What the Sprout Spotlight awards taught us about the state of social marketing

Last year, the team and I launched our first People’s Choice Awards program, the Sprout Spotlight Awards, to recognize the teams, creators, community managers, and strategists behind some of the best brands in the social arena. We have set ourselves the goal of celebrating the people behind the brand handles in five price categories:

  • Always on: Celebrate those who knew when to pull the plug.
  • Community Builder: Honored those who made a lasting impact on their audience.
  • Best-in-class social: Enlightened those who went above and beyond to create a memorable social experience.
  • Campaign of the year: Applauded a campaign that had a lasting effect.
  • Brand of the year: Recognized a social team that created a social presence that both marketers and consumers have been able to draw inspiration from.

This program revealed a lot about our community and the state of social marketing as a whole. Here are some key takeaways that have changed my view of our strategy, industry, and social marketing roles.

Burnout management remains a challenge and recognition is essential

As the world turned to digital platforms to stay connected in 2020, expectations of social media professionals rose – I know I felt it. They made constant changes, adapted quickly and took on more responsibility and ownership for the presence of their brands. With high expectations, constant pressure, and limited understanding and appreciation for their efforts, many social workers have been driven to a point of burnout.

The pressure on social marketers to always be active is nothing new, but the digital transformation over the past year has accelerated that mindset. As a further development of one of our video series, our Always On Award recognized 184 nominated social professionals who explored the world around them, empathized with their community and championed the power of the social, while at the same time knowing when to step back and pull the plug .

I was working on my annual employee goals and told my manager that I was having trouble meeting a professional development goal. Your suggestion?

Make a goal that prioritizes my mental wellbeing and learns to unplug it.

– Alexa Heinrich (she / she) (@HashtagHeyAlexa) October 29, 2020

Although I’ve seen more honest conversations in the marketing community and society at large lately to step back and pull the plug, burnout lingers. Industry professionals still crave ways to find more balance with a job that demands so much. Here are some resources to refer to if you’re struggling to strike a balance:

Social professionals work behind the scenes and are too often overlooked during recognition. Social professionals invest so much time and energy in their work, but rarely get anything in return, leading to a seemingly endless cycle of immense burnout. It was imperative to provide a space dedicated to the celebration of their work, especially at this time.

I’ve learned never to underestimate the power of recognition. It only takes 140 characters to show someone that their work is valued. Take a note from Dan Levy:

Calum is responsible for @SchittsCreek’s social channels. What he did over the years was nothing short of masterful. He built a community and helped the show grow in the most incredible and dynamic ways possible. Thank you, Calum, for everything. Let’s show him some love today! https://t.co/if728shfui

– Dan Levy (@danjlevy) April 8, 2020

Community is more important than ever

This award program underscored how much brand communities care about the people behind their preferred brand handles.

here to nominate the greatest ghost in Social Calum @calumshanlin for the #SproutSpotlights Awards! Calum is the driving force that gave voice to @SchittsCreek’s fandom, and his innovative use of social media nurtured an amazing community. We can’t thank him enough for what he created!

– betsy 🦝 (@bigdirtyraccoon) November 23, 2020

Our Community Builder and Best-in-Class Social Awards received the most nominations compared to our other categories. People were thrilled to shed some light on the people who served their favorite content on a daily basis. Case in point, we’ve seen the entire Schitt’s Creek Stan community around Calum, our best-in-class social award winner, for his work on the show, attention to detail, and dedication to listening.

We also saw some of the most community-driven brands nominated and won for our Brand of the Year and Campaign of the Year, including Velveeta, LCMC Health, Jenis Splendid Ice Creams, McDonald’s, Peloton, and more.

Building and maintaining a loyal community is not only a beautiful thing, but it’s also important if you want to stand out and be best in class. In fact, the majority of companies expect the use of social media to increase in all areas of their business, but especially in terms of brand awareness, customer loyalty and customer service.

Brands use social networks to inform and drive business decisions

Brands that are truly customer-centric have one thing in common: They listen and respond to social feedback.

McDonald’s was one of our campaign of the year finalists for its Bring Back Hi-C campaign. The team listened to their social community’s request to bring Orange Hi-C back and based on social data, pitched their leadership. McDonald’s Community Manager teased their social community with the pitch to show them that they are listening and acting based on audience demand.

TL; DR: Hi-C is back thanks to the relationship between the McD’s Social Team and its community.

In addition to listening to their feedback, McDonald’s went one step further and involved its community in the process from start to finish. With 80% of consumers expecting brands and companies that have a social media presence to interact with their customers in a meaningful way, this campaign rose to the top.

Brands can act as platforms for their communities

The launch of the Sprout Spotlight Awards confirmed that when your community feels connected to your message, it gathers behind it. Our community took every award and ran with it. They used the space to uplift each other, share why they admired someone’s work, and even nominated themselves for the work they were proud of.

In particular, conversations outside of our own content accounted for 98% of the social impressions on the Sprout Spotlight program. This shows that when aligning brand and consumer values, brands don’t always have to participate in or dominate conversations to make an impact. They can create space, facilitate conversations and bring people together.

What’s next

Looking ahead, recognition remains vital. The conversations from this program revealed the state of our industry, the very real personal and professional challenges that social marketers face, and what is most important for consumers to experience when interacting with social brands. Take these insights with you and learn about the next steps in our latest report: The State of Social Media: After a year of transformation, leaders are all-in on social media.

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