Recently, Sprout Social, which provides software for managing social media, went public. Their prospectus highlighted a number of trends in social that directly impact businesses. We thought those trends were important, so we share them below verbatim. We have invested in the space ourselves via our portfolio company Soci (www.meetsoci.com), who we view as best in class for enterprise social media management; Soci focuses on the enterprise whereas Sprout is more SMB oriented, but we do believe Sprout’s arguments are on point.
Consumer influence has expanded. Businesses must face the reality that social media is not simply a place to advertise and post marketing content. Social media has evolved to impact aspects of marketing, public relations, sales, customer relationships, customer service, product feedback, business intelligence and strategy. The ubiquity and ease of social media has enabled a new, public form of casual opinion, observation, endorsement or criticism. Social media has given consumers a powerful, public voice that can reward or penalize organizations. Organizations must listen and respond to this voice.
The balance of power has shifted from brands to consumers. For as long as media and commerce have existed, brands have largely been in control of their message. Brands determined how and when to communicate with their audience, giving them significant control over their reputation. With the rapid rise of social media, the balance of power has shifted to the consumer. Nearly half of the world’s population is sharing its opinions and values across social media daily, shaping public perception and influencing purchasing decisions at enormous scale.
Social media is driving trends and purchasing decisions. A significant number of purchasing decisions are originating from, influenced by or transacted through social media. According to Creating Connection, 76% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that they are connected with on social media. Additionally, Lyfe Marketing states that consumers report spending 20% to 40% more on brands that have interacted with them on social media.
Consumer expectations are high. Consumers demand brands be present and responsive across social networks, with more than 80% anticipating a response to a social media message within 24 hours according to Altitude. Author Jay Baer found that 39% of consumers who complain on social media expect a response within one hour and, according to The Sprout Social Index, 23% of consumers have indicated they would boycott a brand after a negative social interaction.
All aspects of business communication are shifting to social. Billions of conversations that were previously taking place via email or over the telephone are now occurring over social media. Customers are turning to social for customer service, sales inquiries, product feedback and virtually all aspects of the customer experience. Business systems that were built around telephone and email communication cannot adequately address this shift, requiring a new system of record, intelligence and action as well as adjustments to existing technologies and business processes.
Unprecedented business intelligence. We believe social media provides the largest source of business intelligence that has ever existed. Real-time consumer opinions, market trends, competitive insights, product performance and market research can be measured and analyzed using social data. Business decisions and strategy can be derived and validated more efficiently with data available at a larger scale than ever before.
There are several challenges facing businesses trying to adapt to this new reality:
Consumers are forcing adoption. Social media is becoming the default communication channel for consumers in coveted demographics. Consumers are expressing their opinions and talking to and about brands through billions of posts per day. Most organizations are not equipped for this new reality and must adjust their business processes and implement tools to manage this new communication channel.
The alternative is irrelevance. A failure to solve the challenges posed by the shift to social communication would mean disconnecting from large and growing demographics. Organizations seeking to engage and connect with their audience without utilizing social tools and strategies are at a severe disadvantage.
The stakes are incredibly high for brands. Social media gives consumers the power to put everything a brand does into the public eye and under a microscope. A misstep on social media is magnified and can lead to boycott or brand erosion overnight. The need for centralized tools with the necessary workflows, security and visibility across an organization has never been more critical. A mistake over email or the telephone is typically isolated to the sender and recipient. A mistake on social is public, permanent and can be catastrophic.
Social touches every aspect of business. While marketers and advertisers were the early adopters of social media, its impact and importance have spread across the entire organization to customer acquisition, support, retention and growth. Like email and the telephone before it, social is not constrained to a particular business purpose. It touches the entire customer experience and impacts virtually every part of a business.
Given the importance of social to enterprises, we actually made an investment in the space we’re quite proud of: Soci, Inc. Soci is especially powerful for franchisors, property managers, and brands to manage their social presence. Soci is a best in class in our view (it’s why we invested), and the points Sprout brings up are true: business that ignore social do so at their own peril.
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