To succeed in 2021, consumers need to be at the center of your marketing strategy. The idiom “the consumer is king” may be cliché, but it is more relevant than before. The brands that fully understand their consumers—their motivations, needs, conversations— and take decisive actions based on those insights, will be the ones that survive the turbulence ahead. Now is the time to listen to the customer voice and turn it into brand success for 2021. Yes, your 2021 social strategy starts with listening, listening some more and yes listening more closely.
So, with an unpredictable year behind us, we have learned together by taking things day by day. We are evolving into better marketers and becoming more prepared for the challenges we face. Although we don’t necessarily have all of the answers, we have experience and data to help guide us in the right direction for 2021. Let's take a look at what the key Social Media trends to watch in 2021 are.
1. The Socially Conscious Audience
In 2020, it was clear how the socially conscious generation (and the future Generation Alpha) had an impact on brands, politics, and society as a whole.
Companies will have to engage more with topics like mental health, inclusivity, and social justice, or face becoming irrelevant - and potentially, obsolete - in 2021.
ACTION: Add the conscious to your brand's social media
- Connect your brand and your audience
Understand your audience to find the issues that matter to them. Before you engage publicly with an issue, you have to be earnest about it, ensuring that you’re tackling it across your whole company. If not, you will face repercussions.
- Focus your marketing on your mission
Hard sell won’t work for Millennials and younger generations. Advertising can be seen as invasive, and only 1% of Millennials say a compelling advertisement will build trust. A mission-led marketing campaign will instead connect with the audience on a more emotive level, creating stronger brand resonance.
- Align your marketing and PR
If you’ve not aligned these departments, do it now. The more human side of PR can help disseminate the new messages you’re tackling. This can only work if the two departments are completely aligned with positioning and data (with a single source of truth).
- Go full throttle, but keep a toe on the brake
With these types of campaigns, it’s all or nothing. You have to be committed to your cause, but it’s possible to misjudge the timing or tone of your message. Monitor the response sentiment. You will get some flack (you can’t please everyone), but too much and you should look to pull the campaign.
Even if you don’t market your brand around social issues, that doesn’t mean you’re immune. Savvier generations will research your brand, and look at how you’re tackling global issues. If they find something that’s not up to par, the best case scenario is that they won’t become a customer. In the worst case, you could have a brand crisis on your hands.
2. The rise of digital disinformation
Social media has always blurred the lines between fact and fiction—from the highly edited lives of some Instagrammers, to Twitter parody accounts. The COVID-19 health crisis has brought the issue of disinformation to the forefront. Society is facing an uncertain future, and this uncertainty has created a hotbed of misinformation, with false stories leading to life-changing decisions. Expect 2021 to be the year brands and social media channels focus on highlighting the truth, and silencing ‘fake news.’
ACTION: Be a brand information provider
If you’re not providing the information consumers want, someone else will. 66% of consumers state that brand transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. If you’re more open with the truth, it’s harder for people to fill information gaps with dishonesty around your brand.
- Get your security locked and loaded
We’re seeing a rise in hackers taking over authentic channels to disseminate false information—users responded to tweets as they appeared to come from a trusted source. Ensure all your channels, social media, email, etc, are secure and verified, to help mitigate the risk of hacks.
- Monitor more broadly than ever
You’ll have to up your brand monitoring to a new scale to detect issues that don’t exist. Ensure you have an alert system in place to quickly find where your brand is being tied to fake news. And remember, many of these stories are born on politicized forums, so ensure you are covering them in your data.
Don’t pull your brand into controversy by sharing the wrong information. Ensure all comms teams (plus C-Suite) have clear communication guidelines. And if they’re not 100% sure of the authenticity of a source, they should seek support from your legal team.
- Check who controls your channels
The other risk with social media is the possibility of rogue employees (or recently made ex-employees) taking over your channels—we saw this play out with a disgruntled social media manager at TapMedia. This can lead to disinformation, or non-publicly disclosed details, being shared in the public eye. Check who has account access, and ensure a plan is in place if admins are about to change.
3. Social media adapts to the new normal
Often when reviewing social media trends, there are folks that will cry out that one platform is dying, or that another will take over. For this trend, we predict that the dominant social media platforms of today will be just as significant in 2021 and beyond. They may have new features and will adapt to the trends in their own particular way, but their significance is unlikely to dwindle in the coming years.
ACTION: Go big on social media
- Don’t get lost in the hype
Though negative stories do arise, the headlines don’t always match consumer sentiment. These channels still show growth in user numbers and audience reach, demonstrating they’re still strong marketing outlets.
- Find the right social media mix
There’s always the temptation to try and be on every social channel available, but as more niche platforms appear, you may spread yourself too thin. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should still be the backbone of your marketing spend, so you can encapsulate their large and broad audiences.
- Adapt as the platforms do
Keep reviewing how you use each platform, and make the most of the features available. It’s a challenge, but if your audience engages with Stories more than posts, for example, you’ll want to adapt your content to meet their expectations, or risk losing them.
How can you tell how your audience is changing? Channel monitoring can help. These analytics will give you vital consumer insights, which can help influence your content ideation and planning. While native analytics give you an overview of each channel, a complete channel monitoring solution makes the process much simpler.
- Monitor your paid social effectively
If you are investing heavily on paid social media, you should monitor that just as efficiently as your other social monitoring efforts. Since paid and organic work well when aligned, a solution that monitors both would help you optimize those campaigns.
4. Old-school marketing for a new market
Some trends come and go overnight. Some circulate, bouncing back into the social consciousness every now and then. Marketing techniques are no different. Tactics we previously saw can suddenly reappear, especially during times of uncertainty - with comms professionals switching back to tried-and-tested methods over disruptive ideas. In 2021 we will see a rise in “old-school marketing” as brands switch back to a simpler way of engaging consumers.
ACTION: Out with the new, in with the old school
- Focus on providing the information consumers need
Providing relevant information quickly should become higher priority. High value video production looks great, but it takes time and can be challenging in a working from home environment. Podcasts and newsletters can build those connections quicker. Here’s some more info about starting a podcast for your business.
- Use newsletters to nurture your audience
31% of B2B marketers say newsletters are best for nurturing leads. With creative segmentation of your database, you can have hyper-personalized messaging that really cuts through to the information that your consumers are looking for.
- Look for podcast opportunities
Even if creating your own podcast may not be suitable, it’s become such a broad market—there will be one out there suitable for a brand relationship. Interviews and sponsorships give you an opportunity to connect your company to a pre-nurtured, defined audience.
Community focused influencers work across multiple channels, combining newsletters and podcasts with TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook content. These omnichannel influencers have multiple connection points with their audience, ensuring their content has maximum engagement and impact.
- Add the ‘listen’ to social listening
With the increase in voice usage through social media and podcasts, textual and visual social listening could miss spoken mentions. Audio analytics ensure that you never miss a brand mention - though only the most advanced social analytics platform will include them.
5. Social gaming = gaming social
As the COVID-19 lockdown took hold, people turned to video games as another form of distraction. Forums and groups have risen within and around games, creating entire communities dedicated to the various fanbases. As we learn more about how players benefit from games, developing relatable skills that are valuable within the real world, in 2021 we should see the stigmatism associated with gaming lift, as brands become more focused on these relevant communities.
ACTION: Get your brand game on
Look for more communities
Communities are popping up everywhere, from groups on social media to influencer fanbases, and even gamers within their own gaming world. Find ones with the right demographics for your brand and you have a ready-made consumer base waiting to be spoken to.
- Up your social listening game
As these communities grow across more niche platforms or across multiple platforms, you can’t rely on basic social listening to understand them. Broaden your opportunities with more data sources, such as Twitch (for gaming communities) or platforms like Quora (a collection of communities in itself).
- Understand those communities
You can’t just jump feet first into these communities and hope for the best. Understand what makes these audiences tick and create content designed for them. It’ll be less invasive and will be more likely to build the engagement you want
Part of the success for the Tenet/Fortnite teamup was the ingenuity. Releasing a trailer over a video game was so new that it drove a significant number of press mentions. The originality of the idea was just as effective as the idea itself. When it comes to your next release, see if there are more creative ways to share the news while engaging your community. If you can’t advertise on them, join them
- Not every platform offers commercial opportunities.
If they are relevant to your audience, though, they should be relevant to your brand, too. Wendy’s highlighted this by inviting fans to join them in streaming games like Animal Crossing and Minecraft during the lockdown. Their Twitch community now has over 86K followers.
6. A little more conversation
Marketing is a two-way street. Brands can no longer shout their messages into the void and hope for the best. Instead, it’s all about conversations and connections—having conversations with consumers to build those relationships, and create sales. The pandemic has brought this to the forefront.
Sales are no longer top priority for customers. Instead, it’s information, engagement, and social issues that are driving engagement and future retention. Connecting with those stories will be key in 2021.
ACTION: Bring the conversation to your consumers
- Start those consumer conversations
Consider how you position your brand with consumers and give them ways to start conversations with you. Chatbots, social media messaging, and SMS all provide opportunities for your brand to speak with your audience.
- Review your customer journey
Across all your content, look at new ways to lead your consumers into connections. Live-streamed demos are a great way to add personality to the sales process, while heavily focused sales content will quickly deter people from your brand.
- Soften your tone of voice
Start showing the human side of your brand. Lose the sales-speak and instead, focus on creating a tone that is more approachable. People will more likely connect with your brand if they feel that more authentic connection.
- Break the silo between marketing and customer service
Many of your conversations start in the customer service department. Working more effectively between these two channels can reveal new marketing opportunities and create workable solutions for your customers.
- Create a single source of truth
Integrate your customer service data, from chats, emails, and calls, into your analytics platform. This will provide additional insights into all aspects of your customer journey, from identifying key messages that engage consumers, revealing pain points causing speed bumps in the sales process, to post sales complaints that could cause impact on your brand.
7. Nostalgia marketing
It’s easy to look back on 2019 and think how much better it was. The positive emotions connected with the “good old days” help boost current emotions. The appeal of nostalgia marketing is clear. It connects strong positive emotions to your brand, and gives it a sentimental boost. During times of uncertainty and economic downturn, it appears more frequently as consumers look to connect with happier times to distract from current situations.
ACTION: Time to get brand nostalgic
For nostalgia marketing to work, you need to consider your audience in different demographic sets. Remember, each campaign will probably hit an audience within a ten year age bracket, and even then, gender, location and other factors will impact the effectiveness.
To find that gold nugget that entices your audience, you’ll have to really dig into your historical data. Reverse trend analysis plays a major role. What was big in the 70s, 80s, 90s? Look not just within your industry, but culturally, too.
Revisit your product catalogue and see what could be rereleased now. Not only will you hit that nostalgic spot for your existing audience, but younger generations could be tempted to buy, as the product would be new to them.
Games, songs, brand design, and even retro flavors can help engage with consumers’ pasts and connect on a more sensory basis.
Many existing influencers have built communities focused on nostalgic elements. Look to them for content ideas or introduce them into your influencer strategy to connect with an audience that is already connected with the best bits of the past.
8. Memetic media
Forget emoji. Clean your desktop of the GIFs. Memes are now the way to communicate. They’re spreading across the internet as a fun way to engage communities. They’re not all positive and cute, however. As per any communication, they can be used to manipulate the mindset of viewers. They can be used to normalize extreme behavior, like external agencies interfering with elections or other major events. In 2021, you need to be ready to protect your brand from memes.
ACTION: Create brand content like you meme it
Normally, memes will appear with little to no text mentions. The only way to see if your brand is in one is through monitoring them through image recognition.
- Engage in the meme community
Connecting your content to popular memes can help engage this aspect of the community, encouraging engagement, with the aim of creating more virality for your brand.
- Share user-generated memes
If any user-generated meme jumps out, try to share it on the channels they’re naturally most effective on— forums like Reddit and Twitter are ideal for this. Make sure you credit the creator, as it’ll build a stronger brand connection while encouraging others to create branded content too.
In late 2016, Wendy’s included a meme including Pepe the frog. This caused significant negative response, as the character is often associated with the Alt-right. Wendy’s had to respond quickly and delete the offending tweet. Before you share a meme, make sure you’re 100% certain of what it means and its implications.
As memetic media continues to grow, there will be repercussions, and possibly regulations. Keep track of them to make sure you’re not breaking any rules. Memes also live on the edge of copyright rules. Careful use is essential when using memes for marketing purposes, so be cautious to avoid any legal repercussions.
9. The four Cs of COVID-19 content
Even if the pandemic is resolved in 2021, the repercussions will be felt for years to come. The shadow cast by COVID-19 will most likely linger, making it hard for consumers to simply forget its consequences. Brands will need to adapt their communications with this in mind. The tone of 2021 will be shaped by the 4 Cs of COVID-19 content:
ACTION: Bring the 4 Cs to your brand content
- Engage global trend analysis
You can’t only look at the brand or even industry trends. Consistently monitoring the pandemic, and seeing how you can help your customers through it, will make a big difference in your communication strategy. Promoting key messaging can help you engage and build stronger connections with your community.
- Be conscious of the ongoing pandemic
Your main priority could be to drive sales for your brand or to boost company awareness. But for your consumers, the ongoing pandemic is still driving their motivations. Invasive advertising won’t work. Instead, focus on relevant content that covers audience needs and concerns.
- Focus your content on the 4 Cs
Link back to the elements that consumers are focused on and connect those points to your brand. Is your store tackling cleanliness worries that you should highlight? Or would a more compassionate emotion-based campaign go down well in the current climate?
- Understand where your brand sits within the crisis
Crisis management is a daily occurrence. Make sure you know how your audience is responding to your brand messaging, as the issues are changing every day. This will help you shape your marketing messages and avoid other brand decisions that could create negative PR.
- Prepare for the next major issue
2020 has been a tumultuous year that blindsighted many. Prepare a crisis plan that prepares you for the unexpected. You never know what issues you could be responding to next
10. User Generated Content get a Remix
User-generated content is nothing new, but the way it has been created, sourced, and shared is contemporary. Remixing is on the rise through apps like TikTok, Koji, and Instagram Reels. Remixing is the art of taking existing formats, templates, or ideas, and recreating them to express a user’s own personality or ideas. Expect 2021 to bring even more opportunities for remixing, with brands engaging with new audiences and creating additional content that stands out from the crowd.
ACTION: Get your brand into the remix mix
- Give your users the right assets
Digital assets, such as logos or branded templates, help people create or remix effectively. Give your users these assets to encourage creativity.
Image and video recognition helps you track your brand across social media, even when it’s not directly mentioned in the text. This will help you find communities that are creating and engaging with remixed content.
Once you’ve identified the content your audience has made, engage with it. This will encourage users to create more, while also improving engagement with your brand. User-generated content drives 28% more engagement than standard brand-led content.
Are you missing social channels from your strategy? Platforms such as TikTok help connect your brand to a younger, more creative audience. If you’re looking to break into that demographic, start here.
- Beware of the risks of UGC
Not all UGC is positive. It can lead to a crisis if significantly off brand, or critical of your company. Again, monitor this remixed content continually, so you can react quickly before it goes viral.
Sprout Social - 2020 Trends and 2021 Predictions
Talkwalker / Hubspot - 2021 Social Media Trends
Smart Insights - Social media trends 2021
Hootsuite - 2021 Social Trends Will Light the Way