Last year, the team and I launched our first people’s-choice awards program, the Sprout Spotlight Awards to recognize the teams, creators, community managers and strategists behind some of the best brands on social. We set out to celebrate the people behind brand handles through five award categories:

  • Always On: Celebrated those who knew when to unplug.
  • Community Builder: Honored those who had a lasting impact on their audience.
  • Best-in-Class Social: Shined a light on those who went above and beyond to create a memorable social experience.
  • Campaign of the Year: Applauded a campaign that had a lasting impact.
  • Brand of the Year: Recognized a social team that created a social presence both marketers and consumers could feel inspired by.

This program revealed a lot about our community and the state of social marketing as a whole. Here some key learnings that changed my perspective on our strategy, industry and social marketing roles.

Managing burnout remains a challenge and recognition is essential

When the world turned to digital platforms to stay connected in 2020, the expectations of social media professionals rose—I know, I felt it. They managed constant change, adapted quickly and took on more responsibility and ownership over their brands’ presence. With high expectations, pressure to be always on and limited understanding of and recognition for their efforts, many social professionals were driven to a point of burnout.

The pressure for social marketers to be always on is nothing new, but the digital transformation over the past year has accelerated that mindset. An evolution from one of our video series, our Always On award recognized 184 nominated social professionals who took in the world around them, empathized with their community and championed the power of social, while also knowing when to step away and unplug.

Though I’ve recently seen more honest conversations in the marketing community, and society at large, to step away and unplug, burnout remains. Industry professionals still crave ways to establish more balance with a job that demands so much. Here are a few resources you can reference if you’re struggling to find balance:

Social professionals work behind the scenes and are too often overlooked when it comes to recognition. Social professionals put so much time and energy into their work, but rarely get anything in return, leading to a seemingly endless cycle of immense burnout. Providing a space that was dedicated to celebrating their work, especially during this time, was essential.

I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of recognition. All it takes is 140 characters to show someone that their work is valued. Take a note from Dan Levy:

Community is more important than ever

This awards program underscored how deeply brand communities care about the people behind their favorite brand handles.

Our Community Builder and Best-in-Class Social awards received the most nominations compared to our other categories. People were excited to shine a light on the individuals who served up their favorite content on a daily basis. Case in point: We saw the entire Schitt’s Creek Stan community rally around Calum, our Best-in-Class Social award winner, for his work on the show, his attention to detail and dedication to listening.

We also saw some of the most community-driven brands nominated for, and win, our Brand of the Year and Campaign of the Year awards including Velveeta, LCMC Health, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, McDonald’s, Peloton and more.

Building and maintaining a loyal community isn’t just a nice to have, it’s essential if you want to stand out and be best-in-class. In fact, the majority of businesses expect the use of social media to grow across all aspects of business, but particularly for brand awareness, customer engagement and customer service.

Brands are using social to inform and drive business decisions

Brands that are truly customer-centric have one thing in common: they listen and act on social feedback.

McDonald’s was one of our Campaign of the Year award finalists for its Bring Back Hi-C campaign. The team listened to their social community’s plea to bring back Orange Hi-C and, based on social data, crafted a pitch for their leadership. McDonald’s community manager teased the pitch to their social community to show them that they’re listening and acting based on audience demand.

TL;DR: Hi-C is back thanks to the relationship between McD’s social team and its community.

McDonald’s not only listened to their feedback, but took it one step further and involved its community in the process from start to finish. Knowing 80% of consumers expect brands and companies that have a social media presence to interact with their customers in meaningful ways, this campaign rose to the top.

Brands can act as platforms for their communities

Launching the Sprout Spotlight Awards confirmed that when your community feels aligned with your message, they will rally behind it. Our community took each award and ran with it. They used the space to uplift one another, share why they admired someone’s work and even nominated themselves for the work they were proud of.

Notably, the conversations happening outside of our owned content accounted for 98% of the Sprout Spotlight program’s social impressions. This shows that when brand and consumer values align, brands don’t have to always join or dominate conversations to make an impact. They can create space, facilitate conversations and bring people together.

What’s next

Looking ahead, recognition remains vital. The conversations from this program revealed the state of our industry, the very real personal and professional challenges social marketers face and what is most important to consumers when interacting with brands on social. Take these insights with you and learn more about what’s next in our latest report: The State of Social Media: After a Year of Transformation, Executives Are All-In on Social.