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What to Do When Online Community Members Mention a Competitor

Written by Joshua Paul | on May 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Talking About Competitors in Online CUstomer or Member Communities

It's bound to happen at some point. Whether it's on a discussion board or in the comments section, the question of your customers, partners, or members mentioning a competitor in your online community isn't an "if", it's a "when."

This is just part of the double-edged sword that makes your community a place your customers feel comfortable to openly ask and answer questions. The open nature of social communities makes it also vulnerable to mentions of your competition.

Private online communities are a popular platform to keep customer or members engaged with your organization and with each other, but you don't have control over most of the activity within your community. Experienced marketers and community management professionals recognize this as one of the aspects that makes private online communities so effective. In order for your community members to feel fully engaged, they also need to feel like they aren't being censored.

Yet, even with that in mind, it can be difficult not to overreact when you see a reference to a competitive community, organization, or product. Sometimes, your community management team should take action and sometimes they should not (which is most often the case). When you do need to address a reference to a competitor, the key is not just reacting"”but reacting in a way that benefits your community and maintains the trust of your customers or members.

I have seen organizations flip out when a competitor is mentioned by a customers or partners in their online customer community. Organizations like these run it up the flag pole and hold meeting after meeting because they don't plan for this in advance. Knowing what you are going to do, or not do, in advance is a pillar of effective community management.

While it isn't likely that you can completely stop everyone from talking about your competitors in your online customer or member community, as long as you have a plan for how to react, there's nothing to worry about.

To prove it, let's unpack the issue and look at some solution options.

Types of Competitors

First and foremost, you need to know whom you're up against. The following are common types of competitors that are brought up in online community discussion forums.

  • Direct: These are the people and companies that are competing for the same dollars that your customers or members are paying you. They offer a similar product or service and compete in the same market you do.
  • Online Communities: This competition takes traffic and engagement away from your community. Typically not malicious, mentions of other private online communities often happen when your customers or members reference a discussion in another similar online community that answers a question asked in your community.
  • Time and Attention: Since the gift of their time is how your customers or members reward you for the value in your online community, this competition is anything that takes their time and attention away from your community.
  • Content: This level of competition occurs when your members are driven away from your community by content that is not generated by your community or is not supportive of your company or organization.

Types of Mentions

Just as not all competitors should be reacted to the same way, the same goes for the type of mention that occurs. Categorizing the mentions of competitors will help you know what level of reaction, if any, is required.

  • Passing Reference: This mention is very neutral in intention. There's usually very little at stake and the person who referenced your competitor does not have an agenda. As a passing reference, this mention is usually just stating a fact.
  • Opinion: This could be positive or negative, but involves someone taking a stance and sharing their experience with the competitor.
  • Recommendation: This mention could be in response to a question asked in the community or completely unsolicited. Unsolicited advocacy is often given with some level of ulterior motive.
  • Promotion: This type of mention is more blatant and often comes from someone associated with the competitor. For instance, a post might read, "We're holding a webinar next week. Come join us."

Three Reasons You Shouldn't Worry About Competitor Mentions

Reason #1) Your Customers or Members Already Know About Them

Despite how much you want it to be true, your competitors are not hidden from your customers or members. In the age of Google, your customers have likely already done extensive research in your market. The good news is that you don't have to worry about a competitor mention in your online community being what informs your customers or members"”they're already aware.

Reason #2) It's an Opportunity to Build Trust and Make Your Community a Resource

There's nothing that will lose the trust of your community members faster than censoring their participating. If you begin deleting or managing competitor mentions, you set a poor precedent for what kind of resource your community should be. The more information you can provide your customers and members"”including information about competitors"”the more valuable you'll become to your industry or customer base. Build trust by being open about it.

Reason #3) It Takes Away From More Important Community Management Functions

Your community manager already has plenty on their to-do list just to maintain the high value of resources and processes that keep your members coming back to participate. By worrying about mentions of competitors, you'll waste valuable time.

How to Handle Mention of a Competitor in Your Community

Let's look at this from a member's perspective. They're looking for a one stop shop"”that's what makes your community valuable and makes them choose to give their time and attention to it. This may include acknowledging your competitors. Your customer or members are not nearly as sensitive about them as you are.

How you handle each competitor mention will depend on the type of mention and the type of competitor, but there's one motto that can permeate all of your interactions:

Disarm, don't draw attention.

Be gracious and know that you are not the only provider of value and solutions in your industry. Remember to be judicious in deciding when you take action and why to let the reference go. That said, here are seven tips for dealing with references to competitors in your online community.

Tip #1) Categorize the Reference

This will help you figure out the impact the mention will have on your company and what type of response you should take.

For instance, there are some references that are so ugly, they'd be removed regardless of whether or not they included your competitors. Others are so harmless that you can avoid addressing them altogether. Categorizing each reference first will also help you decide how to handle multiple offenses from the same person.

Tip #2) Be Better

The best way to beat your competitors is to simply be better than them. Use mentions in your community as motivation to improve your own products or services.

Tip #3) Bury it With Content

Combat the competition's resources that other people are recommending by promoting your own great content in response. If your competitors are filling a void that your customers or members have, get in front of the problem with your solution and give your community the answers it seeks.

Tip #4) Be Positive

This goes back to the "disarm" advice in our motto. Keep your tone positive and upbeat to avoid looking like you're running a smear campaign. For instance, if a community member brings up a competitor's event during a discussion, highlight its positives before you highlight the positives of your own conference.

For an example, you can say, "Terrific event with a great set of speakers lined up. If you're looking for a more hands-on workshop experience, I'd also recommend attending the learning labs at our conference in August."

Tip #5) Remain Aware

As you monitor competitor mentions, you'll be able to see if acknowledging it is necessary or not. Letting mentions of competitors go does not mean that you should ignore it all together. Keep in on your radar for a period. It might get buried with other comments all on its own, but if people keep discussing it, you need to take notice and potentially respond.

Tip #6) Reach Out

Chances are, customers, partners, or members that mention your competitor do so because they aren't as engaged with your community as they could be. For an example, a new customer might mention a competitor's product because they aren't aware that your organization has a solution to that problem as well.

Reach out to them individually and personally offer engagement opportunities, useful content, and training on how to get the most out of the community.

Tip #7) Call on Your Customer Advocates

For certain situations, you may want to have your customer advocates chime in. However, following this strategy depends on the nature of the mention and the member doing the mentioning. You don't want advocate intervention to seem forced or orchestrated, so choose this path carefully.

Competitor Mentions in Online Communities Takeaway

When it comes to dealing with customers, partners, or members drawing attention to competitors in your private online community, it is often a case of understanding that the war matters more than the battle. While you want to be aware of competitor mentions and acknowledge them appropriately, you don't want to draw more attention to them, come off as negative, or let them to be the focus of your community management efforts.

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Topics: Online Community Management

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