Thanks to our year of physically distancing from friends, colleagues, and family – consumers have come to rely on social media more than ever before. For many, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat became the go-to source for connecting with loved ones, discovering new products, shopping, entertainment, and engaging in activism.

As we head into 2021 (with hope on the horizon that we may get back some pre-pandemic normalcy), many of the trends we saw emerge in social media in 2020 will continue to evolve how consumers – and brands – utilize these powerful platforms.

No one could have predicted the surge we saw in social media use in 2020: as of July, 4.57 billion people were reported as social media users. But this impressive number makes one thing clear: brands cannot underestimate the influence that social media continues to have on consumers.

If you haven’t taken the time to reflect on the past year and develop your social media marketing playbook for next year – this article can help you to get started.

#1 More Live, Long-Form, and Low-Production Video

Source: Single Grain

What we saw in 2020: Almost overnight, consumers were forced to rely on video communication platforms such as Zoom to work and socialize. Similarly, the pandemic accelerated brands’ desire to deliver real-time, in-the-moment updates and to engage with their customers in a direct way. As a result, we saw an increase in long-form, low-production, and live video content across the board. In March alone, for example, Facebook reported a 50% increase in viewers watching live videos compared to the previous month.

What to expect in 2021: Everyday users are growing more comfortable than ever before with broadcasting on video – a trend we expect to continue as workplaces continue to rely on remote meetings well into 2021 and social platforms embrace more video creation tools. TikTok is reportedly already testing longer video options, which inevitably means that other sites will eventually follow suit.

Brands, too, have learned a thing or two about video production in the age of COVID. The pandemic made it nearly impossible to make the kind of premium, highly produced video we were used to seeing from brands, instead forcing them to embrace the type of lo-fi video that their customers are also using. As brands continue to grapple with budget cuts and remote teams, lo-fi video will allow marketing departments to create video faster and cheaper than ever before. Smart brands are embracing TikTok and Instagram Reels as part of their marketing strategies for the new year.

#2 Consumerism Gets Conscious

Source: The Peloton Website

What we saw in 2020: This summer Americans took to the streets and social media to express their anger over continued police brutality and the death of George Floyd. For what felt like the first time, it was no longer enough for brands to remain silent on the social movement, or even to make a corporate statement and move on. 56% of consumers say they have no respect for businesses that remain silent on important issues.

Consumers are now looking to brands to get specific about what they are doing to fight racism – asking them to ‘open their purse’ for the movement and enact anti-racist policies in their own companies.

While consumers have always tended to gravitate towards brands whose values align with their own, they now seem more committed to voting with their wallets and using their social media presence to call out brands that aren’t doing enough.

What to expect in 2021: The trends towards more conscious consumerism aren’t going anywhere and brands need to meet their customers where they are.

  • Listen. Don’t be a victim of tone-deaf marketing. Listen to what’s going on in the world, listen to the conversations your customers are having online, and adjust your message accordingly.
  • Know where your audience stands on key issues.
  • Say what you mean and take action. Authenticity is crucial to creating meaningful connections with your audience. Clearly communicate your brand’s values and how you are taking action against social injustices. Don’t just say something for the sake of it.

#3 TikTok Attracts a Lot of Hype and Brands Diversify

Source: Smart Insights

What we saw in 2020: We can’t talk about social media in 2020 without talking about TikTok. The platform saw an impressive rise in downloads (76 million in March) thanks to its highly addictive short-form, user-generated content that provided the perfect entertainment during those months we were all stuck at home. This content is also proving extremely popular among the platform’s key demographic: 16- to 24-year-olds.

What to expect in 2021: While the future of TikTok may be unclear (influencers are still preparing for a potential ban in the US), the popularity of the platform can’t be underestimated. Companies should be looking to TikTok – and other platforms they may have stayed away from previously – to diversify their marketing and provide even more opportunities to connect with new and existing users as their social content consumption continues to rise.

In addition to TikTok, brands should also be paying attention to Instagram’s response to the growing competition from TikTok. Instagram’s latest update, which put IG Reels front and center, should hint to marketers that Reels should be a big part of your Instagram strategy in 2021.

Source: Instagram

#4 Social Gets Closer to a True Sales Channel

What we saw in 2020: Stay-at-home orders drove an increase in online shopping with 85% of people globally spending more time shopping online. And reports suggest that over 87% of online buyers strongly believe that social media influences their purchase decisions. So it is not surprising that all of the big social platforms made investments in their social commerce capabilities this year. Pinterest rolled out product catalogs for brands and TikTok is working directly with Shopify to enable in-app sales. And Facebook is continuing to expand social commerce tools with in-app storefronts on both Facebook and Instagram as well as in-app checkout.

Source: Business Insider

What to expect in 2021: There are signs that the trend towards online shopping may be here to stay: 45% of millennials say they will continue to shop online more frequently, even post-pandemic. The social commerce industry is expected to reach $23.26 billion in sales in 2020 and $53.94 billion in 2024.

Social platforms Facebook and TikTok show no signs of slowing their push towards social commerce: Facebook has revealed they are experimenting with live-stream shopping and hope to roll it out soon. TikTok’s partnership with Shopify will leverage different video formats, allowing Shopify merchants to tag their products in them.

The advantage of social commerce is that it allows brands to engage customers and enable purchasing without ever asking them to leave the social channel they are on. The sales cycle will become shorter and faster – ultimately helping brands to make the most of the advertising dollars they are already investing with social platforms. In 2021, it will be critical for retailers to understand the capabilities on different platforms and build out social as another channel in their omnichannel offering.

#5 Digital Ads Will Reach Their Peak

Source: Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

What we saw in 2020: As with all digital consumption, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads became the go-to way to pay-to-play in 2020. Americans now see between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. To put that in perspective, in the 1970s that number was just 500/day. Analysts believe that this “interruption model” of advertising is reaching a saturation point.

What to expect in 2021: As online advertising marketplaces continue to become saturated and cost-per-clicks continue to rise, brands should develop a double-pronged approach.

  • Understand your metrics. Brands will need a strong understanding of their metrics to remain competitive. Key metrics to understand include customer lifetime value and average customer life cycle. Without this information, brands won’t know how much they can afford to pay while remaining profitable.
  • Explore advertising alternatives. Non-traditional, native, and embedded brand content, as well as brand and influencer partnerships, are becoming increasingly common ways of increasing exposure. Brands should create content and experiences that get talked about, while simultaneously growing their customer list, gathering data, and creating direct connections with their audience.

We don’t have a crystal ball, but it doesn’t take one to understand that our collective experience this past year has forever changed the way we live – and market. Now that 2020 is winding down, and post-pandemic planning much more of a reality, take a moment to think about which of your strategies need a refresh for our new world, and our new year.

What marketing trends do you think will have the biggest impact on brands in 2021? Tell us in the comments.

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