How to Improve Your Social Media Strategy Based on Competitor Research

How to Improve Your Social Media Strategy Based on Competitor Research

11th September 2018

Just like content marketing is more than randomly writing up blog posts, social media marketing is a lot more than disjointed tweet and pictures on Instagram. You need to be strategic about what you’re posting over a period of time, why, and what you hope to get out of it.

Your social media strategy will determine how effective your overall campaigns are and how valuable your social presence is to your business. Creating a strategy can be difficult enough, but knowing when or how to improve it can be even more difficult. That’s where competitor research comes in.

Being able to see what your top competition is doing on social media and how it’s working for them can give you new ideas for how to adapt your social media marketing strategy. You may get idea for new techniques, new types of posts, or even certain subjects they’re covering that are doing well for them.

In this post, we’re going to go over how to improve your social media strategy based on competitor research in just 6 simple steps, putting you one step closer to not just matching your competition, but outshining them all together.

Step #1: Identify Your Biggest Competitors Online

If you want to get ahead, you’ll want to start your research by finding your fiercest competition online. Starting with the big fish will get you the best results, because they’re doing something right to get the kind of follower count and engagement they have.

You want to see who your audience is following online and which brands they interact with most. There are a few ways of doing this.

The first is to use Facebook’s Pages to Watch feature, which is available to Pages in its Facebook Insights data. This can be found in the Insight’s Overview tab, all the way towards the bottom, and it allows you to add competitor’s Pages to a dashboard and measure up your follower count, posting schedule, and engagement against your competition.

Facebook Page Insights

Use Facebook’s Pages to Watch to identify your best performing competitors, and remember to not only look at follower count, but total engagement. The engagement will tell you how their followers are interacting with the content, giving you some insight if you want to snag a strategy or two from them or skip to a different competitor instead. Brands with high engagement rates are the ones to watch.

Not entirely sure who your competition is? That’s ok. SEMrush’s Organic Competitors report can help you find them. All you have to do is enter in your URL, and the tool will automatically compile data showing you your top competitors, how much traffic they’re getting, the keywords they’re ranking for, and how much traffic and keywords they’re paying to rank for.

Identifying your competitors — SEMrush

While keywords will have more to do with improving your content marketing strategy, this report will give you a good idea of who has a strong online presence, and who is investing heavily in marketing. Brands investing in marketing and getting plenty of traffic typically have strong social presences, so they’ll be good ones to check out.

Compile the list of competitors you want to research, and get ready for step 2.

Step #2: Find Your Competitors’ Top Performing Content & Adapt It

You’ve found your top competitors. Now it’s time to take a look at what’s helped them to earn that status and use that information to your advantage.

Identifying your competitors’ top performing content will start to help you find trends, strategies, and topics that your audience is responsive to, giving you new content to adapt for your own strategy.

Tools like Rival IQ, Klear, and SEMrush allow you to track your competitors’ social pages and their content. This will provide you with information on how often their Pages post content, how much engagement they’re earning, which hashtags they use, and more. Information on engagement rates and content can show you what types of posts your audience most wants to see, and the hashtags can help you start to discover which topics and specific hashtags will give you the best reach.

Identifying top performing content — SEMrush Social Media Tracker

Once you know which content performs best in each social network, it’s time to use that information and adapt it to fit your voice, strategy, and specific audience niches. Here are a few examples of how you can do that:

    • Write your own new and improved version of it. Did you notice that your competition posted a resource, but that users still had a lot of questions? Answer those questions, and put a unique spin on the content with your style and brand voice.
    • Note their technical decisions and analyze them. Look at things like the highest-performing post formats. Are their videos getting higher engagement rates, or are multi-image posts sweeping the floor with single-image or text-only posts? These are all important cues to take, and noticing that certain types of post formats yield more engagement can mean it’s time to alter your strategy to add more of them.
    • Look for strategies and topics. Pay attention to the types of content they’re sharing. Are they big on behind-the-scenes content, or do they dive deep into influencer marketing, or how-it’s-made videos? You may find new content ideas to add to the strategy you already have going.

Step #3: Analyze Your Competitors’ Hashtags

The hashtags that your competitors are using can give you a lot of valuable data. They tell you not only what topics they’re writing about, but also which hashtags they’re using on Twitter and Instagram to maximise their reach and potentially even connect with new audiences.

You can use tools like Hashtagify and ExportTweet to track and evaluate hashtags, both past and present, which can help you assess their popularity and potential effectiveness. ExportTweet in particular can show you which competitors are using a hashtag most effectively, and give you insight into how they’re using it.

ExportTweet hashtag analytics

Because a lot can change with social media very quickly, it’s important to remember to monitor your competitors’ hashtags on an ongoing basis. Not only will this help you catch on to any trending topics or big changes in best practices, but it can also help you to spot things like special offers or competitions. This information will not only give you more insight into their marketing strategy, but can help your offers stay competitive, too.

Step #4: Track Their Audience Growth

Want to figure out which competitors are dominant on each individual social network? Tracking their audience growth is a good place to start.

You’ll want to do this for each individual platform that they’re on. Some brands, after all, may master one social platform but not another. Others may be trying out a new technique, causing a surge in followers on a platform. It’s not uncommon to see one profile like Facebook growing like crazy, while their Twitter is barely outpacing stagnation. Since there’s no use copying and modifying strategies that aren’t working, this will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Facebook’s Pages to Watch feature can help you track growth on their platform, and Sprout Social’s competitor reports can give you a lot of information about audience growth and engagement on your competitors’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

SproutSocial competitor reports

Watch for growth carefully, and if you’re seeing a big boost, go check out their profiles to look for hints as to why the growth is happening. If you want to know if ad campaigns are behind it all, you can use Facebook’s new Info & Ads tool to see all the ads a Page is currently running.

Using Facebook Info and Ads

Step #5: Research Who is Mentioning Them

Want to find new influencers and potential brand advocates for your brand? Look at who is mentioning your competitors, and see if you can reach out to them in order to entice them to give you a shot, too.

Tracking you social media mentions

You can use tools like Mention to find who is saying what about your competitors, automating this stage of the research for you.

In addition to just finding the mentions themselves, you’ll also want to take note of how your competitors are responding to the users who are interacting with their brands, and how the mentions seem to impact their social media strategy overall. Do they retweet the original Tweet or share the post, or thank them within the original post’s conversation, or simply like it? Take note of what seems to yield the best response, and test those strategies out for yourself.

Step #6: Track All Online Activity

This can be a bit trickier, but trust me when I say that consistently tracking your competitors’ online activity will be a huge asset in the long run.

Again, you’ll be able to quickly pick up on any sudden changes happening, allowing you to adapt your strategy to stay competitive and maybe even outdo your competitor. Beating the competition at their own game is an opportunity almost too good to pass up, after all. SEMrush’s Social Media Tracker can help with this, though you’ll also need to go digging on the actual competitors’ profiles for more data.

Social Media Competitor Analysis - SEMrush Social Media Tracker

You should be looking for all of the following:

  • How often your competition is posting and on which platforms.
  • Fluctuations in engagement trends on individual platforms.
  • When their posts are published in terms of the day of the week and time of the day, and which dates and times seem to get the most engagement.
  • Which types of content they’re using, and which seem to get the best responses. Look for specifics like photos, videos, and other types of formats.


Competitor research can absolutely help you adjust and improve your social media strategy. Being able to identify your top competitors and their top content is a good start. But then analyzing their hashtags, growth, and online activity will give you the answers you need to see how they’re getting the results that you want. Don’t forget to track the mentions at the end, so you can see how effective these techniques are at building relationships, and what strategies you can use to build relationships with your audience, too.

Competitor research isn’t something that should just be done once and forgotten. Instead, actively monitoring your competition on an ongoing basis will help you stay on top of what they’re doing, and potentially adjust your social media strategy accordingly. Nothing is ever stagnant on social media, after all, which evolves quickly and requires even faster adaptations.

Remember that it’s important to take what you learn from your competitor research and adjust it instead of copying it outright. This will help you develop strategies and create content that’s relevant to your specific audience, and therefore will be more successful as a result. Competitor research is an effective guide, not a how-to book, so treat it accordingly and you’ll be outperforming them before you know it.

And lastly, here’s our checklist that will help you remember the steps you should take to perform a social media competitive research:

Social Media Competitor Research Checklist

Be sure to follow these easy steps and let us know how you get on in the comments below!


Written By
Online Marketing Specialist at SEMrush, a leading digital marketing toolkit for SEO, paid advertising, content strategy, PR and social media professionals.
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