The mindgames of sharing your competitors’ materials – own goal or goldmine?

14 October 2016 By Northern Lights

The mindgames of sharing your competitors’ materials – own goal or goldmine? image


We are working with a number of clients who are very new to social media. It is always a good reminder of what puzzles or challenges them – and what is currently causing a lot of debate is about sharing competitor material.  Why do we do say they should?

  1. Google wants to see you as experts in your field

We admit, we struggled with this at the beginning.  Our associate, Jonny Ross, did a training session for us years ago and said, ‘Google wants to see you being rated by your peers and having discussions in your field of expertise’.  So if you want Google to rate your content and your business to come high on searches, you need to send out lots of small signals to Google, that you are seen as an expert on your key topics.  And that means being right in the midst of your competitors!

The way to do that is sharing materials that may come from your competitors and giving feedback/joining the debate.

As an example, last year I spotted our competitor, Stuart Bruce, on LinkedIn mentioning a talk he was due to give in Kenya on public relations for emerging economies.  He asked PR professionals for our views on this issue.  It is a subject I feel rather passionately about as we do so much international business, particularly in the UAE.  So I gave Stuart a few thoughts, which he then captured in his talk and shared through his blog on the place of digital and social media in public relations.

And look at the free PR we got from this – a mention in the slide to a conference of several hundred people and a mention in his blog.   (Note that I have been generous again by giving a link to Stuart’s blog, above)


But for that to happen

  • I had to have connected to a competitor on LinkedIn
  • I read and commented on a competitor’s LinkedIn post
  • I also shared the post to help Stuart get wider views
  • I was generous with my expertise and allowed a competitor to use my thinking/intellectual property in their conference

Does that feel odd? Or is the end result better than closing the doors to a competitor – doesn’t it feel more ‘expert’ and is if you are a grown-up in your field of expertise?

  1. Social media is all about generosity

The concept of social media plays real mind games with most directors I know.  At the start it goes against the grain of ‘best business practice’ that they have been doing for the last 20 or 30 years.

Some of the principles of the best social media are

  • Write for your audience, not for Google – if you want to come top of Google write the best possible content to help your clients, don’t worry about whether it will work for search engine optimisation (SEO). And that means if the best bit of advice around comes from a competitor, include it
  • Be helpful. Share everything you know – again clients really, really struggle with this.  “What about our intellectual property, our competitive advantage?”  I had a discussion with one of our new clients yesterday and apparently a comment I made a while ago is still in her head.  I said “If you shared absolutely everything you know about how you recruit people across the world, could your competitors do it?”  The answer was no, their USP is their networks on the ground which their competitors don’t have.  By the time your competitors learn what you are doing, you should have moved on anyway!
  • 80% useful vs 20% promotional. Good social media is about thinking ‘how can I help my network, what would be useful, what insights can I share?’  Just like this blog – actually I am writing it to help a number of clients but I know it will also help far more people in the wider world.  But usually when companies start using social media, they start thinking ‘Great, I can get our message out to thousands now’.    You won’t build a network of thousands if you only promote your seminar or your latest service.  But, provide helpful information as the basis of your social media then people will follow you because they get good ideas and shortcuts to the best information.  Including your competitor’s information.   Then you can include details of your event, latest ebook or a blog and your network will click and read or attend. By then they know you aren’t going to ‘sell’ at them but provide them with something to help their business

So actually, your competitors could be the greatest goldmine for success in your business!

Years ago, the directors of a business improvement consultancy came to see us to discuss doing their PR.  They spent a couple of hours with us and mentioned their main competitor about 30 times – they are doing this, they don’t do this well, clients say this about them and more.  In the end I said, ‘why aren’t you talking more about your own clients – why they love you, how you make a difference to their business, what services you are developing, what they need in the future?’  In the end I said no thanks to this business.  This company was obsessed with its competitors and I didn’t feel we could get through this.  I told them they needed to be proud of what they were doing, stand out and don’t worry about your competitors.  Of course know what’s going on but focus on your clients first.

So, are you struggling with mentioning your competitors?  Has this blog changed your views?  I honestly think the more generous you are, the more you will get back.  Anyway, aren’t you better than your competitors?!

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Written by Northern Lights


  • Totally agree with this, I remember back in my retail days, you would spy on competitors, actually you would mystery shop them, but god forbid you spoke to them! The world is changing, great businesses work with other businesses, it’s all about collaboration now, thanks for fab insights as always Victoria!

  • Great article and thanks for the mention Victoria. Absolutely agree and it’s something I’ve had to explain to clients, colleagues and competitors before. The question is do you ‘lose’ business by being generous with your time and expertise. I’d say you do. I know I do. I had a friend who was head of comms for a very big company in the transport sector. He admitted to me over lunch that he’d based 70-80% of his review of his company’s digital and social media based on what he’d read on my blog, chapters in books I’ve contributed to and what I’ve said when speaking at conferences. I never actually had any work out of him!

    All pretty negative. But I can also say with absolute certainty that I’ve won far more work from being generous with time and knowledge than I’ve ever lost. The analogy I often use that an avid sports fan can go to live events to watch their sporting hero in action, catch those that they can’t attend on TV and read every article and interview with them. But that will ever make them a star striker, a tennis ace or champion jockey. If you share your expertise and people like then to do it really well people still need you.

  • What great stories Stuart, thank you. Really interesting way of looking at the ‘losing’ business. A lot of people say to me they can’t believe how generous we are with giving away all our secrets for free – in our ebooks, blogs etc. In a similar vein, I always say you can know all the secrets to producing a great blog but can you write it? Took me years to to get there – by the time they know and can use what we do, we’ll have moved on!

    And like you we have definitely won huge amounts of work from all these – generosity creates trust and the relationships to win business.

    Thought provoking stuff, thanks Stuart!

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