2021 Social media trends and predictions

Jan 18th '21

The “social” part of social media took on a whole new weight in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted people to small groups and away from indoor venues.  That meant a switch to more social media activity online, and a shift in behaviours — some expected and some unexpected. If you manage a social media account, you may certainly feel like your wheels are spinning to move towards the right audience.


Considering last year’s trends, what concepts are worth investing in, anticipating better engagement with customers through a difficult time from the pandemic. The following trends are viable for 2021.


Social Commerce Has (Finally!) Come of Age

The question of a social media ROI has existed since the dawn of social media itself. Marketers wanted to know what return is possible for advertising to a large audience on Twitter versus a TikTok audience.


In 2021 that race will hit new heights as marketers will use a broader set of social media ads to connect products and services to customers. New purchase methods within posts, stories and livestreams means customers can act on a “buy now” message with greater ease than ever before. The stay-at-home behavior that rose during the COVID-19 pandemic bolster this environment. According to a Hootsuite survey, 73% of respondents indicated that increased acquisition of new customers is the most important social media goal for 2021. Expect managers to establish social commerce strategies for their organizations.


Watch the Public Call for Platform Accountability

Consolidation in tech has occurred over the years, but academics and industry experts ponder if social media platforms control too much of the public discourse.  Facebook, for example, faces a federal anti-trust investigation that could lead to splitting WhatsApp and Instagram into separate companies. It’s unlikely we’ll see a real resolution this year, but ongoing media coverage will cast a shadow across social media platforms regarding their societal influences, their operational transparency, and how users feel about their experiences. Businesses should monitor the social media platforms they use to follow their impact on real-world events, because the platform’s responses can and will influence how customers view your organization’s association with the platform.


Social Media Will Battle for Marketer Attention (and Budgets)

This is the equivalent of delaying a hot and highly anticipated prize fight. Every media platform — from podcast to streaming — offers an ad service, such as Spotify’s bolstered services to appeal to podcasters. That means a dizzying array of choices are competing for the attention of pandemic-weary customers and cash-strapped marketers. Expect social media platforms to do everything they can to prove to you that their environment returns the best ROI for ad spend and sales.


Traditional Brands Are Upping Their Social Media Game (and Gains)

In an eMarketer rating of top 10 ecommerce retailers, grocery retailer Kroger and department store Target appeared on the list for the first time. Their capability to leverage ecommerce is part of that success (as is a shift of consumer shopping habits towards groceries and household goods during the pandemic). This means the narrative of traditional retailers lagging — in social media and in online retail — as compared with digital native retailers is waning. This signals that some more established brands and retailers are growing more accustomed to executing strategy and crafting effective messages online.


Still Time to Make Customer Experiences Immersive in AR

Immersive experiences provided through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have made social media platforms like Snapchat and TikTok more fun. Interestingly, more people have discovered immersive experiences due to being limited to stay-at-home conditions.


As pandemic recovery unfolds and people find their confidence to step into public spaces, brands will find the opportunities to connect virtual experiences to customer experience. The promise of dynamic immersive content bringing innovative brand value will finally emerge. This means marketers must grow an appreciation of AR developer communities for creative media.


Take Snapchat, for example. At its LensFest virtual event in December, Snapchat announced a $3.5 million fund to invest in Snapchat Lens creators and developers. This community is using Snapchat’s Lens Studio tool to explore AR technologies, so Snapchat is looking to these community-made Lenses since they are already eliciting deeper engagement among Snapchat users.


Guarding Brand Image Will Continue to Be a Challenge

Brands waded into the political arena at an increasing rate in 2020. But some have found their forays into newsjacking — joining a current conversation online — risky business.


Brand accountability will remain top of mind in 2021 as issues with misinformation and public outcries will continue. Marketers will have two responsibilities to make brand accountability effective:


  1. Understand social concerns of the customers they court.
  2. Have a plan in advance on how and when to share thoughts on issues so that brand image is not damaged.


Marketers will reflect on which social media platform best aids accountability. Misinformation clean up has already begun with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter increasing high-profile suspensions for community guideline breaches, as well as reevaluating guidelines. If you are charged with social media strategy, you will need to evaluate if your brand’s ads on a particular platform are appearing with bad, misleading or incendiary content.


Are You My Customer Demographic?

The emergence of niche social media platforms hosting an audience with shared specific purposes might be a tempting prospect for a marketer. But as with any other choice, such as choosing influencers to work with, marketers must be selective of what platforms to engage with to ensure they tap their intended customer for long-term sales. Otherwise their brand will face a horrible PR disaster.


Simplifying Content Choices on Where to Tweet, Gram and Tok

During the early days of social media, people had to learn specific platform features such as likes and tweets. Today the novelty of platform features do not exist long as a distinct feature. Each platform can adopt a feature quickly, such as the popularity of Stories (grouped images and video) this year.


Expect to feel a bit pressed to manage content across the established platforms. Each still have varying size limits, so content management solutions need to help you streamline your media choices to best serve their customers consistently.


Using Videos and Image Stories as Personal Expression 

It’s a “duh” statement to say video is popular. But as pandemic responses has pushed people to spend more time online, many people are using short video for creativity, ranging from dance challenges to storytelling in features like Instagram Reels. Marketers will have to be aware of how people express themselves visually — noting examples as they discover, such as how Ocean Spray discovered the popularity of TikTok user Nathan Apadaca. Apadaca’s video of him drinking an Ocean Spray cranberry juice on a skateboard was a viral TikTok hit. Content quality in these instances is rated by authenticity of the moment rather than production-grade. These moments will create the right word of mouth among consumers through 2021.


What else in social media you think will attract authentic interest in 2021?


About the Author

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. He reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability.


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