How to Spy on your Competitors and Nail Tone of Voice

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Social Media is renowned for its edgy tone, but if you’re a solicitor, I’d probably avoid using acronyms like CBA and WTF. Although some personality should come through, you need it to be a likeable and appropriate personality. If you run a comedy club, go all out – but otherwise I’d definitely recommend aiming for quirky rather than zany. If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution. That said, to the other end of the scale, not even solicitors need to write social media posts as if they’re letters to grand-mama.

Tone is one of many areas where you can seek inspiration from the accounts of others in your industry. Although you’ll want to keep an eye on your immediate competitors, and perhaps those in geographical proximity, I’d recommend looking at some big players you respect and aspire towards. They’re clearly doing something right, and while some will be getting by on great products and promotions (we’re all bargain-hunters at heart) others gain a following through the way they interact.

Turning to facebook, they have a great tool hidden away on the full site. It’s called Pages to Watch and it lives in the Insights tab, towards the bottom. Sadly this feature is only available to pages with 100+ likes, so you may have to do a little work to build up your following early days. Once you’re there, though, it’s very handy.

The first thing you have to do is select the pages you want to watch. Hopefully you’ve already done some competitor research, so you know what those pages are. If not, you can use facebook’s built-in search facilities, or just google it. To find and select pages, click Add Pages (I know, but I kinda had to say it!). This will bring up a search box where you can type keywords, or the names of the pages you’re interested in. Simply click Watch Page beside each one you’re interested in, and then click Done. Facebook will work some magic and produce a league table, ranked by the number of followers. Don’t be drawn in by vanity. You’ve nothing to gain by producing a table just so you can be at the top of it. What I did (and therefore what I’d recommend you to do) is select a minimum of 10 pages that have a higher follower count than you. Now remember: The actual follower count isn’t the priority metric for us at this point, it’s just an indicator of how popular the pages are, so you can then assess what’s working for those pages and what isn’t. You’ll see that there are also columns for Posts this Week and Engagement. This last column is probably the most important for us at the moment.

On clicking the name of any page in the table, you’ll see a list of This Week’s Top Posts from [name of page]. And of course, this is where the magic is. Looking at the top posts of those pages with high engagement will let you see what good looks like. Competitions, giveaways, and promotions, will always work well, but what else is attracting people to this content? Is it the words, and the tone used? Is it the creative (image, video, gif etc.)? Is it perhaps some great customer-generated content that they’ve shared, or have they just piggy-backed a viral post from somewhere else? Is there lots of engagement because they’ve done something awesomely well? Or maybe they’ve done something woefully bad (I can tell you from my corporate days, it’s when the company messes up that the comments really flow in!). Similarly, check out the top posts of the pages that don’t have such great engagement. What are they doing wrong or differently? Regardless of your ranking in the table you’ve just produced, how do you fare on the engagement score? Take note, make tweaks, and track it over time to get a truer reflection of what you are (or aren’t) achieving.

 Facebook's Pages To Watch feature

Facebook's Pages To Watch feature

The great thing about this tool is that your competitors will have no idea you’re tracking them in this way – it’s not the same as liking their page. Twitter provides a similarly covert tool through their Private Lists feature, allowing you to keep an eye on the activities of competitors without following them. Leave a comment or get in touch through our social channels if you’d like a guide on how to set up a list.

Turning back to tone, isn’t Social Media supposed to be different? Why advise caution?

Yes, yes it is supposed to be different. But you have to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to achieve. If you want to have a large social media following that never converts into sales, then be as abusive as you like. If your objective is to have a large following of hot leads and paying customers, you can’t go too far wrong with warm, upbeat, and friendly. I found out the hard way that it’s relatively easy to attain celebrity status on Social Media, but if that doesn’t convert, it’s pointless. Even worse, the time you take to engage with an audience that doesn’t have even the potential to convert is time spent not nurturing those who do.

Above all, remember to #KeepSocialSocial