Entrepreneur Edition with Sprout Social’s Mike Blight
July 22, 2022
For nearly a decade, the Sprout Social Index has gathered data on social media marketing to help brands better connect with their audience. The most recent Index interviews 1,000 US consumers and 500 US marketers to reveal the top trends on social media in 2022 and insight into what’s to come. Listen to our exclusive interview with Sprout Social’s Senior Market Research Manager Mike Blight and Orange Label Social Media Specialist Samantha Hernandez for more!
Samantha Hernandez: [00:00:00] This is The 19, a podcast that delivers marketing insights from Orange Label in 19 minutes or less. This year, the agency is celebrating 50 years of working with established brands that are driven by a fearless entrepreneurial mindset. What does this mean for you? It means enriched conversations and stories with marketing and leadership experts aimed at improving lives.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:00:29] Hello and welcome to the 19 Entrepreneur Edition. I’m Samantha Hernandez, Social Media Specialist at Orange Label. One of the things I love most about social media marketing is building genuine connections with the brand and their audience. How and where these connections are built evolves frequently. The annual Sprout Social Index helps us visualize just how much social media changes each year and gives projected trends for the years to come. To put things into perspective, when the Index launched in 2013, Instagram had just introduced video capabilities, Facebook had a launch in a new timeline with video autoplay, and the six-second video sharing app Vine was nearing its peak. Nine years later, new features occur at least monthly on apps, and key social media players have changed. Nevertheless, video remains a key emphasis of social media strategies. Here to share insights from the latest Index to help brands best connect with their audience is Sprout Social Senior Market Research Manager Mike Blight. Mike, welcome to The 19. It’s great to have you today!
Mike Blight: [00:01:27] Thanks for having me.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:01:32] Awesome. So, Mike, you’re the Senior Market Research Manager at Sprout. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?
Mike Blight: [00:01:38] Yeah, my title basically tells you nothing about what I actually do. We are a very data-driven company. On the content side, we’ve been investing significantly, as in my role as well, into using data in a more meaningful way and all the content that we produce. So a significant part of what I do is help drive data-driven projects like the Index, everything from data collection to analysis to helping our content team package all that together.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:02:08] Awesome. So speaking of the Index, can you tell us about it?
Mike Blight: [00:02:11] Yeah, the Index is even before joining Sprout and I know this is going to sound like a product placement, but the Index is one of my favorite things on social. Sprout has been doing the Index since 2013. So this is the ninth year of trend forecasting. And so this particular Index, we surveyed over 1,000 US customers and 500 US social marketers between ages of 18 and 75.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:02:36] Wow. What was the most surprising stat from this year’s Sprout Index?
Mike Blight: [00:02:40] We have, and this is going to require you to download the full report. So thanks for giving us your email ahead of time.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:02:47] Yeah, we got it.
Mike Blight: [00:02:48] Since 2019, we’ve been tracking what marketers are describing as the challenges that they face when it comes to their social media teams. And year over year, we see things like providing some sort of ROI or social execution, resourcing, these being primary pain points. This year in 2022, finding the right talent rose to the top of all of those. It’s not to say that proving ROI is not a challenge still, but of all the things, if you sprawl them out on the table, the one that was the most recurring theme was the bandwidth to be able to execute on social strategy and then finding the right talent to do it.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:03:29] Right yeah, talent is definitely very important, especially in the social and marketing space. So speaking of that and kind of moving into trends, what trends are you seeing in terms of top engaging content types?
Mike Blight: [00:03:40] Yeah, we see in some ways, as should be no surprise if you’ve been on social in the last 18 months, give or take, we know that short-form content is incredibly prominent. We see that a lot of brands as well as platforms themselves are turning to tools to actually engage audiences with a shorter form version, 15 seconds to 30 seconds, all the way to 60. We know with that being said, the asterisk that I’ll apply to that is that it’s still really important to test with your audience. So even though many of the trends, many of the trendsetters are going in that direction, it’s really important to know where is it that your audience actually is within that scope? And does it make sense for you to maybe implement or focus on that particular area?
Samantha Hernandez: [00:04:27] Definitely. And that kind of brings me into this next question. We saw that 51% of consumers expect to use YouTube in the next 12 months ahead of Instagram and TikTok. What does this mean for brands, in your opinion?
Mike Blight: [00:04:39] The separation between YouTube from a consumer perspective, what our audience base was telling us and marketers’ perspective was the largest contrast in terms of where people expected to go versus where it is that the brands themselves, the marketers who are the practitioners, expect to go. So for brands, it’s really again doubling down on this idea of figuring out what’s right for your audience. It also means that you need to think about where is the audience currently, where are they going, and then what is the right form of content for them? And I think it’s very easy for brands to say, oh, well, insert platform is the new big thing. We need to get on that right away. But if 98% are completely arbitrary number, but if a significant number of your current audience of where you’re having meaningful conversations when you’re dealing with customer service requests, if those are happening on preexisting platforms, it would be silly to abandon all the infrastructure and strategies that you’ve built around that just to follow the trend line.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:05:44] Definitely. That’s a really great point and that kind of leads me into this new trend with seeing TikTok on the rise, TikTok used for consumers more than doubled since the 2020 Index and surpassed 1 billion US users. Where do you see TikTok playing a role in marketing in the next year?
Mike Blight: [00:06:00] TikTok is where a lot of people want to stake their flag to plant in the ground and say, we are on TikTok! And I think that’s it’s great for the industry. It provides really unique competition for how brands are actually using social. It also requires a great deal of creativity in terms of rethinking how your social strategy looks and feels. There are plenty of examples of how brands exist on one platform that might be very different in terms of the way that they engage and interact on other platforms. So the way that you present yourself on Twitter might look a little bit different than TikTok, which might look a little bit different than Facebook, right. So with the meteoric rise of TikTok, I think it’s really important to note what is the opportunity there for your brand and can you reasonably capitalize on it? And I think the biggest hurdle that a lot of companies deal with right now is they want to dip their toes in the water or they want to jump right into the pool of TikTok, but they might not have the capacity or bandwidth to do so. And so that’s sort of the precautionary tale of yes, it’s an incredible platform that you could be using. Can you reasonably do it without abandoning all the other stuff you’re working on?
Samantha Hernandez: [00:07:13] Definitely. And I think that’s something that we’ve also been, you know, really honing in on. And I will say I’m a very big TikTok fan.
Mike Blight: [00:07:20] Same if you look at my basic use of all my apps on my phone, admittedly so you’ll see TikTok.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:07:28] TikTok, no shame. So company alignment with personal values was found to be 74% more important to consumers than it was back in 2021. It seems important to pay attention to where company and consumer values intersect or don’t. What does it look like when companies are doing this well?
Mike Blight: [00:07:45] Yeah, I think in a lot of ways we think about it from a different framework of what is the value add for companies to do to make that alignment. In other words, if I’m a company and I’m thinking, do I make a stand? Do I put forward a message about a topic area, whether it be thematic or something that’s happening in the news? What are the implications of that? And the recurring message that we hear from marketers is that a number of your consumers are with you in the first place based on alignment of those values. You don’t have to do a whole lot other than just be yourselves. There’s a really competitive landscape for you and competitors like you. This is a very broad statement. I have no idea who’s listening in terms of your industry, but you have a pretty big fish in that pool that you’re swimming in.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:08:38] Definitely.
Mike Blight: [00:08:38] And customers who are presented with the opportunity to go, well, you’re not aligning with what I thought you aligned with, which is why I picked you over a company B across the way that impacts is a very critical moment for businesses to figure out. All I really have to do is think about alignment of what my values are in the first place, because that’s why consumers are here.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:08:59] Mm hmm. Definitely. So we loved the phrase “productive experimentation and successful execution starts with data” included in the Index. Can you speak more about that?
Mike Blight: [00:09:10] I love that. I wish I could take credit for that. That is a beautiful line. I love it so very much. Data, and this is where we at Sprout being very focused on providing data that’s actionable, that’s meaningful, when we’re talking about data, we’re not just talking about basic percentage breakdowns quantitatively, but we’re also talking about qualitative data as well. Within an organization you can learn, forget H1 and H2 planning, you can learn within the first week of a new campaign of what’s landing and resonating with your audience. And you don’t have to sit down and have 80 people in the room to realize that 80% of the sentiment on social is really bad about the new thing that you launched. And so your execution and your experimentation should be quick. It should be based on data. And if you’re not doing that already and you’re scared off by that four-letter word of data, the time to start thinking about, well, what are the data inputs that we have? Is it consumer or customer feedback from our product? Is it just the general atmosphere of our competitors and how people are resonating with that? We have listening tools to be able to garner that data. But yeah, we really want to focus on how do we tinker? I love that word of tinkering. How do we tinker, how do we experiment using data as a core tool for that?
Samantha Hernandez: [00:10:33] Definitely. And data is so important, especially in our field, just to experiment, take a look at it and expand, that’s awesome. So there are a lot of exciting developments on the horizon and already here for Web3 with AR/VR, the Metaverse and more. Do you think this is important for all marketers to engage with now?
Mike Blight: [00:10:50] Yes. Final answer. Yes. No, I think, so one of the data points that we have, we’re really curious from the onset of looking toward the future. And if you look at some of the language that we use, we use futurology thinking about how consumers anticipate interacting with their favorite brands with marketers. And so we were curious about, well, what does that look like from a tactical level? How much are these marketers actually investing their budget into that? And so one of the key stats that we had that really highlights the prevalence moving forward is that 67% of marketers anticipate investing at least a quarter of their budget into Metaverse, AR/VR, social strategy.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:11:34] Wow!
Mike Blight: [00:11:35] What that tells us is that there is an appetite from consumers. There is an awareness, which is great for marketers. This technology is not just novel, but it’s here to stay. And so we have to think about, again, very similar to our conversations before about TikTok, should we should our brand be on TikTok? Do you have the bandwidth, do you have the budget to make those decisions? And if the answer is yes, well, how much of that budget should you be allocating? And so we’re trying to provide benchmarks so that we can take all that guesswork out of it for you. You can see what people are doing across the industry.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:12:12] Yeah, definitely. So last question here, but what are social marketers’ biggest challenges faced now and how has this shifted from past years?
Mike Blight: [00:12:21] Yeah, I touched on this a little bit before. One of the biggest challenges is really, this is an exclusive to social marketers. This is just universally true. Budget and bandwidth. Do we have the funds to actually implement and go through the thing that we want to do? Right, this is for social media marketers and it’s for a small business who sells lemons, right? Can we get more lemons? Can we make a new sign for our lemons? And so social marketers are really thinking about this notion of bandwidth. Do we have the capacity? Our people probably already stretched too thin? Every week it feels like there’s a new feature being developed on a platform. How do we adjust our social strategy to that? Oh, there’s a new platform altogether. What the heck do we do now? And so it’s a lot of moving targets. With that being said, the remedy. Funding it. Can we fund the development of a new practice within our company? Can we fund the hiring of a person who can then own one of the platforms that we’re working on? And so that bandwidth, that retention of employees, the hiring and finding of the right talent. It is a very arduous challenge that a lot of brands are actively trying to figure out.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:13:37] Yeah, definitely. Well, Mike, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your insight on the Sprout Social Index. We absolutely loved having you here on The 19.
Mike Blight: [00:13:46] Yeah. Thank you so much!
Samantha Hernandez: [00:13:53] Thank you for listening to The 19: Entrepreneur Edition with Mike Blight. To view the full Sprout Social Index head to sproutsocial.com/insights. If you’d like to learn more about Orange Label’s social media services, visit our website at orangelabeladvertising.com. If you have additional thoughts on this topic, send us an email. You can send questions, comments and more to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Hernandez: [00:14:22] A special thank you goes out to our contributors Senior Studio Manager Kelsey Phillips, Micah Panzich, who edits our show, and Ashley Ruiz, Senior Content Writer. Be sure to subscribe to The 19 on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify and if you like what you heard today, leave us a review!