New Research Shows Social Media Has Created a More Competitive Landscape for Brands, but Is Simultaneously Key for Staying Ahead in Their Industry

Sprout Social’s 2021 Index finds that 93% of marketers say social media has accelerated competition in their industry

The opportunity of social media has never been greater than it is today, and as a result, social marketers see social media as both the catalyst for competition and the key for differentiation. According to the 2021 Sprout Social Index: Accelerate, 90% of marketers say social data is what enables them to stay one step ahead of their competitors. The newly-released data showcases that social media is now an essential way for marketers to understand their audiences’ needs, distinguish their brand and grow their business. In fact, 86% of marketers say they use competitor insights from social to identify new business opportunities. Despite this, the survey shows that marketers are missing an opportunity to leverage social data and share key insights with the rest of their organization.

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Sprout Social, an industry-leading provider of social media management and analytics software, surveyed 1,000 social marketers in the U.S. about their social goals, challenges, and opportunities, and cross-referenced their responses with more than 1,000 U.S. consumers to understand how and why they use social media, and what they expect from brands on social.

While marketers understand the business value social can bring, most find it challenging to measure and capitalize on the opportunity. According to the 2021 Sprout Social Index, 88% of marketers agree that their social strategy positively influences their bottom line. Yet, only 15% of marketers use social data to measure ROI, and even fewer (10%) use social data to inform business decisions.

“This year’s Index makes it clear that there is a huge opportunity for marketers to leverage social media and demonstrate how it can positively impact every stage of their customer’s experience and nearly every aspect of their business,” said Jamie Gilpin, CMO at Sprout Social. “From what competitors are planning next to what customers will want and need in the future, social data empowers marketers to accelerate their brands forward and outpace the competition. Once marketers, and their entire organization, learn to embrace social data, they’ll quickly discover their path to rapid growth and innovation.”

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Additional key findings from the 2021 Index include:

  • Consumers increasingly expect great customer service on social, but marketers fail to prioritize it. Social media is the most-preferred channel for consumers to share feedback about a product or service (31%) and raise customer service issues or questions (33%), with nearly half (47%) saying strong customer service is the top trait that makes a brand best-in-class on social. However, marketers rank customer service much lower on their list of priorities—falling behind five other attributes when asked to define what makes an exceptional brand.
  • As social commerce grows, social media continues to play a more significant role in driving bottom line growth. Nine out of 10 consumers will buy from brands they follow on social, 86% will choose that brand over a competitor and 85% will buy from that brand more often.
  • Consumers are using social more and want to connect with brands across a variety of platforms. The majority of consumers (71%) say they use social media more now, compared to a year ago—most frequently using Facebook (87%), YouTube (74%) and Instagram (68%). TikTok has also become one of the top five platforms consumers use to follow brands, but only about one-third of marketers (34%) currently leverage the platform.
  • Investing in visual content will help marketers achieve their social goals. Increasing brand awareness (58%), community engagement (41%), and growing audiences (35%) remain marketers’ top goals for social, with more than half of marketers saying video (54%) and images (53%) are the most valuable types of content for achieving these goals.

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