For years we have heard of the upcoming digital transformation – the slow wave of companies moving away from non-digital, manual processes in favor of technologies that improve efficiency, data collection and analysis, team collaboration and, ultimately, ROI.

The digital transformation always came. But due to COVID-19, a gradual transformation happened practically overnight. Zach Hofer-Shall, Senior Director of the Twitter Ecosystem, said, “The unprecedented events of 2020 saw every company out there being hit by a wrecking ball that shattered the idea that this transformation was years away.”

If companies want to be at the forefront of digital transformation, they need to harness the power of social conversation to the full. We at Sprout Social and Hofer-Shall agree on this. That’s why we sat down with him to discuss the role of social media in digital transformation, the future of social media marketing, and the reasons why companies need to take advantage of the opportunities social data offers from sources like Twitter.

How did the events of 2020 accelerate digital transformation?

ZHS: When you break it down, it’s not hard to see why 2020 accelerated that transformation. Shops closed, events canceled, and our ability to physically face people has completely changed. So the question arose as to how we can still publish our messages and reach our customers.

Fortunately, many smart companies started making the change a long time ago. Businesses that have done well, that have already adopted digital channels and switched their messaging and delivery to digital – they are ready. They already have the skills, they are going faster than they were, and they are taking business from those on the other end of the spectrum – the companies that are resistant to transformation.

Any company that ignores the importance of digital channels or companies that have had to make a generation change at some point cannot wait any longer. And socially, it drives this type of business transformation. At Twitter, over the course of 2020, we watched resilient shoppers who had previously pushed the social environment into the background, and realized they needed a new way to retain and maintain relationships with them.

Which elements of social media do you think companies should embrace and appreciate more?

ZHS: Data acquisition is a passion of mine. I believe we will all be better when a generation becomes smarter about the performance of data, how it is used responsibly, and how it can be used in corporate decision-making. But honestly, marketers don’t make enough use of social data.

When working in the social tech world, we sometimes forget what bubble we are in and that not everyone realizes the importance of social data. However, when we get out of this bubble, we can see that companies have the opportunity to do a lot more with it.

Why do you think companies are not making enough use of social data?

ZHS: We’re still in the early stages of smart marketing and we’ve barely scratched the surface of social marketing. And when it comes to data, we may be a generation away from what we’ll see in the future. Almost all roles in different business areas need to understand and accept data-driven strategies. And social data is arguably the easiest for people to understand today.

Brands may have a misconception that they need to be active in the social arena in order to use social data, but they don’t. Even if your business doesn’t have an active Twitter presence, using Twitter data can provide you with immense benefit from knowing in real time what is going on in the world and what people are interested in.

Ultimately, data is only effective when brands can use and apply it, and many people just don’t yet know how to do that.

How can brands feel more comfortable using social data to make business decisions?

ZHS: Make social issues accessible and relatable. There are tons of people who don’t have a degree in data science or are not trained in formal data analysis, but their work in the social field requires data literacy. We need to make it as easy as possible for them to understand their data and turn it into actionable insights.

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

One of the silver linings of COVID was that it gave every single person in the world an excuse to look at a graph and start analyzing data in a specific timeframe. Every publication, however traditional, showed a flattening of the curve diagrams.

Of course, data awareness isn’t exactly the same as data literacy, but it speeds up the discussion about data. It makes more people think that owning data isn’t just a person’s job.

How can brands bridge the gap between social and other disciplines in their company?

ZHS: Social has long been an isolated technology and an isolated team. But now everyone is starting to wonder if they should also be in the social space.

One joke we made 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 get away with not talking to each other as often as they should. And the sales and support teams didn’t have to participate in these conversations. But that doesn’t work socially. Social has to be something that every team is aware of as there is really powerful data there that can affect your entire business.

So think about it. You no longer have a telephone strategy, but you are using the telephone to aid other strategies. Social will take a very similar path and drive branding strategies in the future. Whether you are solely involved in data analytics, customer care, customer experience, research and development, all of these features can be delivered through Twitter and other social channels.

How can Sprout Social and the Twitter partnership help brands see social media differently?

ZHS: Many timestamps come into social space with a preconceived notion of what it means to be on Twitter. And we need to broaden their perspective. You also have to think, “We have a Twitter account. We use it for the following reasons. We checked the box. “My job is to help as many brands as possible understand the critical value of social channels and that they are not just a check box.

There are more options every day. Brands can use social listening to identify emerging trends and measure their voting share. You can use social media as a testing ground for new creative content. With social analytics, brands can refine their overall strategy in such a way that customer preferences are aligned. There is so much more to be gained from social media than many companies currently think.

Your message of “seeing socially differently” has been the focus of my crusade for well over a decade. We need that, and we need companies like Sprout that are committed to it.

See Twitter data differently

Twitter and other social channels are abundant sources of business, competitive, and customer information that can affect your entire company. And when you use that intelligence, you can solve some of your greatest challenges. Product teams can customize offers based on feedback from social sources. PR teams can use hearing data to create a media pitch that will land their brand on the news. Marketing teams can use social data to build a business case and secure buy-in for more resources.

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