Using Social Media to Monitor Your Competition
By Jeffrey J Kingman, CEO Chalkboarder

Most chefs and restaurateurs are strong competitors. Our restaurant communities may be full of camaraderie and industry friendships but, like street pickup basketball games on the corner, we’re highly competitive. We wouldn’t put in 60 to 100 hour weeks if we weren’t.

Every strong competitor has highly developed situational awareness and observation skills. Along our careers in hospitality, our coaches, the industry trainers and mentors, honed these competitive skills in us repeatedly. Today, in the new era of Web 4.0, the competitive advantages of using social media include discovering what others are saying right now about your competition and your operation, staying on top of your competition’s latest news, and ruthless as it sounds, reaching out to your competitor’s dissatisfied guests to invite them to your place.

As much as we work hard to train staff, execute creative and effective team leadership and positively surmount daily organizational challenges, we also have to have our eyes and ears on the street. We need to be first to hear rumors of this restaurant a few blocks away losing their chef, of that restaurant over there having a very busy weekend or that storefront that just papered the windows coming in with another restaurant. We need to be on the frontline of micro-economic and localized rumor control.

But is old-school conversation dredging at the barbershop or tableside really monitoring your competition effectively? How can you discover if anyone is complaining about your main competitors – weeks or months before they get a negative review? How can you know what special events or nightly specials everyone else is doing before looking in the newspaper or waiting to hear about it via email or some other method?

Numerous opportunities using the social web to monitor competition avail themselves to savvy restaurant operators and management; many of them free. While search engines like Bing or Google are perhaps the most common way to find information on the web, they use complex formulas that “weed out” much of the most recent content. Search functions of social networks and other tools are easy to put in play and just take a bit of time to scan through.

Twitter SearchPerhaps the simplest and most time sensitive of social network searching, setting up a Twitter search does not require an account. Simply go to; the search box is right at the top of the page. If you have an account, its quick to engage customers who have had a poor experience elsewhere with an invitation.

Facebook SearchFacebook search works best if you have an account, but if you don’t, just do a Google/Bing search for your competitor and add the word “facebook” into the search term. If the competitor has their security settings on public, everything will show up without logging in. Keeping track of your competition in Facebook will help you to get their latest news and happenings as they are published.

Icerocket Big Buzz – Simple and effective, crawling social media, blogs and more, Big Buzz also has a refresh option of 1, 3 and 5 minutes. Want to stay real-time? This is a strong option. Big Buzz is one of several aggregators – compiling social media content from many sources into one stream. Use Big Buzz to search for your competitions blogposts, tweets and anywhere someone has mentioned them.

Collecta – Very powerful, crawling all of social media. Two unique features are that it allows you to share a result into your own social media stream and you can run it from a mobile phone app.

Whos Talkin – With a crisp interface, Whos Talkin crawls all the web for you. It captures individual tweets, facebook postings and much more. Very simple and easy to use; real time results. Recommended use: to quickly and simply search the entire web for any content your competition has published with up to the minute results.

These are just some of the tools that are available to restaurateurs and Chefs to stay abreast of real-time competitive analysis. There are others out there and if you’re willing to make an investment, there are proprietary software systems that can generate deep-pocket metric analysis for your organization, including sentiment analysis and individual tracking of your content.

The days of waiting for word on the street to filter its way to you through face-to-face conversations (the old “telephone” game) is passing by like so many other things. Those conversations will never decrease in value; there are simply newer tools that provide more immediate results available to you. The evolution of Web 4.0 simply provides us with new methods to connect with others, stay ahead of our competitors and surge successfully ahead with our businesses.