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How to Research Your Competition to Hone in On Your Instagram Strategy

In individual sports like gymnastics or diving, a coach might tell their athlete not to pay attention to the competition. Because these athletes operate independently, comparing each other would only distract them from their own focus and craft. The opposite is true for social media strategy. Because your brand and your competitors operate in the same industry at the same time, it’s actually imperative that you understand their performance in order to maximize your own. Analyzing your competitors’ social media can illuminate gaps in your own strategy, highlight missed audiences and opportunities, and show you how and where you can best fit in and make an impact.

Here are 6 questions to ask when researching your competition:

1. How’s their engagement?

Follower count is cool but engagement is where the money’s at. Engagement is the measure of how much your audience interacts with your content. And yes, audience engagement (likes, comments, tags, direct messages, shares, etc.) notably leads to higher sales. “Good” engagement might be anywhere from 1-5%—but it should be significantly higher for smaller brands or influencers. How does your competitor’s Instagram engagement compare to yours? You can calculate a few ratios by dividing the number of likes/comments by the total number of followers. Do this for a few posts and take an average. Also take note of what kinds of posts garner higher engagement—and what kind of engagement.

2. What is their content like?

You have our full permission to stalk your competitor’s Instagram feed. Scroll all the way back to the start of their profile, dive into story highlights, and peruse comment sections. What kind of content do you notice? Staged photoshoots, videos, reels, infographics, carousels, announcements, aesthetics, etc.? What role does copy (writing in the caption or on the image itself) serve in their posts? What content do you find most effective for the product or service? How does the use of multiple forms of content help or hinder the brand’s look and messaging? What is the overall aesthetic of their profile? How does it compare to your own?

3. How does the brand communicate with their followers?

You won’t be able to see your competitor’s DMs, but you can review the comments sections to see how they’ve responded to comments, questions, and concerns in the past. In their responses, what’s their “brand voice” sound like? Professional, casual, friendly, sarcastic, energetic, or genuine? How are negative or critical comments addressed? Nowadays, it is not “good form” to delete or hide negative comments. Address the comment publicly and move on. Consumers appreciate transparency. Also take a look at the brand’s tagged photos to see if and how the brand responds to such engagement. Are you seeing them selling in their comments or moving commenters farther down their sales funnel? Apply techniques you see being implemented to your communication strategies.

4. How often do they post?

Check out how often your competitor posts to their feed and to their story. Do you notice any trends? Analyze their ratio of sales focused posts to value focused posts. We believe that quality and quantity matter EQUALLY in the current Instagram environment. If your competitors are posting 7 times a week and you're only posting 3 times, your competitors are getting over double the exposure to your shared target audience. Level up your cadence so you can compete.

5. Who follows them?—And who do they follow?

Do you recognize any similarities or people/brands that would align with you? Does anything seem misaligned or potentially problematic (i.e. following certain religious, political, or celebrity accounts that might be divisive to your target audience)? We’re not saying not to follow whoever you like, but know that this list is public and is a reflection of your brand. Typically, people are drawn to accounts with more followers than those they are following (“follower to following ratio”). And yes, if you can score a blue checkmark, you’ll add some extra credibility to your profile. Don’t feel shy to follow any significant accounts that might be interested in you (influencers, news outlets, or similar brands)—They’ll get a notification that you’re following them, and they might give your profile a look—or even a follow back!

6. What hashtags do they use?

Hashtags help to expand your audience reach. Stalk your competitor’s posts to see what hashtags they use that aren’t already in your rotation. Once you do a little research, try some hashtags from your competitors out in your next campaign to see how they perform.

There are many more factors in sales than just you and your audience. Understanding your competition can help you strategize your brand positioning, communication efforts, aesthetic look and feel, and audience reach. We’re giving you full permission to pause your Instagram screen time limit and stalk the sh#t out of your competitors!

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