You know the saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It’s a good rule to live by considering that your enemies are the ones who will give you a run for your money – not your friends (hopefully). Plus, a healthy dose of competition is never a bad thing. It reminds you to be on your toes and improving yourself at all times rather than thinking you’re the bomb and not moving forward.

The same idea applies to the business world. Your competition – businesses that are selling similar products as you or are after the same audience as you – should be kept close. You can probably admit to spying on your competitors on social media and checking out their campaigns, which is a very good thing. Nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t see how your business stacks up until you know what others around you are doing.

Luckily, keeping your competition close has never been easier thanks to the internet. Monitoring your competition should be part of your marketing approach. You can learn a lot from your competitors. Their successes can be your successes, and you can avoid their mistakes.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can keep your competition close, and what you can learn by doing so.

How are your competitors using social media?

Take a look at how your competitors are using social media channels like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Browse their profiles, check out their pictures and read their “About” sections. Would you be interested in becoming a customer of theirs? Do the profiles look engaging and trustworthy? Honest and professional?

Also look at how your competitors are handling customer service issues. Do they acknowledge feedback from customers? Are they accommodating when there’s an issue? You can see great examples for how to handle uncomfortable situations from your competitors.

How are your competitors marketing their business?

If you are a small business owner that is still stuck in an industry that favors old-fashioned advertising, you can learn a lot from your bigger competitors. For instance, remember when salespeople would go door-to-door to sell things like vacuum cleaners? Door-to-door sales in any industry is pretty much dead, but not all companies are in touch with the latest marketing methods.

Imagine taking the lead and dominating your niche with great content, an interactive website and how-to videos. See which types of marketing are working for your larger competitors and apply them to your small business. It will set you apart from your closest competitors and put fast dollars in your pocket.

What types of content are your competitors putting out there?

Content is a powerful marketing tool, but it’s easy to run dry on topics and motivation. Identify competitors that have succeeded at the content game. What are they doing differently that is working for them? What topics are they writing about that are getting a lot of engagement? Are they placing links in the content and adding social sharing buttons?

Looking at your competition’s content can inspire you to amp up your own strategy. You may find that there are certain topics you can expand on using your unique perspective. You may have relatable stories to share or examples to give. If you’re a smaller business, you may even be able to inquire about a guest posting opportunity to bring you more exposure.

Watching for content also allows you to identify content gaps. Is there information that is missing? Do you see that readers are asking questions that are going unanswered? Filling in the gaps puts you in the position of being an industry leader and creating brand content that your competitors could not provide.

How often are your competitors publishing content?

Another thing to check out is how often your competition is posting content. Choose companies that have their content schedule in place, of course, as many are sporadic with their posting.

Here are a few things to look at. How often does the company post content? Where is the content posted to? Are the posts the same across social channels or different?

With this information, you can get a better idea of what posting schedule works for your competition. Bigger companies often do their own research or run analytics to determine which posting dates and times are best, so you can learn from their actions. If you see that a company continues to post in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you know these dates and times are most lucrative for them.

Also, you can build your own content strategy around your competitors. Why not increase the competition by posting similar content around similar times?

How do you want to be perceived next to your competition?

By keeping a watchful eye on your competition, you can learn a lot about yourself. How do you want to be different that your competitors? What do you want people to think about you compared to other companies? Maybe your products are less expensive, higher in quality or custom designed. Those are great places to start.

Dig deeper and consider how you want people to feel when they see your brand name. People enjoy being a part of bigger things, so consider how your materials, ingredients, employees, manufacturing processes, etc. are one of a kind. Or perhaps you support an organization that makes a difference in the world. Use these unique components to create exciting new content.

To be most successful, you should look at your competitors as learning opportunities, not people to fear. By keeping your competition close, you can stay on top of your content game and learn about yourself in the process. One day, your competitors may be looking at YOU for progressive change and growth.