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Talking About a Competitor in Social Media

August 5th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I had an interesting (twitter) conversation today with Ari Herzog of AriWriter about what to do when you encounter a situation when you have don’t have the product a customer needs.  Ari asked this question of several people who were mentioned in Chris Brogan’s blog post about ESPN’s poorly executed new social media policy.

“@ckieff @newmediajim @cbarger @georgegsmithjr @scobleizer @jetblue Re @chrisbrogan at http://bit.ly/4qTdP, do you tweet about competition?

Ari Herzog”

When and how should one talk about your competitors in a Social Media environment?  Here are my thoughts on the matter:

I believe that there are several over-riding considerations you need remember.

  1. Google has very long memory- everything you Tweet, comment upon in a blog, or write in your own blog will be remembered.  (Some day I’ll most likely meet Seth Godin and regret writing that post titled “The stupidest thing Seth Godin ever said“.)
  2. There are jokes in many industries that the people at trade shows all stay in the same place and the booths (and companies) just move around them from year to year.  This means that your competitor this year is likely to be your colleague next year.  Many if not most industries are incestuous.
  3. Only speak with certainty about that which you know with certainty.  This will most likely exclude your competitor’s products if they are more complex than a doorknob.

With these as guidelines I seldom find the need to discuss my competition online or off.   It’s always better to talk about yourself than to speak of others especially in a competitive environment.  In the fields I’ve found myself in the products have been so complex that it’s difficult to know which features a competitor has or lacks with any certainty, and it’s likely to change in the next week anyway.

However, I do find that I have occasion to talk about people who happen to be employed by my competitors such as Brian Person here.  And the rules in that case apply and I’m happy that Google has a long memory because Brian deserves the accolades.

Now Ari in our discussion today also when on to ask, would I recommend a competitor to a customer if my company couldn’t fit their needs?  With a very complex product like the products I’ve worked with much of my life- it becomes apparent very quickly if you have a fit or not.   For instance if you need a forklift, you don’t need a dump truck.  That’s the stark difference for my products, either we have a close match or you’re looking for something entirely different.  So it’s rare that we have a close match but a competitor is clearly better- because there are so many factors involved in the decision.  A competitor may be better on the left side, but we are superior on the right- etc.  So the decision is very complex and it doesn’t lend itself to easily recommending a better fit for the customer’s needs. So I rarely find myself in the position that I need to make that choice.

But if you hold a gun to my head and ask me would I recommend a competitor if the situation arose?  I can confidently say that “Yes I will.” Because I also know that people have long memories and many of the people I’ve worked with over the years I’ll have the opportunity to work with again.  And this isn’t the only opportunity I’ll have with them.  I value my relationships more than my short term gain, because in the long term the gain is much, much greater.

Tanks for reading.

Chris

Tags: Reasonable Social Networking · Reasons For Net Marketing

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ari Herzog // Aug 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    As a backdrop to my questions the other day, see my take on the subject of why businesses SHOULD refer prospective customers to competition: http://ariwriter.com/do-you-send-business-to-your-competition/

  • 2 Jia // Aug 12, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    It’s an investment on client part. If product difference is great, it doesn’t fit client’s need anyway. If competitive, present the other alternative. client-focused solution ;)

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