By Steph Jones

How to handle your competitors on social media

March 16th, 2023
5 min read

Unless you’re the proud owner or marketer of a truly unique business, the social networks will be littered with your competitors. There are some conflicting views on how you should deal with your competitors, particularly on Twitter/X and Instagram, when the interaction between accounts is commonplace.

Should I follow my competitors on social media? Should I retweet or reposts something they shared that I know my audience would enjoy? Is there anything I can gain from studying my competitors online? These are things you do not want to get wrong, so let’s find out more.

Dealing with competitors on social media

One could argue that almost every other social media account out there is some form of competitor. Why? Because everyone is competing for the attention of consumers. Of course, those with whom you share a large portion of your audience are in a more heated battle with you and those offering substitute products or services to yours are your direct competitors both on and off social media.

As a general rule, it is advisable not to interact with competitors over social media, especially not sharing their content. The rationale behind it is pretty simple – it has the potential to increase their reach, web clicks and their follower numbers. You’re basically showcasing your competitor to your audience, which is probably their target audience too!

Some of your audience members may not have even heard of your competitor before so you’re introducing that business to new prospects and vice-versa. Furthermore, some people may only follow a handful of brands or companies within a certain sector. If your competitor produces better content than you; you risk losing followers who decide to follow your competitor instead.

But maybe retweeting or regramming a direct competitor is too simple an example.

How does ‘liking’ or commenting on a post compare? How about following their accounts and what if they’re more of a collaborator than a competitor?

If they’re more collaborative, sure, there’s a lot more room for interaction and cross-promotion. You’re likely to enjoy reciprocated actions which will help you gain valuable exposure amongst their audiences. However, even some collaborator accounts, you should be wary of. Sharing an audience with any brand makes them a competitor to a degree on social media. Firstly, they’re competing against you for your audience’s attention and, secondly, they may only have the budget for one of your companies’ products. By showcasing your collaborators are you splitting your potential pay-off amongst your fans? 

Every type of interaction and type of account warrants a different approach so ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they a direct competitor?

  • Does my brand share an audience with this brand?

  • Does my business share a budget with this business?

Direct competitor? Stay away and don’t engage. Only in very rare circumstances might it actually work in your favour.

Share an audience? Not necessarily a problem and if you’re trying to gain exposure to a qualified audience, this might be a good way to do it.

Share a budget? Proceed with caution. Only cross-promote in this instance if you know it will be reciprocated over time.

But apart from engaging with a competitor over social media, what else are they good for?

In short; research. There is a serious amount of information out there about your competitors and you can leverage this to your benefit. Knowing the kind of content and tone of voice that will interest and resonate with your target audience can be very tricky, especially if you’re just starting out.

How do they respond to comments or interaction? Do they do any active outreach and, if so, how? Is this effective?

Do they have a clear strategy or use tactics like competitions or guerilla marketing?

Learn from your competitors’ mistakes without making them yourself.

How can I learn from my competitors on social media?

If you’ve added your competitors to a private Twitter list, they’re really easy to keep an eye on because you can essentially see an entire stream of their content in one place (without them knowing you’re snooping on them!). For Facebook or Instagram, the process will be more manual and should be done periodically.

Which bits of content perform well? Which don’t? What about specific campaigns or competitions? Depending on your sector and how similar your brand is to your competitors’, the lessons you learn from their social media successes and failures may be incredibly relevant.

By analysing five of your competitors over the last three years, you effectively gain 15 years of industry-specific social media experience before you send out a single post.

Your competitors’ audience

Follow some of your competitors’ followers whom you suspect could be your prospects. If they follow you back then great – they’ve effectively subscribed to your updates. They might even find you on Facebook or Instagram if your content is solid. On Twitter, you could add them to a private list, which makes it easier to start a conversation with them and keep tabs on their behaviour.

Don’t follow your competitors’ followers en-mass. It will look obvious and spammy and you might even get called up on it! You’re better off interacting in a range of ways. Follow some, interact with some, like their content and do it for a range of competitors and collaborators.

Steph Jones.
Steph Jones

Head of Social

A hands-on Head of Social, with extensive experience across Charity, Retail and eCommerce, both agency side and client side, with brands such as WWF, Virgin Pure and Purity Brewing. Steph considers all facets of the customer journey through social and paid media, as well as creating engaging content in line with the business goals to capture attention and convert audiences.