Only 2% of brands engage deeply with their customers across channels. Are you one of them?

Announcing the 2017 State of Social Engagement, Lithium’s second-annual report on how the best brands are using social to deliver amazing digital customer experiences. Based on data collected from 70 brands across 8 industries and 342 total social channels, the report uncovers ways to make your social engagement number one.

Download The Full Report

2. Storytelling

Brands are getting better at deeper, more visual storytelling, significantly trending up from last year. Brands are more frequently telling stories across channels through the use of sequential posts—multiple posts about the same topic in a relatively short period of time—allowing brands to build a strong narrative and entice consumers to return for the next installment.

27%

of brands use sequential posts, up from only 6% in 2016.

  • Share this:

49%

Nearly half of brands posted new stories at least once per day.

  • Share this:

Average Storytelling Scores by Industry

2016 50%
2017 79%
2016 40%
2017 43%
2016 41%
2017 83%
2016 42%
2017 75%
2016 54%
2017 56%

What Great Looks Like

  • Uses visual content
  • Tells a longer story through multiple, sequential posts
  • Adopts a voice that is conversational and inviting
  • Uses a variety of formats to appeal to multiple persona types

What It All Means
Defining the objectives of a social campaign will determine your storytelling strategy. Many brands do a sprint of sequential posts in a single day to drive consumers to an event or promotion. Others post across a 3-5 day period to support a longer initiative. “Entertaining” content, that which is funny or pulls at heart strings, and “persuasive” content, that which presents a specific point of view about an issue, topic, or product, were the two most popular storytelling types across all industries this year.

3. Influencer Collaboration

Despite the growth of influencer marketing and the predictions for its continued growth, few brands are consistently co-creating with influencers; this year, brands’ use of influencers has declined to just 1%. Across all industries, the channels of choice for influencer collaboration are Facebook and Twitter; collaboration in online communities mostly featured high-performing community members.

1%

Only 1% of brands collaborate with influencers, down from 4% in 2016.

  • Share this:

87%

of those who leveraged influencers did so on Facebook while 50% did so on Twitter.

  • Share this:

Brand Spotlight: UFC

UFC stands out as a study super star because it: conducts live Q&A podcasts on Facebook and Twitter featuring UFC stars; encourages UFC influencers to post content on their Facebook pages; features Facebook vlog series of interviews with influencers; and frequently retweets influencer content.

What Great Looks Like

  • Uses well-known celebrities or channel stars who have an authentic connection to the brand
  • Creates assets that are highly entertaining or educational
  • Uses influencers appropriate for a specific channel or campaign
  • Amplifies user-generated content to extend brand reach

What It All Means
Today, influencer marketing is harder to execute and its value harder to prove, which explains the drop in number of brands co-creating with influencers. The new influencer marketing requires: a genuine relationship between influencers and the brand; proof that influencers actually can influence a community (and ROI); and a commitment to continuous and relevant advocacy (brands can’t have a ‘one and done’ campaign mentality). Today’s brands are no longer in the driver’s seat. When executing influencer marketing campaigns, influencers drive campaign ideas and programs, not brands—which many brands struggle to allow.

4. Live Events and Video

Many brands are beginning to include live streaming events and video into their content mix, and it’s paying off. According to Forbes, people want to use social media as a way to “live vicariously” through others. It’s no longer enough to post your thoughts on an event; you have to show your users what it’s like to actually be there.

89%

of brands use a good mix of YouTube video content compared to just 52% last year.

  • Share this:

63%

of retail brands surveyed use live events as part of their social strategy.

  • Share this:

Brand Spotlight: Ford

Ford stands out as a study super star because it: sponsors live events on Facebook and Twitter; partners with Snapchat to promote special events; includes video in tweets and retweets; and posts more than 80 videos per month on YouTube, including a wide range of topics and tutorials.

What Great Looks Like

  • Provides a connection to deeper experiences through live streaming
  • Embeds video in posts to increase engagement on channel
  • Experiments with new video formats, like 360-degrees and augmented reality
  • Includes video from a variety of sources (brands, consumers, influencers)

What It All Means
The goal of live streaming and real-time video posting is to make your users feel that they’re a genuine part of the experience, as it unfolds. New capabilities for live events from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube make it easier to include these events in the engagement mix, and drive engagement—a Facebook study showed that live streaming increases engagement by 400%.

5. Branded Online Communities

Branded online communities are the ideal channel for teaching people the best ways to use your products, and to promote engaging ways for users to connect with others with similar passions. Yet fewer than half of brands surveyed include online communities in their social ecosystem, and those who do use it mostly for customer support, not customer engagement.

43%

Only 43% of brands surveyed include online communities in their social ecosystem.

  • Share this:

16%

of brands with communities offer more than just customer support.

  • Share this:

Average Community Management Score By Industry

Consumer Products
2016 13%
2017 13%
Financial Services
2016 26%
2017 39%
Retail
2016 22%
2017 22%
Technology
2016 4%
2017 74%
Telecommunications
2016 61%
2017 78%
Travel & Hospitality
2016 35%
2017 9%

What Great Looks Like

  • Stimulates conversation within the community
  • Recognizes members’ contribution to conversations
  • Employs a variety of return motivators, like ritualized experiences, personalized content and online events
  • Honors the member as the hero

What It All Means
It only takes a small minority of superfans for an online community to succeed. In fact, even an online community with a million members depends upon a relatively small number of people, typically around 1%, to generate much of the excitement and interest. Reward and empower users with short-term rewards and additional permissions or privileges in the community through gamification, like access to a private forum or the opportunity to author blog posts.

6. Social Selling

93% of marketers report that social is part of their strategy to drive sales, according to Fast Company. This year, brands increased their use of “promotional” and “convert” content, which is essential for integrating ecommerce into social channels. However, the percentages were still low, showing that many brands are still slow to take advantage of the power of their social ecosystem to share promotions and convert sales.

24%

of brands used promotional content, which provides an offer to participate in an event with a special coupon or code, versus 11% in 2016.

  • Share this:

28%

of brands used convert content, which links the consumer directly to a landing page to purchase a product, versus 20% in 2016.

  • Share this:

Brand Spotlight: Pepsi

Pepsi stands out as a study super star because it: leans heavily on influencers to promote Pepsi sales on all its active channels; promotes where popular Pepsi products are available for a limited time only; encourages consumers to earn points by buying Pepsi products and redeeming them for prizes; and features “Shop Now” buttons on posts that send consumers directly to ecommerce pages.

What Great Looks Like

  • Offers deals or promotions on multiple channels
  • Presents content that augments deals or promotions for deeper selling
  • Surprises consumers with exclusive offers, only available through specific social channels
  • Engages in two-way conversations to learn more about consumers’ needs and wants

What It All Means
By increasing the use of promotional and convert content, brands are committed to diversifying and maturing their social strategies. To do this successfully, brands need to integrate their social strategy with their digital customer experience. If social is viewed as just a way to push content, then they likely aren’t integrating promotional schedules into their engagement calendar. The best brands maintain a consistent content calendar that supports the full marketing campaign cycle.

Top-Performing Verticals

This year’s three top-performing verticals on social were Retail, Telecommunications, and Consumer Products. Read on to uncover the common traits shared by industry top performers and get the inside scoop on the top brand in each category.

Top Performing Retails Brands in 2017

Retail

The Retail industry uses diverse content to inspire and educate its consumers. Most of the brands featured lifestyle use cases, showing the impact of their products on the quality of its consumers’ lives, and linked to deeper content, using a variety of engagement prompts across all channels included in their social ecosystem. The Retail industry tends to rely on YouTube to present how-to content rather than organizing this content in an online community, and it is one of the most prolific users of influencers across the entire study.

Common traits shared by industry top performers:

  • Inspirational content and corporate social responsibility initiatives
  • Widespread use of video
  • High variety of content types and engagement prompts

LEGO is a study super star.

The brand engages its consumers in a variety of ways that drives deep brand affinity. They feature contests, polls, live events, sneak previews, requests for tags, crowdsourced product names, product ideas and more. Their YouTube strategy is especially clever, as most of the content features LEGO animated shows covering a range of pop culture topics, like college football championships, Iron Man, Batman and Star Wars. Many are done in multiple languages. They also have a program where viewers can vote on ideas for LEGO sets, as well as a series where kids unbox new LEGO sets.

Top Performing Telecommunications Brands in 2017

Telecommunications

The Telecommunications industry focuses more on product promotions and support issues than brand advocacy. This industry uses social media channels predominantly as advertising platforms, pushing product information and a variety of promotions. While all of the brands surveyed include engagement prompts and contests, this is secondary to featured product information. The exception is YouTube, where brands show exclusive behind-the-scenes content, and not just hype about its products and services.

Common traits shared by industry top performers:

  • High-scoring online communities
  • Inclusion of live events in their engagement mix
  • Advanced storytelling techniques

AT&T is a study super star.

The brand’s Facebook page is all about entertainment. They host live events, feature an entertainment chatbot and host previews for shows. They engage heavily with influencers and produce high-quality videos. Their Twitter content is more comprehensive, and topics more varied, than on Facebook. They have a variety of engagement assets including contests, polls, free giveaways and links to cool apps.

Top Performing Consumer Products Brands in 2017

Consumer Products

The Consumer Products industry is more successful than others in generating engagement. Brands use more direct prompts, such as asking questions and stimulating contributions of user-generated content. Consumer Products brands almost universally leveraged “how-to” content—like how to make gifts or art projects, or tips for using their products better—which prompts deeper involvement with the brand. This approach resulted in a higher number of brand/consumer interactions than most other industries. Pinterest was more robust for Consumer Products brands, which makes sense given the how-to approach of much of the content in the industry.

Common traits shared by industry top performers:

  • Wide variety of engagement tactics
  • Use of user-generated content
  • Inclusions of influencers in their content strategy

Pepsi is a study super star.

Pepsi’s Facebook page is all about engagement. They have so many contests for so many things—the Super Bowl, holidays and STEM students—to name a few. They have live Facebook events and lots of games for viewers. It was difficult to find anything on this site that was not a direct invitation to engage. Pepsi continues its engagement on Twitter. While it does have some of the same content, it features many more polls and different contests, many of which partner with good causes and ask voters to help.

Brand Successes

We surveyed over 70 brands across eight industries to see how the best use social to deliver great customer experiences. Here are some of the brands that stood out.


JPMorgan Chase’s social content includes polls, 360-degree photos at sponsored events and customer spotlights, emphasizing lifestyle and experiences rather than its products.

Download the Full Report for More

Ford’s high post frequency and mix of live events, sneak previews and customer features prompts high user engagement, plus vehicle information and videos provide high value content.

Download the Full Report for More

NASCAR succeeded with Pinterest, a channel ignored by many in the automotive industry, focusing on everything from stats, tailgating and their many good causes.

Download the Full Report for More

Fitbit exhibited many best practices across all of the channels in their social ecosystem. Fitbit’s channels balanced healthy how-to content with products and promotions.

Download the Full Report for More

Microsoft’s social channels show how their tech is being used creatively by startups around the world, and show who the brand is behind its products.

Download the Full Report for More

Virgin posts daily to their Facebook page, offering sales and contests that partner with good causes, and responds to visitor comments quickly.

Download the Full Report for More

Marriott uses a diverse mix of engagement and storytelling techniques, like sequential posts, video and live events like TED Talks at their properties.

Download the Full Report for More

Starbucks curates content for each specific channel, and they frequently retweet consumers. Engagement includes contests, weekly shop playlist polls, discounts and volunteer campaigns.

Download the Full Report for More

Verizon Wireless’s Instagram features less promotional content than its other channels, but is much more connected to its followers. Engagement includes polls, corporate responsibility programs and sneak peeks at new products.

Download the Full Report for More

Access all the insights into how the best brands use social.

Download the Full Report