Consumers Expect a Lot More Out of Brands on Social Media Than You Might Think

A Sprout Social survey found that people believe businesses can help unify them

53 percent of respondents said they feel connected when a brand’s values align with their own
Eva-Katalin/iStock

Can brands do what government and political leaders apparently cannot and use social media to help foster connections between people and bring them together?

A recent report by Sprout Social, “Creating Connection: What Consumer Want From Brands in a Divided Society,” found that people are expecting a lot of social media in general and brands in particular.

Sprout Social surveyed over 1,000 consumers in a bid to understand their desires for greater connections with brands and each other, as well as how brands can benefit from doing their part to make those connections.

The social media management solutions provider found that four out of five consumers believe society is more divided now than ever before, with 68 percent pinning the blame on government and political leaders and 55 percent fingering social media.

However, 91 percent of respondents believe social media can successfully connect people, with 78 percent saying that they want brands to do their part and make this happen.

Sprout Social chief marketing officer Jamie Gilpin said of the results, “This is not that surprising if you think about where we are. It’s the classic rhetoric of all marketers today: The power has shifted to consumers. We can no longer just push out a message and expect them to believe it—they truly are in control. It’s our role as a business to not only understand but meet and exceed the needs of our customers. Consumers place more responsibility on brands to be transparent, particularly on social, than they do on politicians.”

Sprout found that 62 percent of respondents believe social media can unify people of different backgrounds and beliefs, while 52 percent want to connect with individuals different from them.

And they expect brands to help them make those connections: 64 percent want brands to connect with them, while 49 percent expect brands to help people together toward a common goal.

Why brands? Sprout said 81 percent of consumers believe brands can be good connectors because their products and services appeal to a diverse range of customers, while 58 percent said the significant media coverage and attention received by brands can help them be unifiers.

This sentiment is bipartisan, as Sprout found that 72 percent of respondents who identified as conservatives and 85 percent who identify as liberals want brands to use social with these goals in mind.

Sprout Social

What exactly should these brands be posting about? According to Sprout, 44 percent of respondents feel more connected to brands when they discuss relevant industry trends, pop culture events or timely news, with 40 percent citing industry trends.

Gilpin said, “I don’t believe you should just make statements to get into the media and have that clickbait. What’s core to all of this is understanding values and beliefs, listening to your audience and understanding where your own corporate beliefs align with your audience.”

She continued, “A lot of organizations and companies don’t have really strong beliefs politically and socially. I think that’s OK, too. We’re at the beginning of this trend. The big ones are taking the risks. You see that more prominently. I think we’re going to start seeing more of it.”

As for other types of content:

  • 46 percent of consumers are interested in brands’ social good initiatives.
  • 39 percent want to see features on employees.
  • 46 percent want brands to create interactive social content.
  • 37 percent believe brands should share user-generated content.
  • 41 percent feel that brands should create private groups, such as what Peloton has done on Facebook.

“Small businesses can take advantage because social has democratized the market,” Gilpin said. “Previously, only larger brands could spend millions of dollars on campaigns.”

Connection with these brands breeds loyalty, according to Sprout.

A total of 53 percent of respondents said they feel connected when a brand’s values align with their own, and 51 percent said their relationship with a brand starts when they feel that the brand understands them and their desires.

When those connections are achieved, 57 percent of consumers said they will spend more with those brands, while 76 percent will choose them over their competitors. Conversely, when consumers don’t feel connected to brands, 70 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to choose them over competitors and 61 percent would spend less with those businesses.

Gilpin said, “If we can understand the value, the viewpoint and what’s important to the audience, and that aligns with us as a brand—if you can make that connection, that’s where the power is. (Consumers are) more loyal. They buy from you over competitors. They tell their friends and family about you.”

Sprout Social

Consumers told Sprout that employees should get involved in this process, all the way up to the top ranks.

Sprout said 70 percent of respondents feel more connected with brands when their CEOs are active on social media, and 72 percent said the same when employees share information about brands.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers said that when CEOs use social media regularly, it feels like real people run the business.

Sprout shared the following takeaways for brands:

  • People, not just products, will win over consumers. Social media has made it easier than ever for brands to talk about their goods and services to large groups of potential customers. But consumers want more than product information; they also want to learn more about the people who make up their favorite brands. To foster genuine connection, brands need to think beyond what they sell and consider the needs and desires of the people they are selling to.
  • Employees are a brand’s best advocates. While some brands turn to influencers to boost awareness, others look inward for new spokespeople. Consumers enjoy seeing the real people who bring a brand to life, and they report feeling more connected to brands whose employees act as advocates on social. Brands should consider implementing advocacy strategies to encourage participation and simplify the sharing of approved content on employees’ personal profiles.
  • Take time to listen to what people are saying online. One of the quickest ways to sever a connection with a customer is to participate in conversations they find irrelevant or boring. Social listening enables brands to craft content that people will want to read and can help brands pivot to a different topic when they feel their audience’s attention is waning. The key is to find a reason for consumers to want to engage with a brand on social media—and capitalizing on timely topics is just one way to grab
  • Find common ground to unite disparate people. Despite their differences, consumers want brands to leverage their platforms to help people connect with each other and unite individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Brands can use their social platforms to raise awareness around important issues, invite people to join meaningful conversations and even build communities that spark long-term connections both online and off.