Social media has become an everyday staple in consumers’ lives, with 71% using social more in 2021 than ever before. The events of the past two years were a major influence on the upsurge. With social distancing and increasing remote work, consumers relied heavily on social channels to converse, engage and transact.

At Sprout, we talk a lot about how social has the power to transform businesses large and small. But this opportunity stems from the tectonic impact social media has had on consumer behavior. In this article, we’ll walk through the top four ways social media is currently influencing consumer behavior, and what each means for your brand’s social strategy.

1. Consumers now buy directly from social media networks

Social media is nearly as common as TV or radio ads and word-of-mouth for learning about brands. One in three consumers says it would be their preferred way to learn about brands going forward. But increasingly, social is where consumers go to both discover and buy from brands.

Social commerce sales will more than double in the US from almost $28 billion in 2020 to over $56 billion in 2023. According to our own research, 65% of consumers have already made purchases directly through social media.

Screenshot of Brooks Running's Facebook Shop

Why is social commerce so popular? One reason is that it meets consumers where they already are. For many, checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram daily has become as routine as brushing their teeth. Now networks are experimenting with and formalizing commerce capabilities to bring convenience to consumers and present brands with new revenue streams.

How you can use this insight

Social commerce makes it infinitely easier for brands to deliver the seamless purchase experience buyers want in one place. For example, if you’re a retail business and a holiday is coming up, you can create a shoppable Facebook ad for a new product line. You can turn a casual scroller into a new customer in a couple of clicks.

If you’re not already, look into what social commerce functionality is available on the channels your audience spends the most time on. From Instagram Shopping to YouTube livestream shopping, there is a growing number of ways to connect with ready-to-buy consumers.

If you’re a Sprout user, take advantage of our integrations with Shopify and Facebook Shops. By connecting your product catalogs with Sprout, you can quickly add product links in your outbound posts and customer replies.

2. Consumers are heavily influenced by social media reviews

Social media is a living document for social proof—which is increasingly a make-or-break factor for buying decisions. More than half (51%) of consumers read reviews on forums or social media to evaluate a product or service before purchasing. All it takes is one or two dissatisfied reviewers to drive away a potential customer.

Even the most dazzling, high-budget television ad can’t deliver what social media offers for free: authenticity. Consumers take to channels like Twitter and review sites like Yelp to praise, champion and criticize different products and businesses. Buyers are more likely to trust this unfiltered peer feedback from people who have already tried a product or engaged with a brand.

Google Business reviews of Spilt Milk bakery in Oak Park, IL

From a brand perspective, reviews are key for audience growth and reputation management. One-third of consumers discover new accounts to follow through digital word-of-mouth. Consumers are equally as likely to share positive customer feedback as they are negative experiences on social media. Every review post, comment and @mention is either an opportunity to reflect on ways your business can improve—or a glowing testimonial worth sharing more broadly with your audience.

How you can use this insight

It’s hard to distill review data from disparate sources into a quantifiable metric. With a social listening tool like Sprout’s, you can easily analyze the sentiment of messages that mention your brand so that you can dig into positive and negative feedback. Sprout’s review management capabilities also ensure you never miss a message (or a chance to engage) by centralizing reviews from Facebook, Glassdoor, Google My Business, TripAdvisor and Yelp all in one place.

3. Consumers expect two-way engagement with brands

Social media has added another dimension to the company-customer relationship. A brand is no longer a remote, faceless entity that we only learn about in publications or Google searches. Looking at a brand’s network helps you gauge their values, relevant news and offerings, and how they relate to their audience.

Social lets consumers engage and interact with businesses in a multitude of ways, from liking posts and following their accounts to sharing brand-related content, shouting out brand love or asking product questions.

Today, it’s not enough to simply have a social presence and sell a product or service. Eight in ten consumers expect brands that have a social media presence to interact with their customers in meaningful ways. Social media humanizes brands and helps them showcase their unique attributes and brand personalities.

Don’t be shy to share and respond to different posts from your audience, jump on relevant trends, ask questions or run polls and Q&As.

As mentioned earlier, brand authenticity will be what drives a customer to choose you over a competitor—and stick with you. This means upholding your organization’s claimed values, listening to your audience, discussing what matters to them, and delivering on the promises you make.

How you can use this insight

Engagement happens at all times, in multiple formats, channels and tones. With a tool like Sprout’s Smart Inbox, you can set up rules to automatically tag and categorize inbound messages so that you never miss an opportunity to engage.

Analyze trends and patterns across these conversations to gain a deeper understanding of your customers. What’s delighting them, and what’s frustrating them? What are they praising, and what are they criticizing? What are they sharing about your brand (or competitors) with their own audiences?

Elicit and listen to feedback and share it with your organization. Channel this feedback to your colleagues across the business (from sales and marketing to product and operations) to deliver more tailored customer experiences in the future.

4. Consumers turn to social media for customer service

Before social media, how would you expect to interact with a brand’s customer service department? Call them, e-mail them, visit in person and wait in a long line to talk to them, etc. Now, social is consumers’ preferred choice for sharing feedback or reaching out with a customer support issue or question.

The days of long telephone hold times punctuated by bad elevator music are dwindling. Consumers with a product question or order issue are much more inclined to reach out via a brand’s Facebook page, Twitter mention or Instagram DM. But social moves fast, which means customers expect faster answers. When reaching out to a brand on social, 76% expect a response within 24 hours.

Regardless of whether it’s a busy season, customer service teams may already be spread thin or lack resources. This results in missed messages, slower response times, and suboptimal replies. One way to prevent frustration, reduce delays, and improve communication is to evolve beyond traditional customer service to a social customer care approach.

Social customer care starts even before a customer reaches out to you. It means getting a clear understanding of what your customer wants from you, reducing room for error and building long-term relationships with your audience.

How you can use this insight

How can you create and maintain a social customer care strategy? Start by making it easy for customers to find you. Include relevant contact info on your organization’s Twitter profile or Instagram bio. Make sure you’re monitoring Facebook Messenger (or recruiting a chatbot’s help) if that’s the communication channel your customers flock to most.

Another critical step is proactive message management. If a customer feels like they’re being ignored, they’ll easily move on to a more attentive competitor. Do you have ways to centralize inbound support messages across different social networks? Can your social customer care agents easily access important customer information (from a helpdesk or CRM tool)? Do you have an efficient process for approving replies to customer questions on social?

If you answered “no” to any of these, don’t be afraid to turn to tools like Sprout to help your team work smarter and build stronger customer relationships.

Social media and consumer behavior: An ongoing transformation

Social media leveled the playing field between buyers and brands. Consumers can learn about and engage with brands much more quickly and easily, and vice versa. Brands can listen to what matters to their audience at the most individual level and help solve problems faster.

Thanks to social, consumers expect much more from the businesses they support. With the right tools, organizations of any size can rise to the challenge.

Looking to level up your social media engagement and customer care strategies? Test-drive Sprout Social with a free, 30-day trial.