BMA January LuncheonIf you think social media is just a passing trend, Scott Brandt has news for you. Sure, it’s a trend, he says — the way the internet was a trend. And good luck generating leads these days without the internet.

As CMO of Sprout Social, the industry-leading social media management platform, Scott knows how important social is for successful sales and marketing. At the January BMA Chicago Luncheon, he set out to help marketers and executives not only see the value in social, but also hone their strategy to maximize that value.

Like any good social media expert, Scott broke his talk into three snappy, shareable categories:

1. Stop Talking. Start Listening.

Many marketers post and share content that matches their internal priorities, assuming it’s relevant to their customers too. But on social, relevance is everything. What you care about isn’t important — it’s what customers care about that matters.

To find out what that is, Scott had a surprisingly simple suggestion: Ask. Sharing polls, surveys or open-ended questions will help you align your messaging with customers’ needs and stand out in an increasingly crowded space.

Scott urged marketers to do another kind of listening too: customer support. 34.5% of people have contacted a company via social for customer care. And because one-third will consider leaving because of slow responses, acting fast is key. Scott recommends making social support an interdepartmental effort, so customers can get insightful answers quickly.

2. Rethink Attribution and Analytics.

Engagement and reach are easy to track, but every social media marketer eventually faces the dreaded question: “What about ROI?” Scott’s the first to admit that attributing ROI to social isn’t easy.

For some companies, adding “buy now” buttons to social posts can simplify attribution. For the rest, Scott encouraged thinking about social as “soft selling.” A customer might not buy directly from a social post, but the more they’re exposed to you, the more likely they’ll buy in the future.

The numbers play this out: 75% of people have purchased something because they saw it on social media. And social’s potential for referrals make it a great tool to improve conversion. A lead is seven times more likely to make a purchase if they learn about it from within their social network.

3. Innovate with New Tech.

As new platforms and features roll out every day, Scott shared three trends for marketers to watch in 2017.

  • Live video, using platforms like Facebook Live, is continually gaining traction. Scott suggested using this shoot-and-stream service to share footage from trade shows, webinars, speaking engagements — anything that helps customers enter your company’s world.
  • Messaging platforms enable genuinely one-to-one marketing. Use them to engage customers individually, answer questions and learn more about them. But move fast! If you open this avenue of engagement, you need to follow through quickly and consistently.
  • Bots (or social artificial intelligence platforms) can fire off instant replies to customers’ FAQs, increasing convenience and satisfaction. After all, you can’t be faster than “instant.” However, bots aren’t always the answer. When working with dissatisfied customers, for example, a personal touch is essential.

Scott wrapped up his session with an in-depth Q&A session, listening to and addressing the topics his audience cared most about. It was a great example of practicing what he preached: Social conversations must be equal parts listening and responding.

Do these three categories match your social marketing priorities in 2017, or do you have different goals in mind? Sound off in the comments — I’m listening.