The main findings of the report were that:
Given that I spend most of my time thinking about how customer service, experience and engagement can be improved, I invited Sprout Social CMO, Jamie Gilpin to have a chat about the results and what they mean.
The following are highlights from our chat:
Adrian: Now, the first finding of the report states that ‘Marketers struggle to create social strategies to support overall business goals.’ Can you explain what you mean by this? Is this not a perennial struggle? Is social losing its relevance? Is it in danger of the being put in the too hard to do column?
Jamie: This is an area that I get both excited and frustrated with. However, I don’t think putting social in the too hard to do column is an option. It’s become such a necessary channel not only for marketers but also as a communication method for business. Moreover, it’s become the preferred communication method for many consumers outside of one to one communication with 69 percent of the U.S. adult population using social media and 88 percent of 18 to 29 year olds on social media. So, if marketers and businesses don’t figure out how to tie social media activity to business goals then we’re really going to be in a very difficult position.
Adrian: The second finding of the report says that ‘Marketers need to dig deeper to understand their audience.’ Please explain what you mean by this.
Jamie: With 88 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 29 on social media that is a goldmine of data. However, mining that data and then acting on it is where many marketers are getting tripped up. Many are not using that data to better understand how it can drive the goals of the business whether that’s acquiring new customers, driving margin, delivering better service, retaining and growing a customer base, reducing churn etc. Too many marketers are still only using social as an advertising or branding channel and are not joining the dots to how it can be used to benefit the broader business and its goals.
Adrian: The next finding states that ‘Consumers want to be engaged and entertained before they buy.’ That’s fair enough but what about B2B customers? Are you seeing any differences between B2C and B2B audiences and practices?
Jamie: There are differences, of course. But, one thing that is certain is that we are seeing the consumerization of the B2B space and that means that we are not seeing that many differences in the strategies that are being executed by B2C and B2B marketers. From events that we have run for client marketers across the country, the one key takeaway is that marketers, whether B2B or B2C, are all dealing with the same challenges and that is how do we connect with our audiences, how do we make our brand more human and how do we allow our employees to connect with our customers. Some are getting it right and it is turning into a competitive advantage for them. However, in the future that sort of behavior and activity will end up being table stakes.
Adrian: The next finding states that ‘Facebook continues to dominate the social landscape.’ However, there has been a lot of talk about the demise of Facebook. Is Facebook still dominating? And, is that true for all age groups?
Jamie: It’s true that there have been a proliferation of social channels and each social platform serves a different purpose. Also, as the audience and platform changes you have to change the way that you connect always keeping in mind the goal that you’re trying to achieve. But, despite some changes in the numbers Facebook is still the dominant player because they still have the largest user base compared to all others.
Adrian: The last main finding of the report was that ‘Brands are only scratching the surface of what social can do.’ Given that, what should brands be doing?
Jamie: Brands should be thinking more broadly about their social strategies and activities and how it can help them achieve their objectives across multiple dimensions: engagement, awareness, service and experience. That means thinking about not just publishing content but also how can you learn from your customers, how can you engage with them by looking for and participating in conversations, how quickly you respond to their queries and how do you take what you learn and feed that back into the right areas for your business. One great example comes from General Motors who monitor social media to gather feedback from customers and then route that feedback back into their engineering teams. They are finding that they are able to identify technical issues with their products before any issues are reported. This is affording them all sorts of opportunities around their products, their development and how they service their customers.
Social media has only been around for 20 years or so and in that time it has come along way. However, Sprout Social’s report and Jamie’s insights show that many B2C and B2B brands have a long way to go to get the most of of this relatively new medium in terms of enabling customer engagement, awareness, service, experience and overall business objectives. If marketers don’t use social media to play a bigger role in enabling both customer experience and business objectives there is a danger that it will start to lose relevance.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com here.