Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Kevin Magee, Director of Sales for Expion, and a client of Social Media Explorer.
Social media has permanently changed the relationship between brands and consumers, but has it shifted the way large brands relate to smaller companies? Yes, particularly when it comes to competitive intelligence.
Before social became a mandatory line-item on a brand’s media plan, assessing the competitive marketing landscape and figuring out how to gain traction was relatively straightforward and limited. Does your competitor have more brand awareness in a target DMA? Study their TV spots and placements, then create your own and pay for the air cover across multiple stations. Need more sales in a specific city? Buy more radio ads or print placements in the local paper.
For forward-thinking brands, even “guerilla” or “experiential” marketing – people handing out flyers, sampling products in stores, etc. – was on the table. Ultimately, companies could focus on brand awareness or increasing sales simply by spending more money, and with few exceptions, brands with smaller budgets were definitely the underdog.
Social has changed this. Although we’re still waiting for Facebook and Twitter to evolve into robust sales funnels, we no longer question their efficacy as branding and messaging platforms. Smaller companies with no strongholds to lose and plenty of market-share to gain quickly saw social for what it was: A low-cost direct-to-consumer marketing channel. Big brands followed, and though it has become more costly to execute effective social campaigns (Old Spice’s “Smell Like a Man” whirlwind didn’t come cheap or easy, remember?) the playing field has still been leveled.
This shift has made it harder to for companies to understand how to compete with their rivals for two main reasons. First, it’s harder to know who your real rivals are, and there are an almost infinite number of variables to compare. You can’t just spend more to win. Winning at social means constantly creating and optimizing the right content for the right audience, at the right time and on the right channels. Oh, and doing it better than multiple other companies vying for the consumers’ attention.
Take the top restaurant brands, for example. Ad Age ranked the top 18 in terms of ad spending, and naturally, the big names like McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King came out on top. But when we took those 18 brands and analyzed them as part of the top 50 restaurant brands overall in terms of Facebook fans, we found that the smaller companies with smaller budgets consistently had more engaged fans.
Ad Spend vs. “Active” Fans
The restaurant mega-brands have an exponential number of fans. Subway, for example, ranked second highest in ad spend and boasts over 8 million fans. But how many of those fans are “active?” Strip out simple “Likes” and drill down to the number of fans that have actually posted or commented on Subway’s page and you wind up with just 0.5% of those “fans.”
White Castle Burgers, on the other hand, didn’t even show up on Ad Age’s big spender list, and they only have about 310,000 fans, but just over 16,000 (or more than 5%) are active. That’s the highest percentage of all of the top 50 brands overall.
KFC is one of the top spenders and has over 3 million fans. However, only 0.40% of those fans have engaged with the brand over the past six months. Chili’s was also a top spender according to Ad Age, but boasted the second-highest active fan percentage (4.4%) overall.
Does this mean that Subway is competing with White Castle Burgers, or that Chili’s should be the top brand on KFC’s radar? No, but it means that both KFC and Subway would be well served to track what other companies like White Castle Burgers and Chili’s are doing on Facebook – when they’re posting, how often they’re responding to comments, the kinds of sentiment that their fan posts tend to have – if they really want to maximize their social presence. That’s not just social media management, that’s competitive social media intelligence.
Most Engaging Content
The best competitive intelligence also provides insight into what rival brands are saying in social – not just when they post and how. For example, we found that five restaurant brands accounted for the hottest posts of the summer in terms of Fan comments. While the big spenders on Ad Age’s list took four out of five of those top spots, the most engaging brand – Buffalo Wild Wings, a smaller, east coast-based franchise – beat them all.
The bottom line? The social media landscape has become more cluttered, and smaller brands can be more effective than larger companies with deeper pockets. The notion of winning the “social consumer” by outspending your rivals is not the approach a truly social brand should take. Winning at social means blending creative vision with competitive intelligence data to help optimize everything from Facebook ad spend, to knowing when to post what on which platform, as well as knowing which of your brand’s posts actually drive engagement. So while money can’t buy social media love, companies should definitely make the investment in competitive social media intelligence.
IMAGE NOTE: The Restaurant Industry image was taken from a larger infographic created by MarketingDegree.net for AdAge. To see the entire infographic, visit AdAge’s post which features other industries.
About the Guest Author: Kevin Magee is the Director of Sales for Expion and has been instrumental in helping the company grow its client base. He brings nearly two decades of enterprise sales, management and marketing experience to the team, including P&L responsibility and strategic development. Expion’s software manages thousands of business profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and beyond. Its centralized platform empowers customers to localize and align their social marketing efforts.