Justyn Howard, Sprout Social: Social Media Management Evolution

Technology moves at the speed of sound and social media resides in the technological realm.  As a result, social management must be nimble and ready to evolve and adapt at the same speed in which technology moves. Justyn Howard, CEO and Founder of Sprout Social, joins Brent Leary to discuss changes in the way social management is being performed and what current social trends are revealing about the future of social management.

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social managementSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Justyn Howard: I was in enterprise sales for a software company in the learning management space, a company called Learned.com. I had been in the enterprise software space for six or seven years before getting involved with Sprout. I was always on the sales and marketing side, but very close to the software and technology space.

Small Business Trends: For those who don’t know what you do at Sprout Social, can you tell them what Sprout Social actually does?

Justyn Howard: Sprout Social is a social media management platform, we provide a Web based platform for our business customers. There are a little over 10,000 across the globe. We help them to effectively and efficiently manage their social channels.

Small Business Trends: What is the biggest change over the years across for tracking social engagement and creating these new metrics?

Justyn Howard: The biggest change really has been at the macro level. It has been about how organizations are thinking of social and the metrics associated with it. So zooming in a little bit, what that means is, early on we saw a lot attention and effort spent around measuring volume of conversations and sentiment on Twitter and Facebook primarily at the time.

What we are seeing now, and somewhere we spent a lot of our resources, is the next step. Saying, ‘How do we tie social, social metrics and social analytics back to our long standing business objectives? Let’s set aside some of the newness and some of the mystery around social. Let’s find ways to apply the measurement from those channels back to business goals and priorities we have had forever. Things like customer retention, customer satisfaction, cost of sale, cost of support for the customer channel and growth in sales. Things that have always been very key and critical to an organization.’

Small Business Trends: You put out a report that talks about how responsive a person has been. Can you talk about that in terms of why that is important in social?

Justyn Howard: We have introduced something in Sprout called the Engagement Report. We introduced a public version that is free for anyone to sign up and get a report card if you will.

The purpose of those reports is to understand most companies, within any reasonable size of customer base, have people on social media who are trying to get some type of response from them. Whether it is for a customer service inquiry, sales inquiry or just plain brand evangelism. They want to have a conversation with that organization.

Then name of the campaign for the public site was ‘Be Present,’ and the idea there is very much to have a two-sided relationship. What we are measuring are the conversations where people are trying to interact with your brand. How responsive are you? What kind of time frame is involved in your responsiveness?

One of the things we found when we introduced this data was, as you grow into larger organizations, you respond to a smaller chunk of your audience. But you do it much quicker, which is interesting to think about. Those are the types of things we are exposing in these new reports.

Small Business Trends: A lot of companies start out with social from a marketing and branding perspective. But you have integrations with companies like Zendesk, that tie listening and analytics back to customer service. What does that mean from a customer service perspective?

Justyn Howard: There is a growing population of consumers that, when they think about how they are going to interact with a brand or have a question answered, their preference is going to be to turn to social media channels. If they are out and about and they have a problem, it is going to be easier for them to send you a tweet than it is to find your website, find your 800 number and sit on hold.

We are seeing this shift. I think it is really starting to pick up steam over the last eight to twelve months. I don’t think it is something that most organizations had anticipated three years ago, but it’s not up to them. The customer has decided that this is a place where they want to have their questions answered and be supported. So how can organizations effectively manage that and turn that into an opportunity to give the customers a remarkable experience?

Small Business Trends: I like what you said about applying new social metrics to traditional business goals and objectives. What are some that you see companies using?

Justyn Howard: We are still in the early days. I think that technology has certainly come a long way, but there are a lot of advances that I think we will see over the next 18 to 24 months that are going to help.

Now there is a focus on, ‘How is social growing our sales channels? How is social helping customer retention?’ We are seeing other key stakeholders in those “social” discussions.

We know as a customer service team, what key drivers are for us to be effective in terms of resolution time or the cost to support a customer or customer retention. Those departments know how to measure those things. You know there is some technology involved and there is going to be some manual process involved while technology catches up. But by bringing those stakeholders into the conversation, we can then apply what is going on in social. Whether it is uptake in conversation that leads to an uptake in sales or there are different ways that you can look at that data and tie it back to your business metrics, your KPI.

Small Business Trends: Any future trends to look out for?

Justyn Howard: There is going to be a consolidation of tools and platforms. The current environment is very much what I call, ‘bring your own application.’ Meaning, people who are managing social channels within organizations will use the tools that they are comfortable with. Maybe the same tools that they use to manage their own personal channels, etc.

The challenge that creates when you are looking to have a cohesive strategy, is that it becomes very difficult to support and measure. It is very difficult in terms of audit trail and all those sorts of things that a more progressive organization needs.

The other is I think we are going to continue to see a trend toward social as just another channel. It happens to be an amazing channel and one that is very different than any that we have ever had before. But it is another channel to communicate with our customers.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about Sprout Social?

Justyn Howard: SproutSocial.com is a great place to start.

This interview on social management is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.