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Social media often gets a bad rap, most notably for its contribution to the spread of false information and the misuse of user data. But despite this, even with all the negativity surrounding it, Sprout Social reports [download page] that the majority (91%) of consumers they interviewed still believe that social media has the ability to connect people.

It’s not just people connecting with each other that makes social media powerful. Social is also a top channel for brands to connect with consumers. For example, nearly 9 in 10 (87%) of marketers told Social Media Examiner that social media has increased exposure to their businesses, with more than three-quarters (78%) having seen increased traffic.

Consumers like when brands listen to them. Part of listening means interacting and exhibiting behaviors that facilitate and encourage connections. More than half (55%) of respondents reported that “liking” or responding to a consumer was one such behavior that helps brands connect with consumers.

About 4 in 10 respondents also reported that getting the consumer more directly involved with content, specifically by inviting user-generated content (UGC), was a good way to help them feel connected to a brand.

UGC has benefits for brands that go beyond social media connection. TurnTo Networks found that while 3 in 5 (61%) shoppers felt UGC encouraged engagement with a brand, it was also more viewed as more interesting (65%) than brand-created content, with two-thirds (67%) of consumers additionally saying it created a more authentic shopping experience.

What Discussions Make Consumers Feel Connected?

It seems that for many social media users, talking online about brands is a positive experience. Initiating and participating in relevant conversations made 44% of consumers feel more connected to a brand.

Some discussion topics create more connection than others – particularly if they actually help consumers know more about what a company offers. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of respondents felt connected to brands that discussed their products and/or services.

This corresponds with earlier data from Sprout Social, which revealed that 3 in 5 consumers want social posts that showcase new products or services, but that less than half (46%) of brands made these kinds of posts.

Consumers Want to Hear From More Than Just Marketers

Although those working on the front line of social media are keen to help their customers, today’s consumers don’t just want to hear from marketers or customer support on social. They want to hear all the way from the top. Seven in 10 consumers feel more connected with a brand whose CEO is active on social media.

Having a CEO who participates in social media discussions is important to consumers because they like learning about the people behind the brand (62%), it makes them feel like there are real people behind the brand (61%) and consumers trust employees more than brand (37%).

Some 72% of respondents also said they felt more connected to a brand whose employees share information on social media. Employee advocacy efforts have been recognized by businesses for some time. Even as far back as 2016, a study found that employee advocacy increased the reach of messages in social networks, as well as provided customers a better experience with brands.

Social Consciousness Matters

Some 46% of consumers feel connected when brands discuss social good initiatives, with another 40% saying they want brands to discuss important issues facing society.

This is evidence that consumers want more from brands than just products. More and more consumers are expecting brands to be socially conscious, a trait that some Super Bowl advertisers have tried to emphasize with their message-forward campaigns.

In fact, a strong majority (72%) of consumers said they expect brands to be positive contributors to society. Two-thirds (64%) also expect brands to use their power to help people, while 43% expect brands to act as leaders in our society.

To read more about how to stay connected with social, download the report here.

About the Data: The study was based on an online survey of 1,013 US consumers conducted in November 2018.

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