The Sprout Social 2018 Index: Realign & Redefine

If social marketers redefine ROI from the top and underscore the true value of social among leadership, CEO included, they can stop wasting time and resources on content and campaigns that don’t resonate. In this section, we’ll review missed opportunities for reaching consumers today, and discuss how to realign with what consumers actually want to see from brands on social.

Missed opportunities for reaching consumers

Our data shows that the top three content priorities for social marketers are misaligned with consumer preferences. Marketers are focused on posts that teach (61%), tell a story (58%), and inspire (53%), while consumers are looking for discounts and sales (73%), posts that showcase new products and services (60%), and posts that teach them something (59%).

what marketers post vs what consumers want on social

Sprout stance

The sole overlap between top marketing priorities and consumer preferences is “posts that teach.” If you’re not already, meet consumers in this sweet spot in the consideration stage. This content takes consumers a step beyond knowing who you are, to knowing what you do and what space you are a part of or an expert in.

Remember, too, that educational content covers a wide range, from how to use a product, to how to make a recipe, to how to do a workout move, to how to travel well, and beyond. It does not necessarily have to put your product at the forefront to create educational value for your audience, but it should relate to your industry and expertise.

It’s important to note here that everyone loves a deal, but social marketers can’t build strategies solely around deals and promotions. This content, while it leads to conversions, does not build long-term relationships with target audiences.

The most enlightened social marketing strategy integrates awareness and consideration stage content, opening the door with entertainment and inspiration, then carrying audiences across the threshold with education, information about new product offerings, and discounts and sales.

Brands want their campaigns to resonate. To do this, they need to develop content that is tailored to their audience and designed to engage. When consumers were asked which brand content they are mostly likely to engage with vs. which they were most likely to share with their audiences on social, there several key takeaways. Most notably, the threshold for sharing content was higher than for engaging with content across almost all content types. The one exception was inspirational content, which consumers were equally likely to engage with and share with their audiences:

  • Consumers are 13% more likely to engage with entertaining brand content than share it with their audiences
  • Consumers are equally likely to engage with and share inspirational content
  • Consumers are 31% more likely to engage with storytelling content than share it
  • Consumers are 24% more likely to engage with promotions and deals than share them
  • Consumers are 150% more likely to engage with employee advocacy posts than share them
  • Consumers are 90% more likely to engage with posts that showcase company personality and announce company happenings than they are to share with friends on social
  • Consumers are 50% more likely to engage with posts showcasing new products and offerings than share them

Social marketers who want to expand brand awareness and content reach, as opposed to generating engagement on their owned accounts, should make inspirational and entertaining content a focus—especially since consumers are more likely to digest brand content when it comes from people they know, care about, and trust. But they should also be offering up posts that showcase new products or services to increase web traffic and drive consideration.

brand content consumers engage with vs share on social

Sprout stance

If you want consumers to share your content, head for their hearts (and funny bones, as you’ll learn more about in the next section) with content that inspires and entertains. To inspire and entertain your audience effectively, you need to understand what they care about and are entertained by today. Use a listening solution to keep a pulse on what your target audience is talking passionately about right now.

If you want consumers to become aware of or consider your new products or services, showcase them but don’t set primary goals around amplification.

Finally, remember that your success metrics need to be tailored for the content you’re planning and promoting. You don’t need a singular goal to be successful, but you do need to be clear about the results you want and can reasonably expect from each goal and subsequent strategy. Your educational content might not get shares—instead you should be looking at reach, engagement, and link clicks.

Entertainment, inspiration & the growing power of social video

Consumers are interested in a wide variety of content formats from brands on social. Sixty percent of consumers want to see posts that showcase new products or services, 59% want to see educational posts, 56% want to be entertained, and 49% want to be inspired by brands on social. The common thread here is that consumers prefer content to be strongly visual. Over half (58%) prefer visual-first content, with graphics and images and produced video taking the lead in this category.

Social marketers agree, listing “more video content” as the key ingredient to success on social in 2018 on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube.

what social marketers need to succeed by network

This also fits with social marketers’ acknowledgement that a dedicated video producer or graphic designer is exactly what they would need to do their best work, closely followed by social analytics software.

additional resources social marketers need to succeed

But what kind of videos should social marketers be delivering to their audiences? Surprisingly, consumers surveyed want brands to stay “produced” rather than unedited, preferring produced video four times more than unproduced videos.

Given the transparent and immediate nature of social, this defies the general expectation that social users want raw videos from brands. In fact, people want brands to share produced and edited videos that showcase beauty and deliver a clear message. This is yet another reason that professional video production resources and distribution plans are key investments for social marketers in 2018.

Brands can produce all the video content they want—but what if no one’s watching? What truly impacts whether someone watches a video or clicks away? The top factors that impact whether or not a consumer watches a video on social are length of video (61%), caption or description of video (51%), and whether the video is an ad or not (40%).

This tells us that consumers won’t watch a video that is going to take up too much of their time, they want to know what they are about to watch before they press play, and they care about the “authenticity” of the video—if consumers feel lik
e they are being directly sold to, they are less likely to watch that video content.

technical and emotional reasons consumers watch social video

Sprout stance:

Just because consumers dislike an “ad-like” approach from brands doesn’t mean social marketers can’t feature or link to product in videos. What it does mean, however, is that your video must also entertain, inspire, and/or provide some other value besides “buy this now.” Tactics that work include behind-the-scenes content featuring an inside look at a beloved brand (Instagram Stories is a great channel for this), content that helps your viewers in a way that overlaps with their interest in your brand, and content that is, simply put, beautiful.

When it comes to maximum watch time, consumers responded with a wide range of watch times, but the most common was between 1-2 minutes. This suggests that your video content doesn’t have to be long to succeed with your social audience.

Now that you know the technical factors that impact if your audience will watch a video, let’s dive into the emotional factors. How do your consumers want your videos to make them feel? The top reasons that consumers watch videos on social are to laugh (71%), to see a good story (59%), and to feel inspired (51%). Consumers watch the most videos on Facebook (40%) and YouTube (49%).

A majority of social marketers (76%) are focused on engagement and amplification metrics, so we asked consumers if they share brand video content on social and what prompts them to do so. The good news: A majority of consumers (74%) share brand video content on social. The videos they share are most likely to be entertaining, inspiring, or convey knowledge to friends.

Sprout stance:

Video may be king, but ensuring that content reflects what consumers are looking for in their feed is queen. Remember that your brand is competing with friends and family for attention in user feeds, so it has to create real, unique value for users. As brands work to incorporate more video into their strategy, creating content that is quick, easy to digest, and well-produced will ensure resources are being used most effectively.

Influencers & advocates

We know video is what people want, but what about that other industry buzz term, influencers? Influencer marketing is a huge focus in the social marketing industry right now, but what is it actually doing? Does it resonate with audiences in the way social marketers want it to?

There is an almost even split between marketers who are using influencer marketing as a part of their strategies (46%) and those who are not (54%). Marketers who do use influencers are looking for reach (21%) and quality of content (20%) in influencer partnerships about equally, and more than half (56%) state that they use influencers to extend brand reach.

But what about the consumer perspective? When asked what their reaction would be if a friend posted about a company, product, or service on social media, 61% of consumer respondents said they’d be more likely to research that product/service, compared to 36% if a product or service were mentioned by an influencer or celebrity. This shows that the best influencers are those who are perceived as “regular people” with relatable experiences and opinions.

Sprout stance:
Your audience is the most effective marketing tool you have at your disposal. If you are investing in influencer marketing, make sure amplification metrics like shares on Facebook and tags on Instagram are key success metrics for that influencer relationship. If a friend shares influencer content featuring your brand, you are more likely to achieve high-value reach, meaning reach which activates social users to want to learn more about you.

Consumers absorb influencer content across the major social networks at a surprisingly low level, between 1-11%, and prefer seeing company posts 3x more than company posts that feature influencers or celebrities. And while 46% of marketers surveyed believe leveraging influencers is vital, less than half of that, only 19%, have a budget for it. This begs the question, should social marketers be focusing their efforts elsewhere?

social marketers with influencer marketing budget

The answer may lie in employee advocacy, which delivers the authenticity people are seeking from one another and brands on social today. Seventy percent of social marketers see the value of employee advocacy, either using employees as advocates on social today, or seeking to in the future.

Employee advocacy, meaning using employees to spread your content on their own social channels, is a cost-efficient and scalable alternative to influencer marketing for brands. By enabling high-reach employees with high-quality content and messaging, you can achieve the expanded reach and consideration you are looking for.

percentage of social marketers using employee advocacy

Engagement & customer service

Awareness and consideration content aside, there is one thing that marketers and consumers agree cannot be left out of a successful social strategy: customer service. Social is one of the first channels consumers head to when they have a question or an issue. In fact, 45% of consumers have done this.

Social is a unique channel in that the same individual or team is often expected to wear the customer service hat, in addition to the marketer’s hat. This makes the social media manager the biggest expert at understanding their brand’s audience in the entire marketing organization.

Social marketers understand the responsibility they have to customers. Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed view customer service on social as important to their brand, which makes sense considering that nearly half of consumers have reached out to a company on social.

graph showing that 88% of social marketers consider customer service on social media important

The top reasons that consumers reach out to brands on social are that they had a question (57%), they had an issue with a product or service (45%), or they wanted to commend a company on their product or service (34%). When a customer reaches out with a question, their #1 reason for reaching out on social, use this as an opportunity to form a relationship—not just resolve an issue.

reasons people reach out to brands on social

There is a wide range for how many customer service requests a brand receives via social, though 58% of marketers surveyed receive between 1-50 requests in a week. There is also a wide range in response times, though the majority (78%) respond to a customer request within 12 hours. Finally, there is a 50/50 split between those looking to decrease their response times on social and those for whom this is not a focus, probably because they’re managing customer service requests well today.

Social customer care doesn’t just contribute to brand perception, it impacts your bottom line; 21% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands they can reach on social. The same percentage would rather message a brand
on social media than call customer service. This tells us that social customer service has a financial impact, and is swiftly becoming the consumer’s preferred care channel.

All this data makes it crystal clear how important social customer care is to your social, and overall business strategy. How can brands and social marketers actually impact their efficiency and strategy in the area? More than half of social marketers say the answer is a bigger team. We’ll delve further into the resources that social marketers have and are missing later in the Index.

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