Competitors are enemies to be crushed, right? Not exactly. A better way to think of your competitors is to see them as a valuable resource.

Competitors can help you expand your audience and, thus, increase sales. Specifically, knowing how to tap into competitors’ social media audiences will give you access to a fresh, active pool of people—your potential customer base.

In order to accomplish that, you need to know how to approach your competitors, how to forge relationships with them and how to leverage their audiences for your benefit.

Develop professional relationships with your competitors

Rejoice if your competitors have large networks of followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. Why? Because it gives you an opportunity to interact with these people and to forge relationships with your competitors.

Interact with them often by sharing interesting thoughts, commenting on updates, etc. Genuine relationship building will get you noticed and present opportunities to join forces with your competitors to your mutual benefit. Just think of guest-blogging as an example.

Paul Gian, founder of Beyond 4Cs, admits that his company is better off working with some of its competitors on social media than ignoring them, saying, “We do not see this group of people as those we want out of the business. With social media, boundaries are being redefined, and taking a professional approach to business competition will help you stay longer in business.”

On top of that, guest-posting on competitors’ sites will give you direct access to their audiences. Creating compelling content encourages shares, likes and comments—especially if you provide high-quality, exclusive information.

Interacting with your competitors’ social media bases not only taps into a fresh market, but also promotes your brand and increases the likelihood of generating new leads.

No matter what your industry is, your brand can benefit from using this approach.

Analyze your competitors’ social media activity

More than 79 percent of businesses analyze their competitors by using social media. This strategy is a traffic-generating tool, which also drives sales.

However, it takes time to build up a strong social media following. One of the shortcuts to quickly growing your fan base is to check out what your competitors are doing well.

First, search Google using your main keywords to find the leading competitors in your industry. Look for high-ranking sites with large, active followings on Twitter and Facebook. They should have regular posting schedules and healthy social interactions.

Next, analyze their Facebook pages to find out how their fans engage with their posts. Also analyze the types of posts that encourage interaction. Fanpage Karma provides free insights into Facebook page activities.

Once you have that information, start participating in conversations on competitors’ fan pages, enticing their audiences to check you out. By leaving thoughtful, useful comments, you will help establish yourself as an expert in the field.

Do the same for your competitor’s Twitter audience. Analyze the movements of their followers who retweet, mention or reply often on Twitter with Twitonomy. Make your brand invaluable by providing insightful, unique comments and tweets. Tweet industry secrets, breaking news, exclusive tips and other educational extracts. And watch your content get shared with their followers.

Take it further and follow a new batch of active followers to build your social media reach.

Turning competitors into frenemies

Embracing your competitors is good for business. After all, you’re in the same niche. Knowing and understanding the exclusivity of your brand is your foundation for a thriving business. When you can contrast yourself with your competitor by highlighting the strengths and uniqueness of your brand, you can entice some of the shared base to choose your product or service versus your competitor’s.

For instance, Yahoo and Google are competitors. Both cater to the same audience—people searching for information online. Nevertheless, those who use their services choose the most appropriate search engine based on their preferences or needs.

According to Alex Boston, co-founder at Paperlust—a website that encourages designers to share their work independently—”A friendly approach to business is the first stage to getting your competitors to share their audiences with your brand.” Boston says they encourage designers to work with each other instead of against each other.

Thinking outside the box—and working as complementary brands—can benefit your business and boost sales. Remember, although you’re in the same niche market, your brand is unique, and you should target your audience differently.

Creativity, boldness and a drive to push for brand awareness are some of the ingredients needed to leverage your competitors. Taking a different position and seeing them as frenemies, while tapping into their social media audiences, will make you stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, it’ll give you an opportunity to expand your customer base and, ultimately, to increase sales.

Published by Ayodeji Onibalusi

Ayo Onibalusi is a serial entrepreneur and digital marketer. He is the founder and director of Effective Inbound Marketing and Boost My Media.