AnalyticsA Lesson in Social Espionage: How to Dissect a Competitor’s Social Strategy

A Lesson in Social Espionage: How to Dissect a Competitor's Social Strategy

Gain valuable insights about an industry, a company, or a competitor by carefully dissecting their social activity. In this example, the personal care brand Dove, the following exercises, using only public data, took about 3 hours to complete.

Competitive intelligence is incredibly important for analyzing and tracking your competitors, whether it’s in SEO, PPC, or social media.

What follows is an account of how I used public social media data to dissect Dove’s global strategy to show you that if I can do it, anyone can.

The following exercises, using only public data, took me about 3 hours to complete. While I only scratched the surface of the analysis and insights that are possible to glean from this data, it shows how much you can learn about an industry, a company, or a competitor by carefully dissecting their social activity.

A few notes:

  • I don’t work for Dove or Unilever (Dove’s parent company) and have no “special” or admin access to any of its social networks.
  • Nor do I work for any of Dove’s competitors.
  • I used only tools that are available to everyone, both free and paid.
  • I tried to state the time it took me to complete each step in the analysis, but it’s only an estimate as I worked on this project sparsely for quite a while.

Step 1: Where is Dove?

Time: 5 Minutes

The easiest way to find Dove is to search for it on Google. My personalized search returned this result:

Dove Google Search Results

This tells me that Dove has multiple, competing brands, but since I’m not here to analyze their SEO, I clicked through to the link to find out their social networks presence and participation.

At the top of their navigation, Dove includes the social networks that matter to them.

Dove Navigation

The brand might be on other social networks, but it’s obvious from the position on the page that these four are the networks that really matter to them, so I will focus my analysis on these four:

Step 2: Collect Data for Your Analysis

Time: 15 minutes to 2 hours

Collecting Basic Data

Beyond just the profile URLs, I wanted to collect some basic stats about each of those networks. Information like number of followers/fans, number of posts, number of “friends” (users the brand follows), so I built a basic table to summarize and present the data.

  Facebook Twitter Google+ Instagram
Followers/Fans 20,911,970 112,000 692,614 6,349
“Friends” N/A 8,961 ? 0
Number of Posts ? 15,300 ? 27
Latest post Today Yesterday Two days ago Two days ago
Other 415,916 PTAT   853,820 G+  
Notes Have Global Pages Have multiple identities Link to the UK site Link to YouTube from their profile


This was a good start and I already found some interesting points I noted to analyze further later. I started keeping a running list of questions and comments about my findings.

Dove Analysis Notes

Collecting Activity Data

I wanted to add more color to the basic stats as well as collect more notes, so I went to Simply Measured (full disclosure: I am Director of Marketing for Simply Measured) and created a data collection for each of the networks separately.

I expanded my table to include the activity data points.

  Facebook Twitter Google+ Instagram
Activity (Last Two weeks)
Posts/Tweets 32 170 6 6
Posts/Tweets per day 2.3 12.1 .4 .4
Post by Type
Normal N/A 158 0 N/A
Video 1 0 0 0
Photo 27 7 6 6
Link 0 5 N/A N/A
Article N/A N/A 0 N/A
Status 4 N/A N/A N/A


I went back to my list of comments and added some notes on activity.

  • Activity on Twitter and Facebook is higher than Google+ and Instagram, although audience on Google+ is bigger – do they see better engagement on Twitter?
  • The brand seems to be favoring Photos – do they perform better for them?

Collecting Engagement Data

I wanted to start answering some of the questions that started to come up, like do the brand see better engagement with photos? So I added engagement information to my table.

  Facebook Twitter Google+ Instagram
Engagement (Last 2 Weeks)
Total Engagement 34,069 3,146 613 1,663
Per Post 1,002 18.5 102.1 277.2
Normal N/A 1.2 0 N/A
Video 161 0 0 N/A
Photo 1,121.4 23.3 102.1 277.2
Link 0 6.4 N/A N/A
Article N/A N/A 0 N/A
Status 347 N/A N/A N/A


Looking at the data I pulled for Dove, it seems like posts and tweets that include photos get a higher engagement per post/tweet, which would justify the high number of posts with photos but would put into question the lack of tweets with photos. So I added more points to my list.

The key points I’ve noted were:

  • Facebook is driving very strong engagement for the brand and averages over 1,000 engagements per post.
  • Photos are a strong driver for engagement.
  • Engagement per post on Google+ and Instagram is strong, but the brand’s posting frequency is low – might be an opportunity.
  • Is this a factor of audience size? How do they stack on engagement as a percent of audience?

Collecting Audience Data

Next I needed to collect data about the audience of Dove. Audience data is a little harder to get without authentication, but there’s still some data we can glean from the public interaction like geo-location, device usage, and time of engagement. Since the audience data is harder to present it in the table format, so I just collected the data and noted the main points about the findings in my list of comments.

Dove Map

Dove Audience

I added my main notes to my list and moved on with my data collection.

  • Brazil is an important region for Dove as evident by the fan distribution as well as growth rate of fans in Brazil.
  • Southeast Asia is showing strong audience growth and might be a strategic initiative for the brand.
  • As far as Twitter goes, the U.S. dominates in terms of engaged audience but Germany is an interesting find in terms of engaging countries.
  • No special findings on device usage, pretty typical compared to overall trend.

Collecting Content Data

As far as collecting data on content, this is where there’s almost no limit to what you can collect. Social media content is public and you can collect it manually, use the networks APIs, or use a solution that will do it for you.

Since the posts are public, you get everythingwith them and the APIs are pretty good at sending the right information to help you decipher it and use it to analyze the data.

For Dove, I used Simply Measured to pull all 214 posts, tweets, Instagrams, and Google+ posts.

Step 3: Analysis

Time: 1 to 6 hours

I now have all the data and a good starting point for my analysis. I wanted to start by answering some of the questions I listed in my notes and then dive deeper into the elements of the data that I thought would produce the biggest insight.

When you don’t have a hypothesis you’re trying to prove or deny, the exploratory nature of such analysis requires you to follow your intuition. The process of collecting the data helps with highlighting the aspects of the data that might raise some flags, but you want to be careful about any confirm biases, looking only for the evidence that proves your point. Try to stay objective in your analysis and truly answer the questions you come up with, you might be surprised by the results.

In this case, I listed all my questions first and gave answers to all of them:

  • Have a Facebook Global Page – how many child/local pages? Answer: Dove has 69 child pages with a total of 20.8 million fans.
  • Do they see better engagement on Twitter? Answer: Their total engagement as well as their engagement per post is lower on Twitter than it is on Facebook. But their engagement-as-a-percent of fans on Facebook is 0.16 percent while on Twitter it’s 2.8 percent. This can explain the highest post frequency on Twitter.
  • The brand seems to be favoring photos – do they perform better for them? Answer: Unclear. Photos are the most common post type across all networks for Dove and therefore seem to be driving the best engagement, but when looking at Facebook, video posts have generated the highest engagement per post. From analyzing the quality of the photos, it’s also apparent that they invest in professional photography to make the photo posts more engaging. This level of investment can also explain the lower post frequency on Facebook and Instagram compared to Twitter where not all the posts (tweets) have been photo tweets.
  • Is engagement a factor of audience size? How do they stack on engagement as a percent of audience? Answer: Instagram seems to be the most successful channel to generate engagement compared to their audience size. Even with a relatively small audience they are able to generate high level of engagement, both total and per post. The visual nature of their posts, heavily leaning on photography, lends itself well to the typical user behavior on Instagram.

After answering the questions I listed during my data collection, I decided to focus the rest of my analysis on the content of Dove postings across the networks. I wanted to see if there’s a strategy around cross-channel promotion or if they treat the different networks separately.

I started by analyzing the most frequent keywords used in each network during the two weeks of my data collections and pulled a sample set of posts. I found that on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there was a high usage of the various variations of the word Beauty.

  • Twitter: The keyword Beauty and the hashtag #BeautyIs were included in 26 percent of the tweets in that time period.
  • Facebook: The word Beautiful was part of 6 percent of all the posts, second only to the word Dove.
  • Instagram: The hashtags #Beauty and #Beautiful were included in 26 percent of all comments, and 4 out of the 6 posts during that time period included the hashtag #BeautyIs.

Dove Keywords

In addition, looking at the most engaging tweets, posts, and Instagrams, in the top three on each of those networks, the hashtag #BeautyIs was included, so I pulled the those posts to better analyze the content strategy of the brand.



Dove Facebook Beautyis


Interestingly enough, on Google+ Dove included no mentions of any of these keywords or hashtags. There was also no resemblance to the visual style of the photos on the other networks and it seemed that the posts were targeting a different audience with a different message.

In 4 of the 6 posts on Google+, the majority of the post was actually text, almost like a short blog post with a supporting image, rather than an image as the centerpiece with supporting text.

To learn more about the hashtag #BeautyIs, I analyzed when Dove started using the hashtag to understand the origin of the campaign. I found this post on Twitter:

This kicked off the #BeautyIs campaign across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, a campaign that is still running.

Step 4: Findings & Recommendations

Time: 30 minutes to 2 hours

  • Dove uses Facebook as its main social network to engage with users across the globe. The brand uses Facebook Global Pages infrastructure to create a localized experience in the different regions.
  • Facebook serves as its core social network but the brand utilizes all the other networks to engage with its fan base and customers through the networks of their choice.
  • The brand uses photos as a primary tactic to generate engagement. The photos are professional and in high quality but in most cases feature “real” people.
  • The brand uses hashtags as a main way to connect and “tag” a campaign. The hashtags shows up in the posts but also in the actual photos, extending the impact of the hashtag beyond just the functionality it provides on the networks, but as an additional branding component.
  • At the beginning of the year, the brand has kicked off an integrated, cross channel campaign dubbed #BeautyIs with a short film released in Sundance film festival. The campaign features pictures of “real” people, emphasizing the concept of real beauty.
  • The brand uses the social networks to promote the campaign and encourages users to share their perspective on what #BeautyIs. This campaign has shown high engagement levels across all the social networks as evident by the increased engagement on posts including the hashtag as well as the percent of comments including the hashtag or variation of the phrase Beauty.


I made the various reports I used to collect the data and analyze it public and you can access them below:

Can you find out more about Dove’s social strategy? Try it for yourself to practice your competitive intelligence skills. I would love to hear what you find. (note: you can utilize the export to excel option to get the entire dataset and run even deeper analysis on the data)


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