“Show me the data.” A phrase marketing leaders have uttered to their teams more times than they can count. That’s because data is critical to getting support for and proving the value of your initiatives.

But when it comes to social media, data collection is complex. Teams who struggle to share meaningful insights usually don’t a) have enough data, b) have a way to turn a massive volume of raw data into actionable business intelligence (BI) or c) understand how their efforts fit into the big picture.

Can you visualize a time when you received a social team report that only contained one-off metrics (like follower count and impressions) with no throughline to business goals? Or when a report included so many numbers it was impossible to decipher, leaving your head spinning as you tried to process all the metrics and what they mean?

Data-driven marketing is about more than asking every team to submit regular dashboards or spreadsheets with KPI updates. It’s about empowering your team to mine impactful performance and audience insights. This will require investing in training, the right tools and refining your data collection process. But by harnessing the wealth of social data available, you will tap into an insights goldmine for every part of your organization.

At Sprout, we believe in the power of social data to transform every part of an organization—whether that’s using insights to change customer care processes, revamp your hiring plan or create new product lines.

Alicia Johnston

Senior Director of Content and Campaigns, Sprout Social

In this article, we explain how you can find and use social data that enables you to outpace the competition, improve your content strategy, iterate on new product development and build more impactful, long-term campaigns. We also examine common data-driven social media marketing challenges and how you can overcome them.

What is data-driven marketing?

Data-driven marketing is when you inform your business strategy with marketing BI (examples: social content performance data, social listening insights, website analytics, email marketing metrics and more). The strategy can apply to functions within and outside of marketing, including customer care, product development and growth.

Social media intelligence is a critical input for building an effective data-driven marketing strategy. With it, you can predict future audience behavior, gain unfiltered insight into the success of your campaigns and product launches, drive revenue gains and make your team the linchpin for making key business decisions.

The advantages of data-driven marketing

According to The Sprout Social Index™, many marketers already connect the value of social to business goals. Over half of brands (60%) quantify the value of engagement on social in terms of revenue impact, 57% use it to track conversions and sales directly resulting from social efforts and 51% use it to optimize their product development or marketing strategy.

A chart from The Sprout Social Index™ that reads: How marketers plan to connect the value of social to business goals in 2024. 60% will quantify the value of social media engagement in terms of potential revenue impact, 57% will track conversions and sales directly resulting from social efforts and 51% will use social data to inform product development or marketing strategy, leading to increased revenue.

Likewise, The 2023 State of Social Report found that virtually all business leaders believe social media data and insights have a profound positive impact on top business priorities—including building brand reputation and loyalty, improving competitive positioning and gaining more customer knowledge.

A chart from The 2023 State of Social Media Report that reads: Impact of social media and insights on business priorities. The top impact is building brand and reputation loyalty followed by improving competitive positioning, gaining a better understanding of customers, predicting future trends and moving business forward with reduced budgets.

Here are ways you can use social media to fuel your data-driven marketing strategy, with expert recommendations from Sprout leaders and other brands.

A clearer view of your audience

To build comprehensive buyer personas, you need to understand your audiences’ pain points and challenges. Your target audience is talking about your brand (or at least your industry) on social right now.  By tapping into social media listening tools, you can understand what rising trends they care about, products they love, why a competitor is performing well or poorly, why a campaign is resonating and how an audience is responding to a conference or event.

Listening also tracks touchpoints on your customers’ digital customer journey, so you can better understand how consumers interact with you online. For example, many social teams underestimate how much of the social chatter surrounding their brand is pre-purchase (acquisition) and post-purchase (retention).

One company guessed their acquisition and retention conversations made up 0-5% of their social buzz. However, when their agency started using tags to categorize their social activity, they found acquisition alone made up at least 5%—but sometimes 70% in one month. By investigating this data, your team can develop creative ways to remove roadblocks and incentivize purchases, and align social with your sales funnel.

More targeted, relevant content

Trend cycles have never moved faster, making it difficult to tell what will resonate with audiences and what will flop. For example, Team Sprout uses our AI-powered Listening solution to vet topics before we develop content—both for one-off posts and long-term campaigns.

According to Johnston, “Social listening data helps us validate whether trends we’re seeing on our feeds and from customers are resonating with a wider audience, and uncover additional conversation themes and subtopics to dig into. This means we can create more relevant, high-performing content. It helps us respond promptly to trends.”

A screenshot of the Sprout Social Listening solution. In the image, a listening topic is broken down by engagements (comments, shares and likes) and change over time.

Social insights also help us create more compelling evergreen content. From our social profiles to our blog, we enrich our content with Listening data that supports our thought leadership, empowers our sales team and helps us relate to our audience more effectively.

To pressure test our insights, we use the Post Performance Report to analyze content down to the individual post level. The report provides a unified view of post performance across networks, so we can see which messages performed the best and on which platforms. This analysis reinforces us to test our strategy and pivot effectively if needed. Listening and analytics data work in tandem to help us iterate on our content.

Screenshot of Sprout's Analytics for Cross-Channel Post Performance Report, showing performance of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts.

Better competitive intelligence

Listening also makes it easy for Sprout to access all conversations about/around our brand and the social media industry as a whole. We use listening data to answer questions like:

  • How does our brand image compare to our competitors?
  • What are our competitors’ sentiment trends?
  • How much social volume does our PR efforts and thought leadership content generate? What about our competitors?

Our Competitive Analysis Topic Tempate aggregates and presents this data so we can see how our engagements, sentiment and overall volume compare. With that intel, we orient our strategy to fill industry white space and find our unique footing in the market.

Sprout Social Listening Dashboard showing a circular graph that plots out a brand's share of voice versus several competitors.

Proactive crisis management

A single negative customer experience can turn into a full-blown crisis if not addressed appropriately. Social listening data enables our social team to keep a constant pulse on our brand health and sentiment. We track data trends related to our share of voice, conversation volume and positive sentiment ratio. This allows us to swiftly respond to customer care inquiries and manage would-be crises with grace.

A screenshot of the sentiment summary in Sprout's Social Listening solution. In the middle of the report is a chart that shows how much positive and negative sentiment there is for the brand. On the right side of the report are messages and their assigned sentiment type. This empowers you to explore what messages and customer feedback is impacting your brand's sentiment.

Refined product development

At Sprout, we’re always making updates to our platform based on customer feedback. For example, we expedited the launch of Dark Mode after the social team noticed a lot of social conversations and inbound questions about it in our comments and messages. They were able to use Listening and qualitative data to inform the need for the new product feature.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CkG9xxlJDkM/

Remember: When people talk about your brand, your product or their pain points, they usually don’t tag you. Listening helps us stay vigilant and tuned into all the conversations that can help us improve our offerings.

More efficient spending

By taking a data-driven approach to social media strategy development, brands are able to invest where it counts—both in their organic and paid initiatives. As many marketing leaders are expected to do more with less budget, the pressure is on to deliver results.

With social media data, you can demonstrate how key metrics like brand awareness, engagements and traffic correlated with an increase in sales. For example, when Figo Pet Insurance began investing in their social video strategy, they used real-time data to refine their approach and determine which videos to amplify with paid budget. Their efforts resulted in audience growth, multiple viral videos and revenue-driving ads.

The challenges of data-driven marketing

Many brands don’t have a clear roadmap to developing a data-driven approach to social media—or marketing in general. If your team is still struggling to translate metrics to meaningful decisions and strategic plans, here are some of the things that could be holding you back.

Collecting data

Marketing data collection has a reputation for not providing CEOs and other leaders with enough concrete information that matters to overall business goals (like revenue and customer acquisition). With Google finally phasing out of cookies and third-party data, marketing teams are under even greater pressure to find new ways of capturing critical insights. Manually collecting this data is time-consuming, tedious and ineffective, restricting teams’ ability to measure their impact.

Fragmented tech stacks

When data is siloed across multiple systems, this leads to data quality and integrity issues. Having team members switch between many different platforms for functions like social media management, customer care, content performance and sales data is not only inefficient, it also disrupts the customer journey and makes it difficult to have a cross-channel view of your audience.

Analysis

If the tools you use for data collection and analysis are cumbersome or complex, you might become over-reliant on an analytics team or person to pull relevant intel. When data isn’t accessible across teams, the result is opportunity cost. What creative work could your teams do if they had more time back? How could teams across the company use that data to iterate on customer outreach, product development, customer care and more?

5 tips to develop a more data-driven marketing organization

Here are five actionable ways you can overcome those challenges and build a data-driven marketing organization that fully harnesses the potential of social insights.

Identify and clarify the data you want to track

The first step toward creating a data-driven culture is to define which metrics matter to you, your department and the rest of the organization. While these metrics will vary company to company, revisit your business’ goals, learn to speak the language of your CFO, and find the balance between brand and performance marketing to effectively outline them. Share the metrics you’re measuring with your team and across leadership.

Invest in team development

Once you know which metrics matter most, invest in training and resources to ensure everyone across your team is data literate, understands how to do basic analysis and prioritizes data collection with the highest impact. According to The State of the Social Media Industry report, 93% of brands say that social data is expected to become a major source of business intelligence for their company in the next three years. All teams—but especially social teams—need to be ready to analyze and contextualize data to extract meaningful insights. 

Look for opportunities to centralize data in your tech stack

Nix point solutions in favor of platforms that integrate with your most critical systems, like your CRM, BI tools, marketing automation platforms and social media management solution. Find ways you can consolidate data, making it easier to measure key performance results and improve the customer experience.

For example, with Sprout’s Tableau integration, you can visualize data from multiple marketing channels in one place, giving you a more complete view of your customers and how they interact with your brand across the buyer’s journey.

A screenshot of a Tableau dashboard with data from Sprout Social incorporated.

Automate analysis wherever you can

To overcome the time-consuming nature of data analysis, automate wherever you can. Use AI to surface social data across your entire organization faster and make it easier for your teams to identify trends or potential crises before they crest. This is a chance to wipe the slate clean and radically rewire data collection processes or tasks that aren’t serving your employees.

Queries by AI Assist uses Sprout Social’s integration with OpenAI to generate keyword suggestions for Listening queries, expediting your social listening efforts. This helps your team fine tune Listening results, and deliver more insightful outputs—while making time for more creative work.

A gif of a user using Queries by AI Assist in the Sprout Social platform. The user is choosing pre-selected topics generated by AI Assist to build their Query.

Establish reporting rituals

Create a regular cadence and format for sharing data across marketing, with other departments and with leadership. Data is only valuable when it’s consumed.

By using a social media management platform like Sprout, your team can view and share presentation-ready reports in our analytics suite. Reports like the Paid vs. Organic report visualize performance on individual platforms and reveal ways to improve future strategy and tactics.

The Paid vs. Organic Performance report in the Sprout Social platform. In the report, a line graph compares paid and organic, and change in performance over the course of a month.

Use social media insights to become a data-driven marketing leader

When you have a data-driven strategy, you’ll never have to ask your team to “show you the data” again. Data-driven marketing is the key to future-proofing your business and helping it grow.

Social media data is the missing link to understanding your audience and competitors, refining your content strategy and product development, and making better investments. But first you need powerful tools to capture it.

The right social media management platform drives revenue, boosts team efficiency and enables a data-driven focus that helps you outperform the competition. Use our social media management buyer’s guide to choose the right platform for maximum impact.