One of the best ways to improve your company’s SEO rankings is to research what the competition is doing or not doing on a regular basis. Keep a bookmarked folder, a Pinterest file or a small notebook handy at all times. When you see an online idea that you like, note quickly what it is and why you like it. Then sit down once a week and implement one great idea to your blog, website or social media accounts. Doing this will translate into valuable points with viewers and search engines, and slowly but surely you will see a rise in traffic, rankings and, ultimately, clients. This isn’t an Adwords campaign; results won’t come overnight, but they will come. 

See also: Four Bad Excuses Not to Blog

There are some very innovative ways to use social media for research. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Use LinkedIn to research the competition.

Many people think of LinkedIn as a helpful site for making business connections or getting a job. However, one of the real strengths of LinkedIn is that it can be used as a targeted platform for performing research in any industry. LinkedIn is filled with forums and professional groups. In each, you will find helpful and opinionated participants that often share more freely online than they would in public. This means it’s possible to get a quick, accurate idea about the people in any particular group — information you can use to inform your selling technique and product selection. Moreover, LinkedIn users have a higher average income than users of any other social media platform. These are the clients everyone wants.

Researching the competition on LinkedIn is also a fabulous way to learn about the size and structure of similar businesses and what types of experience they have. Competitive research is easy using an advanced search in the “people” category.

Here’s an example: I typed in health insurance and then limited that to the geographic location of San Diego, Calif. I could further limit this list using a number of other criteria, such as company name. 

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Keeping the “view” tab expanded and then hovering over the individual lets me identify who these people are with a little further Internet research.

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In addition, in this last frame, it is possible to see how someone is marketing their business and get a good idea of the products they sell. Once you start using the search facilities on LinkedIn it is very difficult to stop – it’s that useful.

2. Use photo recognition tools for client and competition research.

Facebook’s photo recognition tools are a quick and easy way to expand your list of prospective clients. Through the use of photo tags you can track specific people and see what kind of activities they enjoy, as well as where they are located. By hovering over a person’s picture in a group photo you can see the person’s name. This is extremely helpful when attending semi-social functions where you may want to get to know someone better or make new connections.

Reverse photo recognition software is a bit on the dark side, but it can come in handy when researching the competition or prospective clients. Almost every smartphone has a good camera. Put it to work. For example, TinEye lets you upload an image, then searches the Internet looking for places where the same image has been used before.

3. Investigate local vs. national online marketing campaigns.

Social media works best when it is integrated with person-to-person interactions. Put another way, its chief benefit is that it allows clients to know more about you and build trust more easily. In some ways you can think of your social media outlets as your very own television show, out there broadcasting you 24/7, 365 days a year! No other form of marketing has ever had this kind of power. When you take that presence and localize it through events, parties, philanthropic marketing and a host of other local, in-person relationships, your client base will grow.

While social media has a global reach, at this point, the real opportunity for most agents is in building local connections. Collaborating with local organizations and other businesses will help increase your visibility in your community. Programs like Google Places and Foursquare provide further opportunities for local growth.

Social media is much more than another website. Start looking at these platforms more closely, be creative and use them effectively for research and locally targeted marketing.

For more exclusive social media coverage, see:

The Agent Face in Facebook

Social Media: 3 Steps to Target Your Market

LinkedIn Success in 5 Simple Steps