Online communities are treasure troves of wisdom, brimming with firsthand experiences and rich insights from users across the globe. It's where curiosity meets knowledge, and strangers transform into a network of trusted peers.

For businesses, these communities are gold mines of customer intelligence. It’s like having a magic mirror that reflects your customers' needs, preferences, and behaviors. These spaces are fertile grounds for innovation, sparking new ideas and refining existing ones through direct feedback and discussions.

Now imagine the power of understanding not just your own community, but those of your competitors. Competitor research is the compass that guides you through the vast landscape of online communities, illuminating successful strategies, revealing potential pitfalls, and uncovering unique opportunities.

By decoding the operations, engagement tactics, and growth strategies of competitor communities, you equip yourself with a robust arsenal to enhance your community's engagement and foster member satisfaction.

In this article, we explore the transformative potential of competitor research for online communities.

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The necessity of competitor research in online communities

Just as businesses analyze their competitors' products, services, and marketing techniques, so too should community managers evaluate competing online communities to better understand the landscape.

Here are several ways in which understanding the competition can benefit your online community:

Identify gaps and opportunities

Conducting competitor research allows you to identify gaps in their strategies or offerings that you could potentially fill. For example, if competing communities aren’t addressing certain topics or concerns, your community could seize the opportunity to do so, attracting members who are seeking that particular information or support.


Understanding what competitors are doing right, and how engaged their members are, provides a benchmark to measure your own community's performance. This helps you set realistic goals for growth and engagement and provides context for your own metrics.

Innovation and improvement

Examining competitors can spark innovation and drive improvements in your own community. You might discover new ways to engage members, different types of content that resonates, or more efficient methods of community management that you can adapt and implement.

Risk mitigation

Awareness of the competitive landscape can help anticipate potential risks. If a competing community introduces a highly popular feature or service, you can respond more quickly and prevent a potential migration of your members to that community.

Understanding member needs

Through competitor research, you can gain deeper insights into the needs, preferences, and habits of members within your community's interest area. What are other communities doing that's generating significant engagement? Is there something they offer that your members have been asking for? These insights can guide your content and engagement strategies.

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Identifying your competitors

To begin conducting competitor research, it's important to first identify who your competitors are. This might seem straightforward if you’re looking at communities focused on similar brands, topics, or products. However, it's often broader than that. Your competitors could be any online community that your target audience might choose to join instead of, or alongside, yours.

Here are some methods to identify these communities:

  • Keyword research: Start with simple internet searches using relevant keywords. These could be related to your community's focus, your brand, or your industry.
  • Social media exploration: Explore various social media platforms. Look for groups, pages, or profiles that are related to your niche.
  • Ask your community: Ask your current community members about other communities they're part of. Their answers could reveal competitors you hadn’t previously considered.
  • Monitor industry trends: Stay updated with your industry's news and trends. Media coverage and industry reports can highlight emerging or popular communities.
  • Use analytics tools: Use SEO and social media analytics tools. They can help you discover where conversations related to your niche are happening online.

Key techniques for conducting competitor research

A deep dive into competitor analysis requires a multifaceted approach. Understanding competitors in the online community space involves assessing their platform presence, content strategies, engagement tactics, and community management practices.

Below are some key techniques for conducting competitor research:

Review online communities

Your competitors might have communities across various platforms. Start by identifying where these communities exist - social media, blogs, forums, or messaging platforms like Slack. For each platform, take note of the community's size, engagement level, and the type of content that drives the most interaction.

Analyze community engagement

Measure engagement through the volume, type, and sentiment of responses. Look at the nature of discussions - does the community actively participate, or are the conversations primarily initiated by the community manager? Also, consider the overall sentiment within the community. Is it generally positive, negative, or neutral? This sentiment can be an indicator of member satisfaction.

Evaluate content strategy

Assess your competitors' content strategies by looking at the frequency, quality, and relevancy of their content. A community that consistently publishes high-quality, relevant content is likely to have higher engagement. Understand the types of content that resonate with their audience - educational articles, user-generated content, interactive polls, industry news, etc.

Understand community management practices

The rules and guidelines set by a community can greatly impact its culture. Take note of how competitors handle moderation, conflict resolution, and user guidelines. Also, pay attention to their engagement techniques. How do they encourage community participation? Do they use special events, challenges, Q&As, or other methods to boost engagement?

Using these techniques, you can uncover a wealth of information about your competitors and gain insights that can help you strategically grow and manage your own online community.

Remember, the goal isn't to mimic your competitors but to learn from them to create a unique and engaging environment for your community members.

Utilizing competitive analysis tools

Fortunately for community managers, there are a plethora of tools that can aid in competitor research, turning vast amounts of data into actionable insights.

Below are some key tools to consider for competitor analysis in online communities:

Social media analytics

Platforms like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social provide insights into competitors' performance on various social media platforms, allowing you to track metrics such as engagement, reach, and follower growth.

Set up tracking for your competitors' social media accounts to monitor their activity and engagement over time. Look for trends in when they post, what content they post, and how their audience responds.

SEO tools

Tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs can help you understand your competitors' keyword strategy, backlink profile, and rank tracking. They can also reveal where your competitors are getting their traffic from, helping you identify potential online communities to monitor.

By setting up alerts for your competitors’ brand names and key products, you can monitor discussions about them across the web and understand public sentiment towards them.

Social listening tools

Platforms such as Brandwatch and Mention allow you to monitor mentions of your competitors across the internet, including on social media, blogs, and forums, enabling you to stay updated with their activities and reputation.

Audience analysis tools

Tools like Quantcast and SimilarWeb provide insights into the demographic and behavioral characteristics of your competitors' audience, which can help you understand what type of members are attracted to their communities.

Review the demographic information these tools provide about your competitors' audience. Look for any overlaps or gaps with your own audience, which could indicate potential areas for expansion or differentiation.

Use the insights you gain from these types of tools to enhance what's already working in your own community and explore new opportunities for growth and engagement.

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Turning insights into actions

Competitor research can yield a wealth of data, but the key to effective analysis is understanding how to interpret this information.

Instead of focusing on individual data points, look for broader patterns and trends. For instance, if a competitor consistently sees high engagement on a certain type of post, it's likely that the content resonates with the community.

Remember that data should always be contextualized. A large community might naturally have higher numbers of comments and likes, but a smaller community might have a higher percentage of engaged users.

Once you’ve analyzed your competitor research data, the next step is to translate those insights into concrete actions that can enhance your community's growth and engagement.

  • Fill gaps: If your research reveals that your competitors are neglecting certain topics or services that your community values, consider filling these gaps. This can provide a unique value proposition for your community.
  • Utilize strengths: If your community already excels in areas where your competitors are weak, emphasize these strengths in your marketing and engagement strategies.
  • Learn from others: Use your competitors’ successes and failures as learning opportunities. Adapt successful strategies to fit your community, and avoid tactics that haven't worked for others.
  • Innovate: Don’t be afraid to try something new. If your competitor analysis reveals a common approach, consider how you might break the mold with innovative content or engagement strategies.

As you implement changes based on your competitor analysis, continue to measure your community's growth and engagement. This will allow you to assess the effectiveness of your strategies and make adjustments as needed.

Final thoughts

Online communities are vibrant hubs of interaction, brimming with rich insights and lively exchanges. But the horizon expands even further when we delve into the realm of competitor communities. From identifying the competitors to harnessing the power of various analytics tools, each step brings us closer to enhancing our community's engagement, fostering member satisfaction, and carving a distinct path to success.