Why You Should Rethink Your Approach to Competitors on Social Media

Photo by Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons 

Photo by Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons 

Conventional marketing wisdom would scoff at the notion of viewing competitors as anything more than a threat and a nuisance.

But we're living in unconventional times. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn aren’t conventional marketing channels. And customers are increasingly behaving like unconventional buyers. 

So here’s an outrageous idea: Rather than avoiding your competitors like a nervous adolescent, why not approach them like a confident adult? Instead of obsessing about one-upmanship, defending your turf or burying your head in the sand, consider focusing on a far more productive strategy: engaging with them.

That's right, I'm suggesting your competitors might actually be an important element of your company's social media strategy.

I realize that’s a tough concept for most marketers to wrap their minds around—let alone convince their superiors to embrace—but I think there are some compelling reasons to broaden your social media strategy.

Unleashing Social Media's Full Potential

As a marketing tool, social media is a great equalizer and empowerer. Any organization, regardless of size, location or influence, has the resources to be its own media publisher. But just because someone has access to a powerful megaphone doesn’t guarantee others will listen or care. There’s a vast difference between reaching out to a few fans who already think you’re great and connecting with a broader network of individuals who may someday need your products/services or be in a position to influence others who might.

I’m not saying that building a massive audience should be your primary—or even secondary—goal. What I am trying to convey is that social media offers incredible opportunities to expand your organization’s influence by demonstrating true leadership. 

In most industries, the digital landscape is WIDE OPEN for businesses to stake their claim as an influencer. But it requires adopting an expansive marketing approach.  

Taking the Broad View

A true industry leader maintains a broad perspective on trends, issues and developments, regardless of where they originate. (S)he doesn't have blinders on or pretend only one company matters.

A leader also isn't threatened by another firm's success. It’s grateful for any activities that raise the bar for everyone. As John F. Kennedy once proclaimed, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

And your clients aren't naive. They recognize there are many firms doing admirable stuff. Just because you pretend your competitors don't exist doesn't make them suddenly evaporate.

I’m willing to bet most prospects are drawn to potential business partners that not only understand their specific role in an industry, but also maintain a broader perspective about that industry.

Involving Competitors in Your Social Strategy

So what does it mean to implement a competitor-inclusive social strategy?

Well it starts with a willingness to share content that doesn’t have an obvious benefit to your company. That involves expanding your content beyond press releases and news articles that directly mention your company or one of its people.

Look for opportunities to share broader topics, trends and ideas that might be of interest to others who currently do business with you. Connect the dots to relevant trends that are on the minds of others, such as healthcare, the environment or the economy.  Of course, you need to be careful to avoid divisive issues and political landmines.

You can greatly increase the likelihood your content will get more traction by learning how to use hashtags effectively. 

Here are a few specific ideas for engaging competitors on social media. Not all of them may be feasible for every company, but they should help open your mind to what’s possible.

Mine competitors’ content for shareable ideas. Turn a few heads—namely, theirs—by sharing their most compelling content (giving them proper attribution, of course).

If a news article quotes several people, including one of yours, congratulate all of the companies in your social posts.

If your competitors do something admirable, tip your hat to them. Publicly. Their success doesn’t diminish your company’s significance.

Challenge rivals to a friendly competition involving an issue or cause that’s of interest to each of you. It might be a charitable endeavor or community event.

Reach out and engage competitors in some friendly banter. The most credible companies on social media don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re occasionally lighthearted and fun (yet always professional).

None of these tactics needs to diminish your focus on increasing market share, building sales or whatever your bottom-line marketing goals might be. If anything, they should help drive those objectives. By maintaining a broad perspective, you position your company as an influential source of information and insights on issues that matter to your customers, partners and colleagues.