The days of social as an optional marketing channel are over. Now that social has its rightful place at the table, it is vital to understand where in the funnel social efforts should be targeted.
As marketers, we hear about ROI every single day—and social marketers remain anxious about it. To truly understand what ROI means in the social marketing industry, and how social marketers are aligning with consumer preferences, we asked more than 2,000 social marketers how they approach structure, goals, and content. We asked about their priorities and what they need to do their best work. Then we cross-referenced their efforts against what consumers actually want.
We found that social is still very much a personal platform. People spend time on social, first and foremost, to interact with family and friends. As brands put together campaigns and messaging, they must remember that they are guests at dinner, not members of the nuclear family: their role in user feeds is delicate, valuable, and should be treated with great care.
So how can brands disrupt the user experience in the least intrusive and most relevant way? Our data shows the answer: with awareness and consideration stage content. Think long-term, not quick fix. Think relationships, not attribution.
Our latest and most comprehensive Sprout Social Index shows how marketers should realign and redefine their social strategies, and how serving audiences contributes to the bottom line.
- Consumers want brand awareness and consideration stage content from brands on social. But 80% of social marketers are hyper-focused on awareness activities, leaving out the consideration piece of the puzzle.
- The social marketer’s #1 challenge is still ROI. Return on investment is the top concern for 55% of social marketers. This makes sense for two reasons: they aren’t meeting the full needs of their social audience with both brand awareness and consideration content; and they’re defining ROI wrong to begin with.
- Where there is alignment: customer service. On the front lines with customers and prospects everyday, an overwhelming majority (88%) of social marketers understand the importance of customer service on social; nearly half (45%) of consumer respondents have reached out to a company on social.
- Employee advocacy is the new influencer marketing. Social marketers in 2018 see the value in employee advocacy as a cost-effective, scalable alternative to influencer marketing. Seventy-one percent of social marketers use employees as influencers or advocates today, or want to in the future, while only 19% of marketers surveyed had the budget for an influencer program. This shift reflects consumer tastes: 61% of consumers said they would be more likely to research a product or service recommended on social by a friend vs. 36% for influencers/celebrities.
- Social marketing departments are under-resourced. More than half of social marketers don’t have access to all the software they need, and 65% of social marketers indicate needing a dedicated resource for content development.
- Facebook remains a dominant force in marketing strategies and consumer behavior. A whopping 97% of social marketers list Facebook as their most used and useful social network, and Instagram blows Snapchat out of the water by social marketer usership and consumer adoption. In fact, 83% of marketers use Instagram and 13% use Snapchat; 51% of consumers use Instagram and 30% use Snapchat.
Social marketers have been racking their brains and utilizing a lot of resources to tie social directly to sales—what they think or have been told social ROI should be. However, after surveying more than 3,000 marketers and consumers, it is clear that the “return” in ROI needs to be redefined.
Before we can redefine ROI, we need to understand how big a challenge ROI is for social marketers today. More than half of social marketers (55%) say that measuring ROI is a top challenge for them.
Traditionally ROI for social has been focused on direct attribution to sales–how is your Facebook campaign driving people to the checkout line? However, that model doesn’t actually reflect where social marketers are focused. Eighty percent of social marketers say increasing brand awareness is their primary goal on social, and another 80% say their key strategy is increasing engagement across their social channels.
In fact, only 14% of marketers say they are able to quantify the revenue from social. Looking at social primarily through the sales lens breeds an overly microscopic perspective.
That’s not because social marketers aren’t sophisticated enough to focus on conversions. It’s because social’s true value isn’t in direct attribution—it’s in the awareness and consideration stages of the funnel. It’s in expanding the net of people who know about your brand and offerings, and then nudging them down the funnel with quality content and customer service, topics we’ll cover later in the Index.
But true ROI isn’t based on marketers’ goals and best practices; it is defined by what consumers want and what they take action on. When asked what they want from brands on social, consumers say they prefer content that aids in awareness and consideration, not the end sale.
Consumers’ top preference for social content falls into the consideration category, with 30% of consumers surveyed wanting links to more information from brands on social, and most preferring discounts and sales and educational posts (more on that later). This validates social media as a strong distribution channel for web content: the consideration phase, when your audience wants to learn more about your brand and/or topic area.
Second comes awareness level content, with nearly one in five respondents preferring graphics and images, and 17% preferring produced videos. This is where entertaining posts, inspiring posts, and posts that tell a story are more useful. Again, more on that later.
Expanded awareness is ROI. Increased consideration is ROI. To build strong, long-term relationships on social that go beyond click-and-buy, you must expose people to your brand in a visually satisfying way, link them to more information, and make authentic engagement a primary focus. This is the content which consumers, who use social primarily to interact with friends and family, are most interested in from brands.
Make sure that your performance metrics ladder up, too. Track progress towards increased awareness with KPIs like impressions, reach, engagement, audience growth, and video views; track progress towards increased consideration with metrics like engagement, link clicks, and, again, video views.
For as much as marketers are thinking and worrying about ROI, they certainly aren’t having those conversations with their leadership; 60% of social marketers aren’t having frequent conversations about ROI with their bosses.
This is a major missed opportunity to get aligned with leadership on what ROI is and how social affects the entire business. It prevents social marketers from having the conversations they need to shift organization perception of social ROI, so that all members recognize the insane value social brings to driving authentic awareness and sustainable consideration.
Now that we’ve reviewed general trends and perspectives, let’s review individual social network trends, from both the marketer and consumer viewpoint. Every business has its own challenges and opportunities on social, and every social network is a unique and ever-evolving ecosystem. Here’s what you need to know about how marketers and consumers approach the major social networks today.
Facebook plays a vital role for social marketers, and is the most used channel by consumers. Seventy percent of social marketers find Facebook ads the most useful for achieving their goals, probably due to the network’s enormous audience, robust Business Manager, and targeting features. Facebook is the top channel for social ad spend.
Additionally, social marketers spend the most time strategizing and executing on Facebook. Eighty-three percent of social marketers buy ads on Facebook. This matches up with consumer data we gathered: 94% of consumers surveyed use Facebook.
Also of note is that Instagram blows Snapchat out of the water by social marketer usership and consumer adoption. Eighty-three percent of marketers use Instagram vs. 13% use Snapchat.
Facebook key findings
- The top reasons people use Facebook are to engage with friends and family, share information with family and friends, and find entertainment
- 79% of consumers have used Facebook Messenger
- 71% of consumers like or follow company pages on Facebook
- 64% of consumers have used Facebook Groups
- 47% of consumers surveyed used Facebook Live
- 40% watch the most video on Facebook
- 39% have sent a message to a brand on Facebook
- 32% of consumers have viewed or engaged with brand content
Instagram key findings
- Engaging with friends and family, entertainment, and inspiration are the top reasons people use Instagram
- 51% of consumers used Instagram regularly, and more than half of those people (30%) like or follow a brand.
- 42% of consumers have used Instagram Stories
- 29% of consumers have “followed a hashtag” on Instagram
- 26% of consumers have used Instagram Live
Twitter key findings
- Twitter users turn to the network for entertainment, news, and engaging with friends and family, differentiating it from Facebook and Instagram.
- 43% of consumers use Twitter regularly, and more than half (27%) of those follow brands
- 22% of consumers have used Twitter Moments
- 19% of consumers have sent a message to a brand on Twitter
- 13% have engaged with brand content within Twitter Moments
The first stage of the social marketer’s evolutionary journey, proving that it’s a valid marketing channel, has ended. In 2018, social media is a key channel for marketing organizations. But the next stage of evolution has just begun. In this stage, marketers must redefine success and realign with what consumers want to fulfill their mission on social. With this data and analysis, we hope you’re equipped and inspired to make decisions and real change in your own organization.