A clever Twitter trick small businesses can use to best the competition

Small and local businesses have gotten the telegram: social media can play an important role in marketing and sales planning. The channel has reach, allows for user-generated context, offers immediacy and is accessible. And because it’s an opt-in channel, small businesses reaching out to prospects with a deft touch stand a good chance of breaking through customer trust barriers.

The simple knowledge that your direct and indirect competition is using Twitter and Facebook is one thing. But it’s far more valuable to know who they’re developing online rapport with, and what those people need that you can potentially provide. And while you may not stumble across a blatant tweet like “I’m ready to drop $500 on a ,” with service mindfulnesss, some patience, and a little research know-how your small business can take an organic approach to prospecting through social media.

Pluck low hanging fruit on Twitter

Look closely at who’s following your competition with some Twitter research. Here are the recommend steps you should take to leverage this monitoring:

1. View the competitor’s Twitter profile within a browser (recommend Firefox).

2. Click the link to view who lists the company.

3. Highlight all the list information, paste it into BuzzStream’s free link building tool.

4. Download the CSV generated by the tool. You may have to do some file formatting clean-up, but you’ll end up with the name, Twitter handle, and Twitter URL of people who list (and presumably value) your competition.

twitter research

Armed with this knowledge, you can then spend some quality time researching any interaction between the company and the follower. You may spot some problematic areas you can tuck away for future exploitation – ahem, use – or you may just learn how active and supportive the competition is with its Twitter network. Either way, information is power. And now you have a list of people inclined to have an interest in your product/service category. These people are low-hanging fruit in the sense that they have a heightened interest in your market. It’s likely you’re not starting from awareness zero. Using the same workbook, create new tabs for each competitor and repeat.

And as you can see from the example above, people can use some pretty interesting names when building Twitter lists. I think the names can also be a clue for you to tuck away because it gives insight into how the list maker categorizes or perceives the company. Don’t place too much emphasis here – some people just go crazy naming lists. But in conjunction with your other findings, list names are news you can use.

Now, if you’re committed to digging deep into Twitter to uncover insights, you could extend the value of your new CSV file by adding other columns to help categorize or further identify each prospect. By checking out someone’s profile bio you may find a link to their web site. From there you may discern if they’re a consumer, supplier/vendor, or like-minded pro in another market. Jot all this down into the spreadsheet; it may help prioritize where you spend your time and who you woo.

Be Johnny-On-the-Spot

Furthermore, if a prospect has an RSS feed for their blog, don’t forget to subscribe. File them all under a special folder in your reader for easy access when it’s time to schedule tweets that promote their content. And yes, it’s important that you share other people’s content.

Tired of the CSV file? Well, you still need it. Use SocialSeek or Social Mention to hunt the interwebs and bring back info that fits parameters you set up (your brand name, your competitor’s brand name, the category, related categories, etc.) These tools will bubble up people having conversations relevant to your business. Consider appending their information to your file and rounding out the info you’re collecting. Then reach out while the conversation is hot with a no-pressure message like “I see you’re in a spot. Can we help with that at all?” See? Nice and subtle.

Not an exclusive deal

Of course, larger organizations can take these approaches, too. They’re not exclusive to small shops. Given limited resources, though, small businesses may find real opportunity in converting leads discovered this way, particularly once the basic leg work is set up and tasks become more routine.

Do you own or help out at a small business? What are your secrets for gathering competitive intelligence and prospecting on Twitter?

Author’s note:  I first published this post, titled “How small businesses can use Twitter to get a jump on the competition,” on the Oneforty blog July 8, 2011 as a contributing author. I’m cross-posting here so that Insights & Ingenuity readers might also learn and enjoy.

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