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AI is (obviously) making an impact in marketing—here’s how to make it last

By Scott Morris, CMO, Sprout Social

Tagger by Sprout Social


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June 26, 2024 | 6 min read

80% of marketers feel AI has already had a positive impact on their work. For any innovation still in its early innings, that’s an impressive feat. To keep this momentum up, marketing leaders have to champion AI use cases that don’t disrupt their teams’ work, but instead let them refocus their creativity and drive more impact.

It’s impossible to have a conversation about marketing today without talking about artificial intelligence (AI). The technology is rapidly evolving and vendors are making a lot of promises — because marketing teams, regardless of industry or size, all need to work smarter.

Marketing budgets have fallen to 7.7% of company revenue, down from over 9% in 2023, according to Gartner research. Today’s “era of less,” however, isn’t necessarily a constraint for teams that embrace AI and automation the right way.

We all have our personal feelings about AI. Some of us might be excited, some hesitant and some confused as we try to make sense of it all. All of these are valid. I probably cycle through each emotion once on any given day.

But data from The Sprout Social Index™ shows that more than 80% of marketers feel AI has already had a positive impact on their work. For any innovation still in its early innings, that’s an impressive feat. To keep this momentum up, marketing leaders have to champion AI use cases that don’t disrupt their teams’ work—but let them refocus their creativity and drive more impact.

Strapped for time, starving for focus

Marketing teams aren’t just facing tighter budgets. They’re at max capacity as well.

63% percent of social media marketers agree manual tasks prevent them from doing high impact work, and 48% feel they sometimes or rarely have enough time to get their work done, according to Sprout research. Most crave more space for customer interactions, strategic planning, content creation and deep data analysis.

Generative AI tools dominate most of the headlines we’ve seen lately, but those are only one way the technology’s power can come to life. AI can eliminate so much of the rote work that bloats our processes and distracts us from more important decision-making.

For example, the number one task social marketers anticipate leaning on AI more for this year is analyzing data, according to The Sprout Social Index™. But rather than outsourcing the entire responsibility to machines, they can delegate the most cumbersome steps—the spreadsheet compiling, data cleansing and query building that monopolizes so many working hours. This frees up marketers to spend more time interpreting insights and translating them into new campaigns or creative ideas.

This is a turning point for social media teams. Think of all the time that was previously spent crafting performance reports for leadership or manually sifting through social conversations to find relevant trends. AI offers marketers a reprieve from the noise and an opportunity to instead act on the signals that matter.

Embedding AI vs. tacking it on

The sense of urgency across c-suites to adopt AI has been palpable. But AI adoption isn’t something brands can rush into for the sake of checking a box. To reap the benefits of AI, marketing leaders have to think bigger.

Consider all of the workflows circulating through your teams today and pull them apart. What are the tasks people dread doing? Which steps make you energized to log on everyday? Once the excitement of early experimentation wears off, how will AI simply become a standard resource in our day to day?

It’s just as important to understand what your audience prefers and expects when it comes to AI use. More than 80% of consumers agree that AI-generated content will make their social feeds more saturated than they already are, according to a Sprout Social Q2 2024 Pulse Survey. Almost 40% say they’d be less likely to engage with AI-generated social content compared to human-generated content.

People want that human touch when it’s appropriate—but there are other scenarios where AI is welcome, especially if it’s being used to make their experience better or more productive. Case in point: Nearly three-quarters of consumers are comfortable with brands using AI to deliver faster social customer care. And even though some audiences may not jump at the chance to reshare a social image built with DALL-E, think of how many could benefit from more accessible social content (made possible with AI-generated alt text)?

At Sprout, we believe AI should not be a replacement for employee innovation or your brand’s strategies for deeper customer connections. Nor should it require a steep learning curve or onboarding process (which ultimately tanks productivity). It’s why we prioritize integrating AI thoughtfully across our platform and into customers’ workflows, as showcased during our latest product launch. Building—and adopting—human-centric AI means giving your teams more time to focus on the creativity that no machine can emulate.

Marketers who play the AI long game will win

When subject matter experts talk about how AI will transform marketing, they’re talking about more than technology adoption (or if not, they should be).

Tooling is a part of the equation, but leaders have to create an AI-first culture first. This means developing a full team of AI-savvy marketers (versus siloing AI expertise to a select few) and reimagining the way you work with AI (versus wedging it into your existing processes). It means not adding new “shiny object” distractions, but finding ways to help your team focus on the creativity and strategic thinking that matter most.

I once heard someone say, “AI won’t steal your marketing job. Another marketer who knows how to use AI better than you do will steal your job.” Organizations that take a measured, intentional approach to integrating AI – not just in their tech stack, but in their team culture – will have the upper hand with both employees and customers.


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