get as many relevant comments as possible.
Step 2 - Removing irrelevant mentions
Great! We’re locking in on what consumers are saying, but are we picking up irrelevant mentions? As we build the query we can preview the stream to make sure it fits with what we’re searching for.
After looking through a stream of tweets, I noticed that chipotle aioli, mayo, and mayonnaise were frequently coming up in posts, usually in reference to other brands.
As this isn’t relevant to our search, we’ll want to remove these terms, and because mayonnaise has potential for mispellings we’ll add a few alternate spellings in for good measure.
With irrelevant mentions removed, we now have a great base to work with.
Step 3 - Geofencing your streams (optional)
For the sake of example, let’s say that our first location for Bro!ritto is opening in Kansas City.
By geofencing we can take action and engage our competitors’ customers in-the-moment to do things like offering incentives to try Bro!ritto, building brand awareness, and taking advantage of opportunities where our competitors have disappointed their customers.
Here’s how to add geofencing to your social listening. Go to Google Maps, type in the city or location you want to zero in on, hit enter, and then right click in the center and click“What’s here?”.
Underneath the search bar it will provide latitude and longitude coordinates. Copy the coordinates and then enter them into the Tweetdeck search box after your existing query and in the following format: [geocode:lat,long,radius]. *The radius parameter can be in kilometers (km) or miles (mi).
That’s it! Now we’re ready to start listening! Simple, right?
Using social media intelligence to understand the “so what?” of online conversations
In this section we’ll be using Infegy Atlas to measure things like overall awareness, favorability, topics, and behavior within earned mentions from Twitter and other channels like blogs, forums, and news sites.
The principles and basic query structure we’ll be laying out can be carried over to other social intelligence platforms, however, due to differing functionalities, it won’t be as direct of a translation as with Tweetdeck and Hootsuite.
Writing queries that get us relevant data from multiple channels
Just like the other types of tools we’ve used, it helps to start with a query that pulls in as much relevant data as possible and then refine from there.
Luckily, we already have a good foundation, we just need to modify the syntax a bit.
Because we’re broadening our dataset beyond just Twitter, we’ll need to exclude more terms that aren’t relevant to our brands as well as excluding posts from the brands themselves across multiple channels.
The author operator in our query accomplishes the latter. (Learn more about writing these queries here.)
After we’ve excluded more terms and checked to make sure the query results are as relevant as possible, we’re ready to start our analysis.
Starting with high level insight and letting the data guide us to greater detail
For competitive intelligence, what we’re looking to get out of the data is context that helps us understand the differences in consumer opinion and behavior for each brand.
The best way to begin is to compare our brands and identify disparities between high level metrics.
This could be differences in overall sentiment, share of voice in geographic locations, levels of passion, or audience demographics.
Finding commonalities and variances in this information opens the doors to discovering things like why one brand has higher consumer sentiment than another, or why consumers in the South have a stronger preference for one brand while consumers in the North prefer another.
For our current analysis, the most interesting differences were found in gender and demographic information.
Knowing that Freebirds activates more male consumers while Chipotle activates more female consumers provides a good starting point for further research.
Now, let’s add even more detail to our analysis by layering in additional demographic information.
By correlating the geographic metadata attached to social media posts against US Census data, Atlas can approximate a great deal of statistics about the groups of consumers discussing our fast casual burrito brands.
Compared to the composite of all three brands, Chipotle is discussed by consumers that have 1% more disposable income than the mean.
Meanwhile, Freebirds consumers generally have less disposable income than consumers of other brands.
Putting this together, the average consumer that talks about Freebirds online is male and has 10% less disposable income to spend than the average fast casual burrito consumer.
So, what is it that attracts this type of consumer to Freebirds, and female consumers and those with more disposable income to Chipotle? Is it the price? The rice? The guacamole?
Let’s take a quick look at how we could go about figuring this out.
Finding actionable insights in a sea of data
We know a few basic stats about the gender and demographic distribution for our brands, now let’s figure out what matters to these consumers.
Topic clouds provide the opportunity to see exactly what people are talking about, how frequently and with what sentiment.
We’ll start here and then compare the topics males discuss compared to females in order to build a model that includes the most relevant attributes we should be focusing on.
In cross-referencing the topics males discuss when mentioning Chipotle compared to females, female customers were found to discuss the importance of the ingredients more often.
This was recognized not only with the word ingredients but also with other related words like meat as well.
Looking at female conversations specifically about Chipotle and ingredients, the conversations focused on topics like humanely raised and farm raised meats, non-GMO ingredients, and “food with integrity”.
When filtered to mentions of Freebirds created by males, rice appeared in our results of common topics.
This topic was not found in the top fifty most popular topics for other brands or in the general Freebirds query that included both males and females.
Finally, several other topics were found throughout this phase of our analysis including queso, carnitas, tacos, and of course guacamole.
Now that we’ve identified what customers reference most, we’ll create a few custom categories that will make it easier to compare these attributes across all brands.
To create categories, we’ll build a dictionary of words and synonyms associated with each attribute. For example, the guacamole category filter will include guacamole, guac, #guacamole, or #guac.
By mixing in these specific themes with standard themes like cost, health, and quality we can get a very clear picture of how customers position brands on the attributes that matter most to them.
Observing the information side-by-side we can see that female Chipotle customers are less price sensitive, talking about the cost less often and with lower frequencies of negative statements.
They also talk about guacamole more often and with higher favorability than their male counterparts.
For rice and tacos, female customers talk about these items only slightly more, but also less favorably in both cases.
In comparing what female customers like about Chipotle in relation to our other brands, we can begin to uncover the strengths and weaknesses within the field and identify the opportunities where Bro!ritto can best compete.
One of the findings we uncovered is that Chipotle very obviously leads the market with female consumers as the go-to fast casual burrito restaurant for guacamole.
Our next step from here would be to figure out what it is about Chipotle’s guacamole that has won over consumer awareness and affinity.
Is it purely taste? Is it health related? What do customers think about the cost?
As it turns out, even though consumers love the way Chipotle’s guacamole tastes and view it as a quality offering, cost comes up more often than any theme and with a significant amount of negativity.
After going through each of the items in this exercise we’re left with actionable intelligence that we can begin using to inform strategy for Bro!ritto.
Application in action, what we know and how we can use it
Let’s wrap things up and go over how we could apply what we know. I’ll include insights that have been fully enumerated upon as well as some additional items that weren’t discussed.
Female consumers are drawn to Chipotle’s guacamole but have negative views on how Chipotle prices it. They also frequently discuss the high quality of the brand’s guacamole.
Highlight guacamole in ads
Offer guacamole as a low cost add-on
Use language and imagery to suggest quality and freshness
Male consumers are drawn to Freebirds rice specifically because they have a more flavorful seasoned rice offering.
Offer a seasoned rice option
Customers of every fast casual burrito restaurant referenced chicken most often.
Provide multiple offerings of chicken
Customers of these establishments are health aware, often discussing the unhealthiness of the food to a greater degree than the individual ingredients.
Create health guides that help customers make the healthiest decisions without affecting taste
Taste is the most frequently referenced theme in consumer conversations.
Tie together the taste with health aspects, quality of ingredients, freshness, and customizability
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