You are no stranger to long to-do lists. Especially as you embark on refining your goals and processes for the year ahead, it might seem like every meeting ends in a multitude of action items. But in 2024, it’s imperative to focus on the most critical marketing priorities to grow your business in the new year and beyond.

The fast-paced nature of digital marketing, especially social media, complicates zeroing in on marketing priorities. Emerging technologies are evolving quickly, customer expectations are steadily increasing and the pressure to prove the ROI of your efforts is intensifying. Plus, leaders are being asked to do more with less budget.

To help you identify your most strategic focus areas, we’ve curated a list of the six most pressing marketing priorities you should have on your radar in 2024.

A list of critical marketing priorities for leaders in 2024. The list includes: Embed AI into team rituals and processes, perfect the marketing and customer service handoff, balance brand and performance marketing, get your business intelligence house in order, elevate influencer marketing efforts for stronger ROI and realign team structures for maximum business impact.

Embed AI into team rituals and processes

In 2023, democratized access to AI models forever changed social media marketing. More than 80% of marketers say AI already has a positive impact on their work. Despite high usage rates, a lot of ambiguity surrounds AI. As The 2023 State of Social Media Report highlights, 98% of leaders acknowledge they need to better understand the long-term potential of AI. Another 37% of executives say they have limited organizational experience working with AI, making it clear that the current skill sets of most workplaces aren’t adequately prepared for a large-scale, AI-powered corporate future.

2024 will usher in a new chapter, where AI-powered data analysis, copywriting, graphic design, social media management and customer care tools become the new standard. Businesses that make the shift to AI-driven processes will have a clear competitive advantage, so leaders can no longer afford to wait and see. It’s your responsibility to prepare your team for the future and invest in AI processes that count.

A list that compares AI's current impact in 2023 and expected growth in 2024. Analyzing social media data will continue to be the primary use case for AI, but new functions like content creation and social media advertising and campaign targeting will become more prominent.

What does an AI-powered way of working look like? According to Aaron Rankin, CTO of Sprout Social, “AI will serve as an exoskeleton, a layer that enhances your existing strengths, or be a virtual assistant who shields you from tedious tasks—preserving your time and energy to focus on truly creative work. As AI tools evolve and become more intuitive, business leaders need to identify how their workforce and existing systems need to adapt for AI to be successfully onboarded.”

Yet, AI still isn’t something you ​​should rush into. It has critical flaws, like perpetuating biases and hallucinating information. You need human intervention in your processes, both internally and externally, to reap the benefits of AI and protect your brand. If you don’t already have an AI use policy in place, now is the time to implement one.

Considerations: Start by giving your team space to experiment and find ways to use AI to complement their work. Observe the results, and ask what your executive and senior leadership teams are doing to champion the widespread use of AI technology. Then, invest in the most durable, impactful tools that empower your team to create more space for creativity and set your company up for the long haul.

Read more about how CMOs are leading their teams into the AI frontier.

Perfect the marketing and customer service handoff to strengthen social customer care

It used to be that whoever owned the keys to a brand’s social channels was responsible for effectively addressing customer inquiries, concerns and feedback. Social media managers would attempt to juggle their own marketing priorities while also serving as the liaison between consumers and service teams. This left social teams overtaxed, and resulted in a lackluster experience across the customer journey. As social evolves, social customer care has to move from an ancillary duty to a business-wide priority.

A data visualization with the headline: Who will own social customer care in 2024? The most popular response was from 36% of marketers who said that marketing and customer service will share this responsibility.

According to the Index, only a quarter of businesses say social customer care will be exclusively owned by marketing in the future. Marketing and service teams working in harmony is the future of customer care. Service agents shouldn’t have to wait for social marketers to triage messages in order to resolve customer complaints. Likewise, social marketers should focus more effort on activities that best harness their expertise instead of chasing down answers that could be easily addressed by the service team. But for shared ownership to be productive rather than chaotic, everyone who touches social customer care needs to be on the same playing field. And that takes thoughtful coordination.

As Ryan Barretto, President of Sprout Social, put it, “Expecting one team, or one person, to manage every online consumer interaction sets your brand up for failure and ignores how customers actually want to engage. But coordinating stakeholders across multiple departments to align on one cohesive customer care strategy presents its own set of challenges. The more players you have contributing to social customer care, the more essential it becomes to have a sophisticated playbook that keeps everyone in sync.”

To meet (and exceed) increasing customer expectations for high quality and efficient service, 96% of leaders plan to integrate social data into their CRM system in the next three years, according to the Index.

Considerations: To scale customer care efforts, you need the right tools and workflows in place. Everyone needs to be able to access and act on the right information without relying on others. It’s the path toward increased efficiency, stronger risk management and top-line growth. Ask yourself: Does social customer care have clear ownership within your organization today? Do your tools and processes support a steady flow of communication and data between teams?

Balance brand and performance marketing

Today’s uncertain economic climate is leading some brands to pull back on their brand marketing investments. But a laser focus on performance marketing can hurt your business long-term and impair future growth. According to The State of Social Media Report, 66% of business leaders say increasing brand reputation and loyalty is a top priority. Another 56% of executives say telling a compelling brand story and weaving together a cohesive identity gives their brand a competitive advantage.

A data visualization that list the top business priorities in the current economic environment. 66% of leaders said building brand and reputation loyalty, 65% said improving competitive positioning, 63% gaining a better understanding of customers, 49% said predicting future trends and 46% said moving business forward with reduced budgets.

Failing to make equal investments in brand and performance marketing can tip the scales against you, making customer interactions seem one-sided and strictly transactional. Consumers are savvier than ever—they can tell when brands only see them as dollar signs and aren’t afraid to switch their loyalties.

Faced with higher customer expectations, dwindling customer loyalty and stiffer competition, executives need to place as much emphasis on investing in brand marketing as they do with its performance-based counterpart. In financial terms, the brands that demonstrate they truly get their audience and create value in consumers’ lives are nearly five times more likely to outperform the brands that don’t on customer lifetime value.

Considerations: Rethink how brand marketing efforts—like awareness and loyalty—are quantified, or risk those efforts being panned and abandoned. Nurture your relationship with your CFO and senior leadership team, and learn to discuss social media marketing priorities in their language so you can contextualize your brand-building efforts. How do your brand marketing efforts contribute to revenue and the bottom line?

Get your business intelligence house in order

Google is moving forward with plans to deprecate third-party cookies, significantly restricting the kind of user-behavior data marketers have access to to inform their ad campaigns. That’s not to suggest that limited user data will spell the death of performance marketing. But it’s safe to say these tactics won’t generate the same type of measurable returns as they once did, and there will be gaps in marketers’ customer knowledge.

This puts even more pressure on brands to invest in processes and tools that collect and centralize accurate first-party data from all digital and non-digital touchpoints. By following data collection best practices—like refining targeting and attribution, and keeping your data current, you can turn raw data into actionable marketing business intelligence (BI).

Considerations: Marketing BI exists across the customer lifecycle—from the first time someone comments on a post to the last time they make a purchase—underscoring the importance of streamlined data storage. When selecting tools and creating new processes for collecting marketing BI, first ask yourself: What is my end goal? Then, evaluate tools for user-friendliness, ease of integration with your existing tech stack and ability to contextualize BI insights from different sources in one place.

Elevate influencer marketing efforts for stronger ROI

According to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, social marketers rate influencer marketing as having a significant impact on their efforts, including brand awareness, brand reputation and customer loyalty. Another 81% of social marketers describe influencer marketing as an essential part of their social media strategy, with 79% describing it as essential to their customers’ experiences.

A data visualization with the headline: Social marketers rate influencer marketing as having a significant impact on their brand’s marketing efforts. Respondents indicated brand awareness (89%), brand reputation (87%) and customer loyalty (87%) were the ways influencer marketing impacted their efforts the most.

Despite this, only 34% of marketers have a dedicated budget for influencer marketing, and nearly half of social marketers say measuring the effectiveness of campaigns is one of their top influencer marketing challenges that prevents them from maximizing their efforts.

Peter Kennedy, Founder and General Manager, Influencer Marketing for Tagger by Sprout Social, explained why influencer marketing ROI can be a challenge to quantify. In our recent LinkedIn influencer marketing roundtable, Kennedy said, “When you start to use influencer content across the entire journey, sales are definitely part of [your results]. But what’s the ROI of the awareness and consideration you’re building?”

Calculating influencer marketing ROI is a critical proxy for gauging effectiveness, not to mention a jumping off point for future budget asks. But it’s important to remember influencer marketing drives returns across the customer journey. Two-thirds of social marketers use social media engagements (e.g., likes, shares and comments) to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. Social engagement data as well as conversion rates (e.g., sales, sign-ups and downloads) are the two most important metrics to secure internal buy-in for influencer marketing.

Considerations: Kennedy went on to emphasize that influencer content often fuels higher engagement than branded content. But in order to achieve success, it’s essential to identify the right influencers, and align your influencer marketing efforts with appropriate business goals. Just because someone has millions of followers, doesn’t mean they will effectively reach your audience.

Realign team structures for maximum business impact

Sharing social data beyond the marketing department is crucial, and bringing multiple teams into social execution—like customer support, community, sales, account management, product, etc.—will strengthen the customer experience.

Yet, according to the Index, nearly half (43%) of social teams still feel siloed from other departments. That sentiment is felt even more strongly in larger organizations, with 48% of mid-market and 44% of enterprise social teams saying they feel siloed.

A data visualization that reads: 43% of social teams feel siloed from other departments.

Brands that continue to silo social in one department will find themselves struggling to capitalize on social’s ability to transform their entire business. Consolidating your tech stack and rethinking conventional team structures are necessary first steps for improving access to social data, and empowering non-marketing teams to take immediate action on social media intelligence.

Considerations: Does your current tech stack make social data inaccessible and collaboration between teams clunky? Break down barriers by investigating where there’s room for consolidation and integration. Is your team using a platform-specific team structure that inadvertently creates silos? Instead, try aligning your social experts with internal functions (like engagement) to ensure they stay agile and social intelligence is disseminated across the organization.

Focus your marketing priorities where it matters most

As a marketing leader, your teams’ resources are pulled in many directions, and it’s challenging to sift through tactical items and decide which ones you should prioritize. Plus, consumer expectations are more nuanced, emerging tech is more powerful, and it’s difficult to even forecast what new trends and market forces you’ll need to address six months from now. With these six marketing priorities as your north star, you can plan for a future of stronger collaboration, business growth and greater impact.

Use the data from our latest Index report to rise to today’s challenges, rally your team around the opportunities within your business and pave the way for a bright future for your brand.