On Tuesday this week I wrote a Twitter introduction for those who didn't know much about the social network. Yesterday, I wrote another Nugget explaining how to use Twitter at a trade show.
In this Daily Golden Nugget, I'll explain how you can use Twitter to spy on your competition.
Perhaps "spy" is the wrong word. Maybe I should say that you can secretly "monitor" what your competitor is doing.
Let me first explain a few basic things about how websites, browsers, and social networks work...
What you see on Facebook is out of your control.
Facebook built a social network that attempts to mimic the way we all interact with one another in real life.
In real life, we interact with people at work, we text to our friends, we spend our Friday nights with the same friends we text all week long. Occasionally we see our close and extended family at holidays or other family events, but certainly not all the time. We might talk to our family for a few days after seeing them, but eventually you drift away simply because they are not part of your daily routine.
The friendship you have with your close Friday night friends will change if one of them gets a job working nights. Obviously you will continue to text them all week long, but it won't be the same without them there on Friday evenings. Eventually the texting will lessen and that person might fade out of your daily thoughts; that is, until their schedule changes again and they can join the group once again.
Facebook attempts to mimic these cycles of real life relationships with the way they've constructed their News Feed. You will see fewer messages from people who you interact with infrequently, and more updates from people you engage.
How does Facebook measure this? They are able to track your mouse movements in such a way that they estimate who you are interested in even if you don't click the Like button, or comment on a post. They show you more content from that person, or that page, based on that tracking. Of course they will flood your News Feed with content from people you actively Like or comment on.
Websites want you back.
It's all about tracking users. If you are not tracking people on your website then you are missing one of the most important aspects of owning a website.
You can track the IP addresses of someone visiting so you know what town they are in. You can track what they click on so you know how well your website is performing. You can even tag every user in such a way that you can flood them with your ads in the future.
The tagging happens through web browser cookies. The only way to un-tag yourself is to clear your browser cookies.
Let the spying begin
Twitter is often used as the dumping ground by all other social networks. All these social networks allow you to cross-post directly to Twitter from their network:
Aside from those networks you can also auto-post from many different online services, like emails from Constant Contact.
If you've been reading my Daily Nuggets for a while you already know that I recommend that you avoid the automatic Facebook to Twitter cross-posting. I also disagree with automatic cross-posting from those other social networks too. It's okay to occasionally cross-post, but not all the time. You need to manually control when it's appropriate to cross-post.
That said, most businesses, and probably even your competitor, will set up all that automatic cross-posting from all of their social accounts to their Twitter account. Their misunderstanding of social networking now becomes your business benefit.
You can use Twitter's search feature to look up your competitor's name and their Twitter account. The search results will show you a lot of their social activity, which you can either copy or combat.
A little warning
Before you jump over to twitter.com to test this out, you MUST, MUST, MUST use the incognito feature in Goolge Chrome!
The "incognito mode" feature in the Chrome browser allows you to search the web without being permanently tagged by Facebook or websites. The website will still see what you click on, and your IP address, but they will not be able to remarket or retarget banner ads to you once you close the incognito browser.
Open Chrome, activate incognito mode, then log into your Twitter account. Use the search field at the top right corner of the Twitter website to search for your competitor. You should see all the auto-posted tweets from their social accounts. Each of them will have a URL linking to the original social post.
You should be able to click all those URLs to see their posts. The incognito mode will protect you from being tagged by high level tracking.
Since Facebook allows you to see business page posts without logging in, you'll be able to click all those "fb.me" links to see their posts. Remember how I told you that Facebook tracks the amount of time you spend reading your friend's posts? Once again, the incognito mode will protect you as long as you DO NOT lot into Facebook. Resist the urge. Just look at your competitor's posts, nothing else.
Going a little further
Are you hoping to steal some customers away from your competitor? Now that I've explained how you could spy on them, you can take this one step further.
Carefully monitor the names of the people who comment on all your competitor's social posts. Switching back to your normal social accounts (after closing incognito mode) you could friend or follow the same people who comment on your competitor's posts. Over time those same people might start commenting on your own posts too.
Now that I've explained a sneaky way to use social networking to your business advantage, hopefully you will rush to deactivate any of your own automatic twitter cross-posting that you might have set up.