Since New Year’s Day 2023, more than 5 million messages referencing ChatGPT have been sent across Reddit, Twitter and YouTube alone. The artificial intelligence chatbot has demonstrated how far AI has come in recent years, captivating consumers as much as C-suite executives.

The mainstream excitement over generative and other multi-purpose AI tools is more than just good PR. Rather, it’s indicative of a tectonic shift in how companies design software, how businesses invest in technology and how individual users devote their time and energy.

AI development was once a cost prohibitive, time intensive exercise that yielded very specific results. Going forward, the work of tech giants will make AI functionality widely accessible and applicable to a variety of industries, functions and needs.

For Sprout Social, this presents a massive opportunity to build solutions that help teams work smarter, unlock creativity and increase social media’s business impact exponentially. For our current and future customers, now is the time to start planning for adaptation—and empowering your teams with the tools they need to do it.

A new era in AI innovation

We’re in the middle of an AI step change that will advance software more dramatically than past shifts, like the introduction of graphical user interfaces (such as Windows and Mac) or the move from desktop to mobile computing.

Machine learning quietly showed up in mainstream software over the last decade. In this time, software companies developed tools in-house to automate the process of gleaning insights from massive datasets or to better personalize experiences. These models came with a high price tag to build and train, and they usually addressed one opportunity.

The last few months marked the start of a new chapter. Advancements in large language models (a subset of AI) are making it possible to move beyond solutions tailored to solve niche problems. Companies like OpenAI, Google and their peers are building highly capable, multipurpose models that can address a breadth of use cases. More than ever before, these innovations are becoming available for software vendors of all sizes to integrate into their own platforms. Suddenly, everyone has the tools to create AI-backed features.

Platforms won’t be differentiated by simply having AI capabilities, but by how thoughtfully they weave AI into the end user experience.

Building with AI doesn’t mean we stop designing for humans

Unleashing the full potential of AI is no longer about point features and “faster horses.” Software companies have an obligation to experiment with these new innovations—and give customers the chance to experience it themselves. The most exciting innovation isn’t very exciting if you can’t trust that it will work as promised.

At Sprout, we have a foundation of proprietary machine learning that users benefit from, through features like Optimal Send Times, sentiment analysis and explicit content filtering. Sprout’s platform processes upward of 50,000 social posts per second within Listening and an average of 600 million messages daily, helping brands surface key business, audience and competitive insights faster. Our acquisition of Repustate will only amplify these features across our engagement, customer care and listening products.

This new phase of AI will change how we build software, but it won’t change our extreme focus on user-centric design. Instead, we’ll have to be even more intentional about how humans and AI collaborate within the Sprout ecosystem.

Design approaches will and should evolve, but the end goal remains the same: to make the people who use our product more effective. AI should serve as an exoskeleton, a layer that enhances your existing strengths, or be an assistant who shields you from tedious tasks—preserving your time and energy to focus on truly creative work.

Safety and accountability will continue to be paramount as well. Tools like ChatGPT may exhibit human-level performance at many tasks, but (like humans) they have their flaws, among them perpetuating biases and “hallucinating” misinformation.

AI is not ready to represent your brand or business culture on its own. It’s on us to ship products that keep the user accountable and in control, while eliminating the manual effort required to sift through thousands of messages or the fear of a blank compose window.

Business leaders: Prepare your teams for a new world of work

AI will upend our relationship with software, whether you’re a marketer, a customer care agent or a data analyst. Before overhauling tech stacks or rewriting job descriptions, leaders need to reflect on how these emerging capabilities will change the nature of work for their teams.

You should be asking yourself:

Do we have a safe space to experiment?

When it comes to AI, no one has all the answers yet. But businesses should align themselves with partners willing to educate, and even co-create, solutions.

At Sprout, innovating swiftly will never come at the expense of quality or brand safety. We will capitalize on opportunities to invite our customers into the learning process, including betas to explore and pressure test new features. The most effective AI-enabled features will come down to user interface and workflow design. And the best design doesn’t happen by accident, or in a vacuum. Customer feedback consistently shapes our roadmap, our priorities and how functionality comes to life.

Where can AI complement our people?

On social media especially, consumers increasingly expect brands to present themselves as more human, more authentic. Contrast that with businesses’ need for efficiency and scalability. This push and pull is where AI can offer tremendous value.

Look across your team and identify where they need the most help today. Which aspects of their jobs are the most arduous? What would help your team better support your customers, even incrementally? This is a chance to wipe the slate clean and radically rewire processes or tasks that aren’t serving your employees.

Are we investing in durable value or cosmetic appeal?

We’re only at the beginning of this new AI era. Leaders should stay agile in anticipation of constant advances over the coming months and years. AI will greatly change how software functions and how many jobs are conducted, but it’s not clear how, when or at what pace.

This will have implications for what technology investments you make in the future. Historically, businesses have paid for custom AI models or spent long periods of time training models for their unique circumstances. These bespoke solutions may have a short shelf-life going forward, and they won’t be equipped to evolve with your changing needs. Look for a tool that will drive business impact six, 12 and 24 months from now, rather than settling for one that checks the right boxes today. Versatility and adaptation are the name of the game.

Are we setting ourselves up for long term success?

With any new technology, you’ll need to create clear rules of engagement. In what scenarios and to what degree is it acceptable to cede control to an AI tool? Where are the handoffs between AI output and human editing or polishing? More importantly, can the platform you invest in embed these lines of demarcation throughout the user interface?

When you hire AI, you’re also hiring the company that made it. It’s essential to invest in a software partner that will work with you to determine how AI can best meet your needs. Like any office dynamic, questions of control, ownership and accountability will inevitably arise once the initial excitement wears off. When those issues come up, you’ll want a software partner with an empathy for your concerns and a strong background in helping customers navigate constantly shifting landscapes.

Placing smart bets

AI will fundamentally change how we, and our customers, operate. It opens the door to unimaginable advances in productivity and brand innovation.

As we’re already starting to witness, groundbreaking AI capabilities are emerging in a variety of spaces. But what good is any technology if users don’t adopt it? How valuable is any investment if it’s not driving tangible impact for your business or can’t be trusted?

At Sprout, it’s our responsibility to build AI-powered solutions that make a meaningful difference—whether that’s surfacing social data across your entire organization faster, or making it easier for your teams to identify trends or potential crises before they crest.

For leaders, it’s your responsibility to start preparing for change. That becomes a lot less intimidating and much more exciting when you bet on tools and partners that work with—not against—your team.

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