Rise Above the Competition with Social Intelligence

By Andre Theus
November 08, 2016

Despite my professional involvement in online marketing for over a decade, it was not until 2008 that I fully recognized social media was here to stay and would disrupt our existing media landscape. In 2008, I was captivated by how the Obama campaign changed the rules of running a modern political campaign.


Despite my professional involvement in online marketing for over a decade, it was not until 2008 that I fully recognized social media was here to stay and would disrupt our existing media landscape. In 2008, I was captivated by how the Obama campaign changed the rules of running a modern political campaign.

In true entrepreneurial spirit, the Obama campaign placed a big bet on uncharted territory by relying heavily on digital media. It was a beautifully executed campaign strategy, creating a movement and leveraging social networks to rally the masses in order to first win the democratic primaries and then later the presidential election.


The presidential campaign not only secured Barack Obama a spot in the White House, but in October 2008, Obama was also voted “Marketer of the Year” by the Association of National Advertisers—surpassing savvy marketing teams from companies like Apple.

As a marketer, I am all too familiar with using digital media to spread my message and convert people. But most of us were taught at a young age that it is equally—if not more important—to listen. And there is no shortage of conversations to listen to. Social-media networks are liberalizing the digital zeitgeist that previously was Google’s well-guarded treasure. The thoughts and desires of our generation are now broadcast live for everyone to see.

Social listening must be a critical part of the job function for product management and marketing professionals. Observing social streams allows you to discover market trends early on and provides a glimpse of what your competition is up to. I’ve identified five steps for effectively gathering social intelligence to rise above your competition.

Identify Social-Media Streams That Matter to You

During the past decade, hundreds of new companies have entered the social-media landscape. Some—like Friendster, MySpace and Google+—have struggled to manifest their position, while others have exponentially grown their user base. In April 2016, Facebook counted a staggering 1.59 billion monthly active users, according to Statistica.

It’s impossible to effectively observe all those conversations across hundreds of networks. You have to identify and observe social-media streams that are important to you, then narrow in on the conversations that matter most to your company or product.

At ProductPlan, for example, our important social-media networks include LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, Quora and Slack (yes, Slack is not just a messaging application). If you sell to consumers, your most important social-media networks may look quite different and might include channels like Instagram or YouTube. And if you target buyers in Asia, you will want to ensure that WeChat is on your list.

Not sure where to start? Take a look at the social-media networks your competitors are most active on. Do a Google search for a competitor’s brand name and look for the social networks that are listed on the top page results. If they are active on the given network, your competitor’s social-media accounts will probably rank high in Google.

Create a Game Plan and Break Through the Noise

The nature of social media is lots of chatter; it is easy to get lost in the noise. That is why it’s important to pay attention only to what matters to your company. To become an effective social listener, you must first create a game plan. Your social listening plan will outline how to observe the social-media streams that are important to you. It must also define your process and how you keep track of your findings. Finally, it should answer these five questions:

• What are my top social listening goals?
• What social-media channels do I observe?
• Which competitors or influencers am I keeping close tabs on?
• How much time am I investing and how do I track my findings?
• What is my social listening use case?

The reasons for social listening vary from company to company. Think about the use cases that will help with your product or marketing strategies. Do you want to observe social-media channels to keep close tabs on your competitors? Or, do you want to listen in on the conversations of your target market to validate future product features?

It is easy to get lost in the weeds; a lot of companies share information that has little or no value. I like to pay extra attention to the founders or CEOs of our competition because they are busy and don’t have any time to waste. As a result, they tend to speak their mind.

To avoid getting too granular, focus on social conversations about the following topics:

• Competitive positioning statements
• Business-model changes from your competition
• New competitors and interest in their offerings
• Frequency of social engagements
• Offer types (e.g., webinars, eBooks, free trial, etc.)
• Influencer endorsements
• Consumer feature requests
• Consumer sentiments on specific trends
• Product support conversations

You also need to tune out blatant sales and marketing messages. Often, marketing teams treat social media purely as a promotional channel. A large percentage of what they share is “buy my product” or “try my service.” Instead, narrow in on messages that offer concrete insights into your competition’s marketing strategies or tactics.

Track Your Observations and Take Action

At ProductPlan, we are lucky to be part of a vibrant product management market and we have a healthy competitive landscape. I follow most of our competitors, enjoy reading their social streams and keeping up with the latest market trends in product management.

Develop strategic marketing plans that deliver results.

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About the Authors

  • Andre Theus is the director of marketing at ProductPlan, where he works closely with customers and prospects to build better product roadmap software. Andre has worked for disruptive technology companies for more than 10 years. Prior to ProductPlan, he was a member of marketing teams at RightScale, Sonos and Citrix. Andre received a master in computer science from the Cologne University of Applied Science in Germany. Contact Andre at andre@productplan.com.

Categories:  Strategy

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