How social drives transformation: Q&A with Twitter’s Zach Hofer-Shall

For years now we’ve heard about the impending digital transformation—the slow-rolling wave of businesses removing non-digital, manual processes in favor of technology that improves efficiency, data collection and analysis, team collaboration and, ultimately, return on investments.

Digital transformation was always coming. But due to COVID-19, what would have been a gradual transformation happened virtually overnight. As Zach Hofer-Shall, the Senior Director of Twitter’s Ecosystem, puts it, “The unprecedented events of 2020 made it so that every business out there was hit with a wrecking ball that destroyed the notion that this transformation was years away.”

If businesses want to be at the forefront of digital transformation, they must fully embrace the power of social conversation. It’s something we at Sprout Social and Hofer-Shall agree on. That’s why we sat down with him to discuss the role of social in digital transformation, the future of social media marketing and why businesses need to seize the opportunities social data from sources like Twitter provides.

How did the events of 2020 accelerate digital transformation?

ZHS: If you break it down, it’s not hard to see why 2020 accelerated this transformation. Stores closed, events were canceled and our ability to get physically in front of people changed completely. So the question became, how do we still get our messages out there and reach our customers?

Fortunately, a lot of smart businesses started to make the shift long ago. Companies that were doing well, the ones that already adopted digital channels and shifted their messaging and execution to digital—they are ready. They already have the skills, they’re going faster than they were and they’re picking up business from those on the other end of the spectrum—the businesses resistant to transformation.

Any business that ignored the importance of digital channels, or companies that had a generational shift to make at some point, can no longer wait. And social drives this kind of business transformation. At Twitter, throughout 2020, we watched the shift of resistant buyers, the ones who had pushed social to the back burner before, realize that they needed a new way to talk to customers and maintain relationships with them.

What elements of social media do you think businesses should embrace and value more?

ZHS: Data adoption is a passion of mine. I believe all of us will be better when a generation gets smarter about the power of data, how to responsibly use it and how to use it to drive business decision making. But frankly, marketers aren’t using social data enough.

Working in the social tech world, sometimes we forget how much of a bubble we’re in and that not everyone recognizes just how important social data is. But when we step outside of that bubble, we can see that there are opportunities for businesses to do a whole lot more with it.

Why do you think businesses are underutilizing social data?

ZHS: We are still early in intelligent marketing and barely have scratched the surface of where social marketing is going. And when it comes to the data, we are potentially a generation away from what we’ll see in the future. Nearly all roles across business lines need to understand and embrace data-driven strategies. And social data is arguably the easiest for people to understand today.

Brands may have a misconception that they have to be active on social to use social data, which is not true. Even if your business does not have an active Twitter presence, you can still get immense value from utilizing Twitter data to get a real-time pulse on what’s happening in the world and what people care about.

At the end of the day, data is only powerful if brands can harness and apply it, and a lot of people just don’t know how to do that yet.

How can brands get more comfortable using social data to drive business decisions?

ZHS: Make social approachable and relatable. There are tons of people who don’t have a degree in data science or don’t have formal data analysis training, but their job in social requires data literacy. We’ve got to make it as easy as possible for them to understand their data and spin it into actionable insights.

Businesses and social media management tools like Sprout Social do just that. Your tools help brands see that there is more to the story than they may have imagined.

One of the silver linings of COVID was that it gave every single person in the world an excuse to look at a chart and start to analyze data on a timeframe. Every publication, however traditional, started to show flattening the curve charts.

Of course, data awareness doesn’t exactly equate to data literacy, but it does accelerate the discussion of data. It gets more people thinking it’s not just one person’s job to own data.

How can brands bridge the gap between social and other disciplines across their business?

ZHS: Social has long been siloed technology and siloed team. But now everyone’s starting to ask if they should be in the social space as well.

A joke we used to make was that social was the Trojan horse to get internal teams talking to each other for the first time. PR teams and marketing teams used to be able to get away with not talking to each other as often as they should. And the sales and support teams didn’t have to be in those conversations. But social doesn’t work that way. Social needs to be something every team is cognizant of because there is really powerful data there that can impact your entire business.

Think about it like this. You don’t have a phone strategy anymore, but you use the phone to power other strategies. Social is going to take a very similar path and will power brand strategies in the future. Whether you work purely in data analytics, customer care, customer experience, research and development—any of those can be powered through Twitter and other social channels.

How can Sprout Social and Twitter’s partnership help brands see social differently?

ZHS: A lot of time brands come into the social space with a preconceived notion of what being on Twitter actually means. And what we need to do is expand their perspective. They need to think beyond, “We have a Twitter account. We use it for the following reasons. We’ve checked the box.” My job is to help as many brands as possible understand the critical value of social channels, and that they’re not just a checkbox.

There are more opportunities out there every day. Brands can use social listening to identify emerging trends and measure their share of voice. They can use social as a testing ground for new creative content. With social analytics, brands can refine their overall strategy in a way that aligns customer preferences. There’s so much more to gain from social than what a lot of businesses might currently be thinking.

So your message, “see social differently,” that’s been at the heart of my crusade for well over a decade now. We need that and we need businesses like Sprout to champion that.

See Twitter data differently

Twitter and other social channels are rich sources of business, competitive and customer intelligence that can influence your entire business. And when you harness that intelligence, you can solve some of your biggest challenges. Product teams can adjust offerings based on feedback from social sources. PR teams can leverage listening data to build a media pitch that lands their brand in the news. Marketing teams can pull from social data to build a business case and secure buy-in for more resources.

Curious about other ways you can put social data to use? Download this guide on 40 of the best ways to use social data that you might have overlooked.



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