The State of Social - Key Insights from the 2019 Sprout Social Index

How do you know if you’re on the right track with your social media strategy? 

Aside from turning to your own metrics, understanding industry-wide data is of benefit not just for the success of your strategy, but for the success of your organisation. Backing up your approach with some cold hard stats is precisely what your colleagues need to see if they’re going to understand the importance of social media now, more than ever.

Handy then, that the Sprout Social 2019 Social Index is out, and it’s serving up plenty of insights into the state of our industry. We discovered the Sprout Social index in 2018 and it really helped us develop more informed, future-focussed campaigns for our clients. We can say without a doubt this has put them on the front-foot in 2019.

The survey:

Over 1000 social marketers were surveyed about their goals, challenges and expectations in social media. Over 1000 consumers were also canvassed to garner an understanding of what they really want to see from the brands they follow online.

What these insights offer us, are answers to questions about current best practice, as well as guidance around where social marketers should be focusing their efforts. Empowered with the insights from this index, I hope you’ll be able to refine your social goals and improve social performance - and therefore understand how you can articulate the value of social, beyond the marketing department.

First up, let’s get this one out of the way, shall we: is social still relevant?

Well, in the last 6 months alone, 44% of the consumer respondents reported an increase in their personal use of social media platforms. This is a good sign for brands who are using social media to drive their social audience down their sales funnel - with 87% of consumers saying they are likely to visit a brand’s website or app when directed from a brand’s social channels.

Yup, social is still alive and kicking!

Here’s what we know about some of the bigger trends in social:


What does your audience really want? Stronger connections with your audience come from a stronger understanding of what they really want to see. You’ll need to turn to your own insights to see what content is really resonating, but what we do know is that half of consumers follow a brand to learn about new products and services, while 48% follow brands to be entertained.

We’ve already heard that Facebook is intending to put increasing emphasis on community and connection. For brands, this will mean that listening is equally as important as sharing in order to better identify and understand your target audience - and this year we’ve seen an interesting shift in engagement.

In 2018, consumers indicated that they’re most likely to engage with posts that promote sales and discounts (67%). This number, however, has dropped to just 37% in 2019. On the up instead, is entertaining (67%) and inspiring posts (57%), getting the most engagement (likes, shares and comments). It seems many marketers agree, with 50% of all marketers saying they find posts that entertain are more effective than discounts and sales content in helping them reach their goals.

That’s not to say that sharing deals and discounts is not a useful strategy to have in your arsenal, only that this backs up the idea that audiences are increasingly demanding content more focused around connection and building community.

It can be equally helpful to know why consumers might unfollow you. The number one reason is poor customer service, while irrelevant content comes in a close second.

Live video

When asked what content consumers wanted to see from brands, live video topped the list.

Most marketers are already gearing up for this trend, however just 42% have a strategy for Facebook Live, 31% have plans to build out a strategy for Facebook Video and Instagram Live and less than 24% have plans in mind for YouTube Live.

Keeping tomorrow’s audience in mind, we say your best bet is to create a video content strategy today.

Employee advocacy

Leveraging employee advocacy will be a go-to tactic for many marketers. In fact, already 72% of marketers are using their employees as SM advocates. Why? Because 45% of consumers say they are more likely to research a product or service when someone relatable posts about it.

Is this the start of the decline for influencers? Tellingly, just 32% of consumers indicated they are likely to research a product or service when endorsed by a celebrity.

Our advice? Build strategies specifically around employee advocacy, user-generated content and micro (local) influencers into your social marketing plan to inspire more relatable, genuine content for your audience.

Where are your followers hanging out?

Sprout’s stats suggest that 89% of marketers use Facebook for their brand marketing, and 83% of all consumers surveyed use Facebook. Sixty-six percent of consumers say they like or follow a brand profile on Facebook. After Facebook, the next three social platforms on which consumers follow brands are Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

While it appears that Facebook continues to reign supreme, it’s worth taking a closer look at which social platforms are most popular among certain age groups, so you can understand usage in the context of your own audience.

Facebook, for example, is the primary platform for members of Generation X to like or follow brands (77%), but for members of Generation Z, Instagram has a clear advantage (69%).

Setting your social goals for the year ahead

For most marketers, brand awareness continues as your number one priority on social media.

Marketers from the survey also indicated that driving sales and lead generation through social marketing, as well as increasing community engagement and growing their audience were on their list of goals to hit.

Despite having a clearer picture of goals and metrics, almost half (47%) of social marketers find it difficult to develop social strategies that support their overall business goals.

Even more difficult is achieving an impact outside of their own team, with 6 out of 10 social marketers wishing they had more influence on their sales team.

  • 51% of leaders say creating social strategies that fit in their organisation’s business goals is a top challenge for them, compared to 44% of practitioners.
  • Outside of developing social strategies for overall business goals, 43% of all social marketers struggle to identify and understand their target audience
  • 31% find it difficult to secure budget and resources for social media.

The benefits of social beyond the marketing team

Considering the challenges above, it seems there’s a clear disconnect between expectations and responsibilities. With so few marketers sharing business insights from social media with their wider organisation, it’s no surprise that so many struggle to align social strategies with big picture business goals.

What typically happens is that social media strategies are created in alignment with marketing goals. However, social media data can actually provide valuable and influential guidance and actually inform what should be focused on in go-to-market campaigns and initiatives.

One of your challenges is likely around demonstrating the benefit of social to bottomline business metrics. According to Sprout “The time is now for marketers to learn how to effectively communicate the significance of social data, elevate their strategies to serve larger business goals and secure a seat at the table for social teams”.

At The Social Shop, we think that a social-led approach to marketing is a conversation worth having. Which is why, in our next article, we’ll be taking a closer look at how social teams can better assert their value within an organisation with the help of data, and why it’s time businesses started paying closer attention to the impact of social media - beyond the marketing team.

The full Sprout Social Index 2019 report can be found online here: https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/index/