7 Sneaky Ways to Use Twitter to Spy on Your Competition

These days, spying on your competition is easier than ever.

Twitter is one of the most popular social networks for businesses, and it gives you an advantage that you may never have had before. Because so much Twitter data is public, you can easily use that data to learn so much about your competitor’s followers and strategies.

In this post, we will look at seven ways you can use this data to look behind the scenes of what your competitors are doing.

Before We Get Started

If you are not already using a Twitter management client, I would suggest you try one. It will help you manage most of the following information in one place.

For these examples, I am going to use my Twitter management client, HootSuite, as you can do everything discussed using a free account. You can also do similar setups in other clients such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic, CoTweet, and other applications.

1. Follow Your Competition on Twitter

One of the best ways to get to know what is working for a competitor is to watch what they do.

You don’t even have to directly follow them. Just create a private Twitter list (only visible to you) and add your competitor to that list. If the competitor has more than one primary Twitter account, or all of their employees are on Twitter, include them as well. This way, you will have a stream of incoming information telling you exactly how they handle their Twitter strategy. 

You can create a private Twitter list on Twitter by selecting “New List” on your homepage sidebar, or created it directly in HootSuite by adding a new stream, selecting your Twitter account, and Create a New List. Then add all of the relevant Twitter accounts.

In the above example, I am following two accounts from Best Buy. Within just a few moments, I see that one account is helping people with their technical questions, while the other is sending out advertisements, as well as mentioning blog posts from employees active on Twitter.

They are even leveraging the ability to include @replies to celebrities when applicable with their latest deals, maybe in hopes that one will pick it up and comment or retweet:

2. Monitor Their @Replies

Why watch just one side of the conversation?

Setting up a search for your competitor’s @username will give you a look into what people are saying to your competitor. This way, you can see what their fans (or enemies) like or dislike about them, as well as questions they have. You can create a search in Twitter by simply searching for the @username of your competitor and using the “Save this Search” option, or creating it as a new stream in HootSuite.

As you can see in the above example, you can create a more advanced search query in HootSuite. This one uses the keyword search for both of the company’s Twitter usernames. Now you can have one stream showing mentions of either username.

Now, imagine if, while analyzing your competitor, you find that they are not answering their customers’ questions, but you can. Or you are seeing specific complaints about your competitors about a particular product or service, and you can offer them something better.

For example, when I was having hosting issues, a few of my followers @replied me to tell me about hosting services they used that didn’t have the same kind of problems. When three different people told me about the same host, I went and checked out their company.

Please note, however, that you have to have a good strategy in place to let those people know about your site. I might have been less likely to check out another company if the company had been messaging me instead of my followers.

The lesson?

Replying to someone with a blatant sales pitch might get you labeled a spammer. But simply offering a helpful suggestion about how to choose the right product, and then leaving it up to them to make the decision is a lot more likely to pay off.

3. Analyze Their Followers

Have you ever wanted to get some insight into your competitor’s client list?

Well, now you can.

Services like Tweepi allow you to bring up their follower list and sort it by the number of updates their followers have, their following count, etc. so you can essentially find out who some of their most active and influential fans are.

You can also run your competitors through TwitterCounter, which will show you how quickly your competitor is getting followers, how often they tweet per day, and the number of days it will take to reach their next milestone of followers.

Use this information wisely, though. Don’t just start spamming your competitor’s followers with tweets, hoping to grab their attention. Use the above tools to find out who the influential people in your niche are, and then work to build a genuine relationship with them.

4. Check Out Their Toolkit

One way to see what tools your competitor uses to manage their Twitter is to see where their tweets are coming from.

In HootSuite, or directly on their Twitter profile, you will see the timestamp for each of their updates and via the tool the update was sent with. By clicking on this, you can see what applications, services, etc. they use to update their account.

If you’re monitoring your competitor’s @replies, you will even be able to see which updates by your competitors get the most response, and then follow the update to the tool that it was created by and try it out yourself.

5. See What They Do on Other Social Networks

Many people connect their Twitter account to other social networks like YouTube, Facebook, and others, so many of their status updates from those networks will trickle through their Twitter stream.

And assuming your competitor has a good Twitter background design, they will probably list their primary social outlets on that as well. These will be good opportunities to find out what other networks your competitor uses and how they use them so you can include them in your own strategy.

6. Keep Up With Their Blog Posts and Articles

Blogging and other forms of content marketing are great strategies for generating traffic and building relationships with your customers. It gives them new visitors a reason to visit your site and current customers reasons to keep returning for more.

If your competitor is getting a lot of attention based on their blog posts and articles (something you will likely see if they get a lot of article retweets in their @replies), then this is a strategy you will want to start utilizing as well. And even if they’re not, it may be a way you can gain an advantage over them.

7. Get Their Score

Want to know more about your competitors’ overall Twitter score? Twitter Grader allows you to enter the username of anyone on Twitter and get a rating on their Twitter presence.

This report will also show you the top most mentioned keywords in the user’s tweets. You can compare your score to theirs, and see suggestions in the report for what you could be doing better.

You can also sign up for Klout using your Twitter account and analyze the influence of your competitor. This report analyzes the interaction a Twitter user gets from their followers, retweets, follower to following ratio, and other factors that determine the true reach of a user’s tweets.

Do You Stalk the Competition?

Have you ever followed and monitored your competition to see what it is that they are doing that you could be doing better?

What have you learned that benefited your own Twitter and social media strategy?

Please share your experiences in the comments.

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.

  1. Valuable information here.

    You know, a video of you doing this (what your screenshots show) would be even more valuable as I’ve not yet seen any video of this out there. Just my two cents.
    Regards,
    Shane

  2. Well, I’m glad to know that I’ve been doing all of these things to monitor my market.

    It is always reassuring to see independent confirmation that you’re doing it right.

    Nice post Kristi!

    - Don

    • Glad to hear you have found these techniques useful. Social media really has opened up the door for businesses to get a first hand look at exactly what everyone else is doing, and see some results to judge whether it is successful or not, creating huge learning opportunities.

  3. Natalie Peterson Sep 01, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Great post.
    There is also Boppity.info, it is a free tool for finding the users who not following you back on twitter and choose if to delete them.

    • I’ll check it out. Usually I use Refollow for that kind of thing though. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is a great selection of twitter marketing strategies. Thanks for the tip on tweepi – I’m trying it as a means of sorting through the chaff and finding some valuable twitter accounts within my niches.

    • Your welcome! Another one to just find people in your niche is TwitterCounter. You can search people based on profile information and see their following / followers ratio to know how strong their popularity is.

  5. Thanks for letting me know you were posting here today. I try to always read all your posts to keep on top of what you learn as fast as you share it.

    Now if they would only install CommentLuv this could be a regular stop on our visiting / sharing schedule.

    • Thanks, I hope you learned some good tips here! I try not to push CommentLuv on my first post… I wait a bit for that. ;)

  6. Great article Kristi: good advice, interesting tools. Looking forward to more of your insights and tips.

  7. Geno Prussakov Sep 02, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Great tips, Kristi.

    Also, a good first step to make prior to spying on competition would be to analyze (and arrange them by) their Twitter influence.

    • That’s a good point. In HootSuite, you can have a column with the @replies search, and sort that by Klout to see which of their most engaged followers are the most influential. Good point!

  8. Monitoring @ replies? That is pretty sneaky. Good stuff.

    • I’m not sure how sneaky it is. I figure it’s all public information, so why not take advantage. :)

  9. Sherryl Perry Sep 02, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Excellent tips! This post finally motivated me to take the time to sign up for HootSuite. Thanks Kristi.

  10. Great info and interesting tools. Let´s go! :) Best.

  11. If you need the raw historical data of your competitors’ account growth (or death) check out @TwitSprout. Twitter Counter only provides a rough graph… you may want to mash-up their growth data with other information / analytics. (or track at a greater frequency than daily).
    Just a few thoughts. Cheers, Dan.

  12. I am doing the same things on you. LOL. Kidding. Nice round up.

  13. Top tips again!

  14. Thanks for the great article, I went off and tried these ideas out, its always good to see whats happening in your market place.

    A method I use is doing a twitter search on a @replies and then pulling the RSS feed from the search into Google Reader, this allows you to store all the @’s for ever and then you can search them within reader.

    Or you can use Google Alerts and feed it into Reader.

    Have fun with this…

    • Nice idea… that is one good thing about the RSS approach – you can keep a better history of your search and search within it!

  15. Nowadays monitoring your competition is easy because of FB & Twitter.

  16. “See What They Do on Other Social Networks”
    I think Linkedin updates are great way to find the our competition is doing.

    We add our competitors in our network the follow his updates (comments, recommendations and new connections)

  17. Great information, but if you had 100+ competitors how long would it take to actually do all these tasks, and then make a correct judgement about the competitions effectiveness. I take the view that there is plenty of business available for everyone, and if I can help others succeed, my success is therefore guaranteed. Collaborative business is at the heart of social media, and I believe that those that do not fully understand this will always be left wondering why social media is not working for them. I analyse my fellow industry professionals to identify tools to help me, but as I recently said to one person I’m not in the least bit interested in stealing their clients as there are too many new ones just looking for someone to help them. When you see adverts on Linkedin for SM Managers you know there’s a need, so I’m just the outsourcing option to employing staff at twice the cost.

  18. himadri dimri Sep 20, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Nice one! its like keep your friends close and enemies closer ;) though i did it a bit too time consuming like analysing their followers is way too much!

  19. Christine Livingston Sep 25, 2010 at 5:07 am

    Wow! This is truly awesome advice. I have Tweetdeck columns set up that specifically follow folks I’m curious about “stalking”, but the other ideas are new. And seriously valuable! Thanks for them!

  20. But if you’re a small business, surely if you’re spying on your competitors, they’re doing the same to you, so don’t you run the risk of giving away your entire client and prospects list?

  21. You had said most of the valuable points here …
    thanks once again Kristi

  22. Alessandra Provance Jan 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    This weblog seems to get a good ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It gives a nice unique twist on things. I guess having something real or substantial to talk about is the most important thing.

    • The writers who contribute their knowledge do a great job with some high quality content. Then people share it on sites like twitter and Facebook.

      The quality of your content is definitely very important.

  23. i never considered to sneak on my competition . but after reading your blog i am in the conclusion that sneaking and stalking would be a good idea. :)

  24. I have to say that is a really useful post! I’m trying to study my competence on twitter and I believe that with all this tips I can at least try to do a good work! thanks!!!

  25. “Do You Stalk the Competition?”

    Yes, that is why I follow you guys on twitter ^_^.

  26. Lorraine Robles Oct 08, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this very valuable info.

  27. Thanks for making the sincere try to provide an explanation for this. I feel very sturdy about it and wish to learn more. If it’s OK, as you attain extra intensive wisdom, can you include more posts similar to this one with more information? It would be extremely useful and helpful for me and my colleagues.

  28. Thanks. It is always intriguing all the different strategies used for maximizing social media marketing.

  29. This is about as valuable as it gets when it comes to doing studies and research on brand competitions! Thank you for this amazing and helpful post.

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