Learning from your competition. Let's start spying!

Have you ever looked at a report full of numbers only to realize those numbers mean nothing without additional context? Let’s say you hear that your Facebook page growth was 5% and average engagement per post was 120 (likes, comments and shares).  Sounds good, right? Or does it? Is it average, below average, above average or exceptional? To answer that, you need to view this data in a context of your historical performance and in relation to your competitors. There are many helpful tools to track your performance against competitors, like Socialbakers and SimplyMeasured, just to name a few. While all of those are fantastic, they are typically not free. In this post, let me share one of my favorite free tools and a couple of tricks that you can use right away.

1. First things first, define your competitive set. Don't go too crazy now, select a manageable number. 3 to 5 would be good to start with.

2. Create a working document (google doc or an excel spreadsheet) where you can keep track of all the info about your competitors: links to their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, numbers, notes, etc.

3. Let's start our spying on Facebook and glean insights about the pages of your competitors. When Facebook rolled out timeline for pages, it made some new page insights data publicly available. Click the box that says "Likes" and you'll have access to such page data as most popular age group, most popular city and most popular week. You'll also see a nice graph showing new likes and people talking about this page.

Are your competitors attracting the audience that you are trying to reach more? Learn from their page about the types of content they are sharing and what's working best. Page timeline will let you go back all the way to their most popular week or the week the page had its biggest spike in growth and try to find out what they were doing during that week. Did they announce a new product/service? Did they run a Facebook campaign?

Make notes in your competitive analysis spreadsheet and move on.

4. Set up Facebook and Twitter automatic tracking. If you haven't used Wildfire Social Media Monitor before, now is the time to check it out. The great news about this tool is that it's free.

You can use the monitor without signing up for a wildfire account, which is also free, but the features and the number of comparisons will be limited. Also you'll need an account in order to save your comparisons.

Once you log in, add Facebook pages and Twitter handles of your competitors along with your own. Click compare, and voila, Wildfire monitor will start tracking page growth over time, "people talking" and "people talking to likes."

You can also sign up for a weekly summary of your performance relative to your competitors.

It won’t take you very far if you just look at the numbers though. Go dig deeper and find out what might have affected sudden growth or spikes in "people talking" metric.

5. Now let's spy on bit.ly urls. Since you made it all the way to the bottom of this post, I'll share one more bonus trick with you.

Have you ever wondered how your click-through numbers on Twitter stack up to those of your competitors? If your competitors are using bit.ly url shortener, there is an easy way to find out. You can learn about traffic, locations and referrers. Just copy the link, paste it into your browser adding a plus sign (+) at the end.

All right, all the tips for today. Go try this now! I hope it will help you get a better understanding of how well you are doing and what type of engagement you are getting.

What tools or tricks are you using to benchmark your social media performance?