Social Media Trends 2021: The ultimate guide

By analysing the Hootsuite and Hubspot/Talkwalker reports, we have identified 10 key trends that will guide 2021 social content and strategies and that brands will need to take into account to set up an effective communication with their audience.

When we talked about the digital trends of 2020 last year, no one could’ve imagined what 2020 had in store for us.

The pandemic and the consequent economic crisis, the rampant social protests, the pressing climate situation – all these factors have not only influenced the approach of companies to digital, and in particular to social networks, but also how social networks adapted to cope with new needs.

For instance, although a stronger growth in video content and an increase in Live or Stories usage were already expected last year, no one would have imagined such a leap in the use of these tools, caused by the need to stay in touch when the word of order was social distancing.

Surely Covid-19 more than any other factor has acted as a catalyst for many ideas, events and initiatives that perhaps would not have occurred otherwise, and we must expect that some dynamics and repercussions generated by this situation will also have an impact in 2021.

Like every year, global platforms such as Hootsuite, Hubspot and Talkwaker analyze the market situation, collecting interviews and feedback from marketers and industry experts in order to publish reports and projections on what awaits us in 2021.

In this article, we present 10 key points to consider when setting up a social media marketing and communication strategy in 2021.

1) The socially conscious new generations

Contingent events such as Covid-19 and social rifts have led many brands to take a stand, adopting specific policies.

Issues of common interest such as education, society, politics, equity, the climate are important to the younger generations and are widely discussed on social media. These topics also guide the purchasing decisions of these generations, which are growing and will soon enter the working world, increasing their spending capacity.

Fridays for Future © Mitja Kobal

Goal-oriented companies will need to take these factors into account and take a stand accordingly. But be careful: adopting a socially conscious marketing strategy is not something that can be falsified, imitated or built overnight. Giving in to social pressure has led many brands to be defined as hypocrites, especially when compared to brands like Patagonia that have made social and environmental responsibility their USP.

Therefore, if the company does not have a strategy that is truly oriented towards these goals, any marketing effort will be useless and above all harmful to the company’s reputation.

Social media can help us to listen to what consumers ask, want and consider important when it comes to purchasing decisions. But the decision to take a stand in this regard must come from the company’s management, which must define a functional strategy, oriented towards the goals. This strategy should not be made of mere statements, nor impromptu but it should carry real meaning and be as authentic as it gets.

What to do then? As we specified when talking about LinkedIn, the first step is to create behavioural policies for social media, an even more fundamental tool in times of crisis. If these policies already exist, a review of them will make employees and in particular the social team more prepared and confident in managing interactions with the audience – an audience that we should listen to. And this brings us directly to the next trend.

2) Social listening

As already mentioned, when the pandemic broke out, many brands rushed to change their communication strategies, focusing all attention on Covid-19 and related topics and ending up adopting an almost sentimental language, which became tiring in the long run.

You cannot appear disconnected from reality but neither can you forcefully insert yourself into conversations in which consumers would not want to find our brand. Most people use social media to find fun content and to inform themselves. Also, Hootsuite lets us know that 68% of people don’t think brands or companies are sharing interesting content.

Brands that wish to stand out in 2021 will have to find creative ways to plug into the conversation instead of trying to lead it, creating content that breaks through the wall of indifference.

Adopting conversational marketing strategies can help go from theory to practice, by building relationships based on personalized one-to-one content, adopting a more conversational and human tone, combining artificial intelligence with a more empathic form of communication.

In 2021 it is reasonable to expect a greater commitment from brands and platforms to connect more with consumers, also thanks to the use of artificial intelligence. Promotions will become less forced and will derive more from listening to the audience, from natural conversations and consolidated relationships with consumers.

Brand-wide, it is good to review your performance metrics, keeping in mind the normal behaviour of users. In fact, most people on Facebook share 1 post every 30 days on average. This should make us understand how likes and shares do not always represent the real interest of a user. In this sense, reach and engagement are more realistic metrics, especially if the engagement is later translated into concrete actions, such as the request of information.

3) The continued importance of customer experience

Listening to your audience also means focusing once again on customer experience.

In fact, in recent years we have witnessed a shift in focus from improving the customer experience to seeking a higher ROI. However, transactions do not make a brand memorable or lead to long-term growth. Moreover, today more than ever, it is necessary to recreate on social media the costumer experience that has been lacking in physical touchpoints due to social distancing and closures imposed by the pandemic.

This will not only raise the social value but will also help differentiate our products and services from all other advertisers (which are growing, by the way).

A success story on this matter is presented by Clarins, a company of skin care products, forced by the pandemic to close all its physical stores – which traditionally represent the number one source of sales and profits – shifting its focus on e-commerce.

To make up for the lack of support and purchase advice notoriously available in-store, Clarins relied on her beauty coach Rebecca Jones who, directly from her home through Instagram Stories, shared advice on beauty products and routines, based on types of skin and the most common needs. The home-based and DIY nature of these stories allowed consumers to identify with Rebecca, leading to incredible engagement results.

It is therefore essential to go back to the basics of social networks: to stay connected, in this case with your customers. To do this in a period in which in-store experiences are limited or will have to be rethought, it is important to accompany the online shopping to experiences similar to those that could be done in-store, in order to make the quality of the product more tangible. This can be done for example through Live on social media, employee advocacy and collaborations with influencers.

The Baby Boomers case

Speaking of customer experience and social listening, in 2021 many marketers will have to abandon stereotypes and remedy a mistake perpetrated for too long: the exclusion of the Baby Boomers generation from marketing targets.

Particularly active on Facebook, as every Millennial child will confirm, this generation that groups those born between 1946 and 1964, has become over time more and more tech and social savvy. Moreover, 70% of internet users aged 55-64 say they have bought something online in the past month.

Despite this, the Boomers have often been excluded from the communication targets. One of the culprits of this error is the industry’s bad habit of chasing novelty rather than effectiveness. For example, TikTok has been one of the most discussed novelties and while its influence is set to grow, Hootsuite lets us know that based on the opinions of its interviewees, TikTok ranks among the least effective platforms at the moment.

So, how to fix this? As with any target, not everyone is necessarily interested in your brand. However, rather than excluding an entire generation simply based on age (and stereotypes), it is better to opt for a specific, interest-based targeting that does not necessarily include everyone but that does not exclude Boomers altogether either, since Boomers as well have hobbies and passions, just like everyone else.

4) The four Cs that will guide the conversation tone on social media

The repercussions of Covid-19 will not end with the arrival of the vaccine but will also affect the future. Our consumer habits have been influenced and changed by the pandemic and will almost certainly never be the same as in the pre-pandemic situation.

In light of this, according to the report by Hubspot and Talkwalker, the tone of 2021 will be determined by four Cs: Community, Contactless, Cleanliness, Compassion – words that have become trendy and widely discussed on social networks.

Consumers seek reassurance and information about their concerns from brands.

Brands will therefore have to be able to provide an answer to these concerns and requests for information- However, before becoming part of these conversations, brand should take into account the relevance of their communication in relation to the topic.

The four Cs will have to shape brand communication in 2021, adapting to changing consumer concerns.

Based on all the trends mentioned so far, brands will need to connect more with their consumers, listening and analysing their conversations to understand their concerns, and provide answers that allow them to address these issues more effectively.

5) The power of (remixed) user-generated content

The rise of TikTok has certainly given new shape to user-generated content, electing it as one of the most effective forms of digital communication.

What makes this new type of user generated content really a trend to focus on (and expect more from the future, also considering the success of the recently launched Instagram Reels) is the possibility for users to remix content, personalizing it in the most appropriate way to express themselves and their personality.

In fact, we no longer speak of a mere act of sharing a viral post: people’s contributions are taken up by other users, who make them their own, customizing the format and transforming a trend into something new.

This type of content was even more successful during the lockdown imposed by Covid-19, providing a way of connecting and communicating with other people, creating new content without having to leave the house.

Brands can fit into this context by providing new formats and templates on which users can base their content. This will allow for a more organic connection between brands and consumers.

Moreover, expect more and more apps and social channels to adapt to accommodate this type of content, while also offering VR and AR options.

6) The commitment to stop digital disinformation

The term fake news has entered everyone’s vocabulary. And as many already know, fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories are widely spread on social media.

If we were already aware of the dangers and controversies related to fake news by social giants – with Twitter following the hard line to fight them and Facebook choosing a more cautious approach – the coronavirus pandemic has certainly given a boost to the efforts of both brands and social platforms to fight fake news and the overall disinformation, as we discussed when we talked about how the Coronavirus has changed the digital world.

2021 (and we bet the years to come, as well) will be marked by this continuous joint effort.

The Meme situation

Why do we talk about digital disinformation in correlation with memes?

Well, memes have become one of the most powerful and popular forms of communication, especially among the youngest. In fact, it is estimated that 55% of people aged 13-25 exchange memes every week.

They are certainly a fun, sometimes irreverent, form of communication, which offered a relief and a form of escapism from the situation generated by Covid-19. However, as it often happens with the most popular forms of communication, memes can also be exploited to influence online users with malicious purposes, especially when they go hand in hand with disinformation, which is growing rapidly.

All hot topics such as politics, the economy and Covid-19 itself are at risk of manipulation, even through memes. In the coming months and years, we must expect memes to be used more and more to persuade consumers.

The impact of memes does not only affect key issues such as those mentioned above but also brands. If on the one hand brands exploit memes to communicate with the language of their audience, also sharing those generated by the community itself, on the other, brands will have to pay more and more attention to minimize the propaganda potential of the medium.

While waiting for new regulations for this type of content (which also raises copyright concerns), let’s expect an ever-increasing monitoring of this format, both by the platforms and by the brands.

7) The charm of nostalgia marketing

How many of you born in the 90s like me like to think back to the hours spent playing Super Mario Bros on the Game Boy Color, the exchange of Pokemon cards, the hours spent listening to Spice Girls tapes with the Walkman?

Whether your tastes meet mine or your year of birth is different from mine, each generation has memories linked to moments, objects, customs of a certain period, which bring to mind carefree moments.

The last few years saw a rise of this nostalgia – just think of the several (and more or less successful) reboots of productions that have gone down in history or new tv shows such as Stranger Things, which gives a nod to an entire generation who misses the 80s and its customs.

The 80s nostalgia of Stranger Things.

In times of uncertainty and economic recession like the one we are experiencing, the resort to past memories and nostalgia is even more frequent and for many it represents an attempt to connect to happier times and distract ourselves from the current situation.

It should therefore come as no surprise that 2021 will see an increase in nostalgia marketing strategies, able to connect positive emotions to a brand, giving it a sentimental connotation.

Stories associated with the “better days” theme, content that revolves around classic elements, re-editions of now defunct products or content presented in “old school” style – the formats that brands can exploit are many.

What we must keep in mind if we want to adopt similar strategies is that nostalgia marketing only works for one generation at a time, precisely because of the close link with the historical period.

8) The return of traditional marketing

Those who read our articles know how many times we have mentioned that there is no perfect and always effective marketing strategy: the habits of consumers and online users change and adapt to trends and contingent situations and this is why it is important that our marketing strategies are flexible.

We have already talked about how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the habits of online users. Today we are given another fact: the more traditional marketing strategies – such as newsletters and podcasts – have returned to fill an information gap.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that brands will have to focus more on offering quality content, able to fill the aforementioned gap, focusing more on content rather than style.

9) Social media meet gaming

With the lockdown, more and more people have used video games as a distraction, also marking a strong growth in communities and online forums. What may surprise you is that the keywords linked to these communities are not so much related to games per se, but to the social relationships that derives from them, to playing together: through platforms such as Twitch or YouTube, players connect with each other, sharing experiences.

In fact, Talkwalker lets us know that people who identify as gamers (citing this in their social bio) rose from 31.1 million in 2019 to 41.2 million in 2020, marking a + 32%.

If on the one hand many companies have already understood and exploited the potential offered by the gamer community (i.e. Warner Bros, which launched the first trailer of Nolan’s latest film, Tenet, through the Fortnite game), on the other hand, many game franchises will go beyond their origins, building and expanding their community more and more, even beyond the gameplay.

Even the social platforms themselves seem to be oriented in this direction: Facebook will soon launch Facebook Horizon, a virtual place in which users can meet, build their community, interact and play.

10) Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are here to stay

We often read about declining platforms (how many times have you heard this about Twitter?) or about new platforms in full swing (does TikTok ring a bell?). However, the truth is that, if you analyse the data, the platforms that after a decade and despite the different targets continue to have no equal are three: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Part of the success of these three platforms is their ability to adapt to any situation, promptly responding to emerging user needs through new features and formats.

So, even if they won’t be the same platforms we use today, let’s expect to see these three platforms dominate the scene over the next few years too, probably under different guises. What brands will have to do is know how to adapt each and every time to these new guises.

Summing up

What we can deduct from these trends is that the leitmotiv of 2021 will be Consumer is king: brands that will fully understand their consumers – their motivations, needs, conversations – and take decisive actions based on these intuitions, will be the ones to survive the turmoil that awaits us.

2021 also promises a return to basics under many points of view: not only will the importance of the consumer experience be rediscovered with respect to sales and ROI (which will remain important in any case), but more and more attention will also be given to the ability of a brand to social listening and create a real connection with their audience. The authenticity of the stand brands will take on social issues, as well as their ability to adapting to new formats and new consumer habits will be pivotal as well.

The year ahead will certainly not be easy and the feeling is that of having to ponder our strategic choices with even greater attention. That said, a truly authentic, consumer-facing approach is likely to reward our efforts.

What do you think of these trends? Do you recognize these behaviours and attitudes in your audience? Let us know in the comment section below and contact us for more information on our marketing and communication services.

Published by

Barbara

After graduating in Languages at the Università degli Studi di Milano, my interest and curiosity towards the digital world led me to pursue a career in this field and to get a Specializing Master in Digital Marketing. Today, I am responsible for the definition and application of marketing and communication strategies for both EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I travel, I read a lot and I binge-watch TV series. A place to visit at least once in your life: Oman. Must read: Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini. What you should binge-watch next: Mr. Robot.

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