If you own (or manage) a company, you should learn everything you possibly can about the organizations that you consider to be your competition.
I’m always surprised when I talk to our competitors and they have no clue what we are up to (especially as we are such an open book at our company). There is no excuse for not monitoring your business competition, especially with all the tools available online.
Here are six things you should do to keep on top of what your competition is doing:
1. Subscribe to their blogs. This is pretty obvious, but whenever your competition posts to its blog, you should be the first one to read it. Usually company blogs contain information regarding new features, partnership launches, and hires, and they can give you insight into the company’s culture. Don’t forget to read the comments to see what their users’ reactions are to what is being posted.
2. Use their products. You should have an account set up on each of your competitors’ websites (if needed), and every couple of weeks, poke around. A lot of your competitors will soft-launch their new features weeks before they release them to the press. If you are using their website, you will know about their featured launches long before they are announced. (On a side note, make sure you subscribe in your account settings to their email newsletter and other brand communications.)
3. Look at their photos. Most companies post pictures on Facebook, Pinterest, or Flickr. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn from really looking at these pictures. From my experience, I’ve figured out how many employees our competitors have, what they are planning, the computers they are running, even what their office culture is like. One competitor even posted a picture of a whiteboard that had a list of to-do items. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff we learned from that one picture.
4. Monitor press releases and news. The Web is huge, and to get your head around the information being released about your competitors, you need to set up Google Alerts. This tool sends you an email whenever your competitors’ names pop up anywhere on the Web.
5. Monitor Twitter. There is so much being said on Twitter about your competitors (and about you, too) that you have to be monitoring and responding to it. I use tools such as TweetDeck and TweetBeep to ping me if someone mentions me or my competition.
6. Understand the people behind the scenes. Figure out everything about the people that you are up against. Learn what makes them tick, why they started the company, and what they do once the workday ends. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their personal blog or website.
Of course, monitoring your competition is great, but unless you analyze and react to the information you are receiving, it’s pretty much useless. Figure out why your competition is receiving the press they are, why their customers are reacting the way they are, and, most important, what you can do differently to get a leg up on your competition.
Derek Johnson is the founder and CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango. Tatango is a profitable Angel-backed company that services businesses and organizations looking for user-friendly, easy-to-use text message marketing services. Named by BusinessWeek, Derek is one of the top 25 under 25 entrepreneurs in the United States.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Young Entrepreneur Council.