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Business leaders are expecting to dole out more money on social media marketing as the channel becomes increasingly critical to success, according to a survey by The Harris Poll — which was commissioned by Sprout Social. The findings included sentiment from consumers, who expect companies to use social media data to create more personalized shopping experiences and engagement.

“Nearly all business executives (91 percent) anticipate their company’s social media budget will increase over the next three years, and 62 percent of consumers note businesses that do not have a strong social presence will not succeed in the long run,” authors of the report stated.

Sprout Social, a provider of cloud-based social media management software, said the survey showed that 85 percent of business executives “report that moving forward social data will be a primary source of business intelligence for their company, and nearly half (46 percent) expect their company’s social media marketing budget to increase by up to 100 percent in the next three years.”

The company said survey results align with consumers’ needs, with the data showing “that going forward social media is the number-one preferred way to learn about brands, ahead of all other channels including email, or TV and print advertising.”

The survey polled 1,000 U.S. consumers and 250 executives. The report, titled, “The State of Social Media: After a Year of Transformation, Executives Are All-In on Social,” reveals the “importance of social media as a business strategy, its role as a cornerstone of customer experience and the challenges facing brands in achieving success,” Sprout Social said in a statement.

The research showed that social media usage is trending upward, “especially among younger generations, and [is] expected to continue to grow.” As social media use grows, 34 percent of respondents said they expect it will continue to increase over the next three years, with Gen Z and Millennials leading the way. Respondents also said they expect brands and retailers to use social to better engage them.

“Consumers expect companies to use social media to provide a more personalized experience based on previous interactions (61 percent), read and analyze what customers post on social media (59 percent), and know them better based on their activity on social media (51 percent),” the report stated.

But that doesn’t mean companies can deliver these expected experiences. Authors of the report said while most executives are “aligned on the importance of social media for their business, they are not confident in their company’s ability to meet the needs of their customers on this mission-critical channel.” Sprout Social said that fewer than half of executives “describe their current social media strategy as ‘very effective,’ while 90 percent of executives agree their companies need to more effectively use social data to understand their customers.”

Ryan Barretto, president of Sprout Social, said there is “no doubt this past year served as a catalyst for the digital transformation happening across businesses, but what I find most compelling from the report findings is that this transformation is disproportionately unfolding on social media.”

“Consumers are clear — social media is where the customer experience should start, develop and end,” Barretto said. “Compared to a year ago, consumers have increasingly used social media to discover new brands (43 percent), recommend brands to their friends and family (33 percent) and make a purchase (36 percent). These numbers become even more pronounced for younger generations. For businesses to thrive in this world, it is clear that social insight on key touchpoints across the customer lifecycle cannot be a long-term plan, it must happen now.”

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