Despite the world largely returning to normal since the height of the pandemic, social media usage has continued to climb. In fact, 53% of consumers report higher social media usage over the last two years than the previous two. As consumer habits around social media change, what consumers expect from brands using the medium has changed as well, according to a new report from Sprout Social.
Most consumers (68%) report primarily using social media to stay informed about new products and services, pointing to the channel’s potential upside for brands. The second biggest reason is a desire to access exclusive promotions or deals.
“This demonstrates why it’s more important than ever for social media teams to be in lockstep with product, sales, and customer service teams,” said Jamie Gilpin, CMO at Sprout Social in an email to Marketing Dive.
“The Sprout Social Index Edition XIX: Breakthrough” looked at data collected online from 1,817 consumers located in the U.S. and the U.K. Each consumer followed at least five brands on social media. Additionally, 903 full-time social marketers from businesses in the same regions were also interviewed. Data on both populations was collected from June 12, 2023 to June 23, 2023.
With consumers spending more time online than ever, marketers have new opportunities to engage with their core demographics. However, marketers shouldn’t assume the consumers of today want the same things as their pre-pandemic counterparts. New engagement means new relationship dynamics for marketers to navigate.
Social media has put consumers in direct contact with brands and consumers want to feel connected. While many marketers may think that brands achieve this connection through speaking out on issues consumers find important, this isn’t necessarily the case, according to the report. In fact, only 25% of consumers think brands need to speak out on issues which align to their values to be memorable.
The best way for a brand to have an impact on social media is to simply respond to their customers, according to the report. Fifty-one percent of consumers see this as the best way to be memorable, far ahead of the second place option, which is the creation of original content instead of simply following trends.
“While this doesn’t take away from the importance of taking authentic stances on important issues, this does show just how important it is for brands to leverage social media’s unique ability to connect with consumers at an individual level,” said Gilpin.
The need to make a connection is supported by the fact that 70% of respondents expect a company to provide personalized responses to a customer service need. Seventy-six percent of consumers value how quickly a brand can respond to concerns, with the same amount reporting they notice and appreciate when companies make customer service a priority.
When it comes to response time, 30% — the largest proportion — expect a response the same day, down from the 42% who expected the same thing last year. Sixteen percent of consumers expect a response within minutes, up from 13% the year before, according to the report.
Rise of the machines
If marketers wish to keep up with consumer demands, artificial intelligence (AI) may prove to be the key. Already, 81% of marketers indicate AI has had a positive impact on their work, according to the report. AI’s impact is expected to be even greater in 2024, especially in the areas of content creation and data analysis. Seventy-eight percent of respondents say AI has allowed for more time spent on creativity and 73% report increased efficiency.
Over half of marketers (54%) report planning to use AI for customer self-service tools, such as chatbots. Fifty percent plan to use AI to streamline social media workflow, while 47% plan on using automation for basic customer service inquiries and tasks. An additional 35% plan on using it for training purposes.
“Marketers are leveraging artificial intelligence to meet consumers’ demands for personalized connection and deliver better customer experiences at scale,” said Gilpin. “Marketers are also seeing the positive impacts of AI taking on time-consuming work like data analysis, giving them more time to meet the demand for authenticity and have those personalized conversations that consumers crave.”
However, the public has remained skeptical of AI, with 42% of consumers indicating they are slightly or very apprehensive about the technology. Only 24% report being slightly or very excited about AI, while 34% remain neutral. This suggests that while AI may be a powerful tool in helping marketers meet consumer demand, the public feelings around AI could hinder its progress. Finding a balance between leveraging the technology and consumer trust will be key.
“For marketers, living up to those standards means embracing new processes and technology as essential components of a modern social media strategy,” said Gilpin. “It means we as marketers have to see social differently. It will be challenging, but the unknowns ahead for social also are great opportunities for novel thinking.”