Most Important Social Media Trends to Watch for in 2021
What are the most important social media trends in 2021 for brands and businesses? We surveyed 11,000 marketers to find out.
It’s an understatement to say this year has changed the way people and businesses use the Internet in general and social media in particular. So how will these new social media trends affect the way we use social networks in 2021?
In the fall of 2020, we surveyed more than 11,000 marketers to ask them just that. We followed up with detailed interviews with dozens of industry specialists. Then we combed through the latest published reports and data from some of the most respected sources in the world, including:
- The CMO Survey
All that information pointed to five key social media trends 2021 will bring to the fore. Here’s what you need to know.
1. The race to ROI: Social bridges the gap to a new customer experience
We asked marketers what was their most important social media goal for 2021. Nearly three-quarters of them said “increased acquisition of new customers.” That’s a major increase since last year, when less than half of marketers said this was their most important social goal.
It’s no shock that brands are focused on bringing in new business. But it’s interesting that only 23% of marketers said “improving the customer experience” is a top goal for social.
The pandemic rolled a wrecking ball through typical offline customer experience efforts. Suddenly, there were no more in-store samples or attractive displays. No more sales events or in-person help from knowledgeable staff.
In 2021, marketers can still drive quick bursts of ROI from new customers using social ads. But they also need to provide online social experiences that help build relationships and brand loyalty.
What you should do in 2021:
Multiply ROI by adding more channels
Turn inspiration into revenue
Put social back in shopping
Host live Q&A sessions. Work with influencers. Or share user-generated content. These are all ways to increase buyer confidence in a product they can’t see in person.
Focus on customer loyalty
Social connects organizations to their most loyal customers. Engage in proactive social listening. Then reach out to other teams within your company to fix common complaints.
2. Silence is golden: Brands find their place in the conversation
Sometimes the best thing businesses can do is listen rather than talk. After all, in times of crisis, people want to use social media to distract and entertain themselves. And they want to connect with each other, not brands.
On average, 32% of Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers say “finding funny or entertaining content” is their main reason for using social media. Useful and entertaining ads are most likely to drive purchases.
Successful campaigns this year have helped create connections between people. Or, they’ve provided much-needed moments of levity and fun. These are the reasons people turn to social media in the first place.
Remember all those brands with the nearly identical “unprecedented times” ads? Instead of following those popular social media trends, Coors took a different approach.
They lamented the “sucky, suck, suck, suckiness” of 2020. They launched a social campaign where people could nominate someone who #CouldUseABeer. They then sent 500,000 beers to grateful customers.
What you should do in 2021:
Don’t dismiss passive content consumption
The average Facebook user has only shared one post in the last 30 days.
Reach and reaction are much more realistic engagement goals than mass participation. Provide value for the people who see your content, rather than just trying to get them to reshare.
Back up social listening data with search data
It’s not as easy to monitor conversations across Instagram Stories, LinkedIn, TikTok, or private messaging as it is on Twitter or Facebook.
This can skew your insights. Search analysis is a powerful secondary tool because it reflects more of what people are privately thinking.
Replace costly content production with UGC
User-generated content is both cheap and effective for building trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, consumers are more likely to listen to their peers than a brand itself.
3. Way more than OK: A generation ignored by digital marketers booms online
Baby boomers are getting fully onboard with social media trends.
Boomers spent more time online in 2021 using social media, digital video, gaming, and mobile payments. Seventy percent of internet users aged 55-64 have bought something online in the past month. And 37% plan to continue doing so more frequently.
Marketers typically target baby boomers through TV advertising. This is still one of the most effective ways to reach them—for now. But eMarketer forecasts less than half of households will have cable TV by 2024.
The director of marketing at one medical technology company told us why Facebook represents more than half of their media buy.
“It is so effective from a targeting side, but we don’t engage with two-way conversations on our page,” he said. “Our patient population is 65+ and they just talk all the time. They’re basically telling our story for us, so we don’t even need to get involved.”
Getting onboard with new social media trends, Boomers are also exploring and expanding their hobbies online. “We see a really high affinity within that demographic for gardening, travel, art, animals, DIY, and recipes,” says Jim Habig, global head of business marketing at Pinterest.
Most marketing and advertising professionals are under 40. They can sometimes forget about older generations when creating marketing campaigns.
Consider this: 46% of the US adult population is over 50. But only 15% of images containing adults include people in that age segment. Successful marketers in 2021 must better recognize the buying power and growing social savvy of older consumers.
For example, Australian supermarket Woolworths used a Facebook campaign and augmented reality (AR) filter to gain an 11-point lift in brand favorability and a 46-point lift in message association among women aged 55 to 64.
During the campaign, Woolworths rewards members could plant and nurture a virtual Christmas tree using the AR filter. They could also donate their rewards to an environmental charity to have a real tree planted on their behalf. More than 6,000 trees were planted as a result.
The most effective social platforms for 2021
Whether or not boomers are a target audience, more than half of all businesses (60%) are planning to increase their Instagram budget, and almost half are planning to do the same for Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Notably, for all the hype of TikTok, it has not increased in importance in the investment stack.
Social platforms marketers plan to increase investment in
With overall marketing budgets trimmed in 2021, it’s no surprise that marketers are focusing on familiar favorites, rather than experimenting with newer tactics and platforms.
What you should do in 2021:
Target baby boomers by passions or hobbies
Baby boomers are not all the same. Instead of targeting them by age alone, use passions and hobbies to attract a cross-generational audience.
Include baby boomers in your creative—without stereotypes
Baby boomers do not think of themselves as “old.” But that’s how they’re often depicted in marketing campaigns.
Nearly 70% of people aged 55 to 73 own a smartphone. But just 5% of images show older generations interacting with technology. The Disrupt Aging Collection on Getty Images is a great source of images depicting older generations more accurately.
Use online reviews to build trust
Online reviews influence boomers’ purchasing decisions more than any other online source. The Google My Business integration in Hootsuite allows you to monitor and engage with customer reviews on Google alongside social media activity.
4. Do I know you?: Tying engagement data to identity gives advanced marketers new momentum
Social channels gained more than 450,000 new users in the past 12 months. That’s more than 12% growth since last year.
That large and growing audience makes it easy to connect with people online. But how beneficial are those connections? Less than half of marketers and executives feel sure their social media followers are any more valuable than other customers.
Social media connections might be lifelong customers. But they could also be new leads, ex-employees, or disgruntled trolls. Can you prove you’re reaching and deepening relationships with real customers (or potential customers)? If not, you could be wasting time on engagement that isn’t really paying off.
But your customers are out there, and you can use social media to create more valuable relationships with them. In fact, 69% of respondents to our Social Transformation survey said social media helped them maintain customer relationships in the wake of COVID-19.
And in The CMO Survey, 33.5% of marketing leaders said retaining current customers was their key objective during the pandemic. Compare that to only 14% who were most focused on customer acquisition (14%).
So what’s preventing so many marketers from being able to prove they’re engaging in the right ways with the right people? Data integration.
Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2021.
Only 10% of marketers feel they do a good job of integrating social data into enterprise systems like Adobe, Marketo, or Salesforce. Without some kind of database, it’s hard to match social engagement with behaviors like purchasing, applying, or donating.
Full data integration is a complex, messy process. Integrating paid and organic social media activity can be an easy place to start.
The targeting and reporting that come with paid ads ensure you deliver relevant content to the right people on social media. That’s why businesses with completely integrated paid and organic social strategies told us they are 32% more confident in their ability to prove the ROI of social media.
But almost a third of the marketers we spoke to don’t run any social ads at all.
We also found that businesses have greater confidence in social ROI when they use strategies like:
And as confidence in social ROI increases, those businesses expand to more advanced social strategies. Think employee advocacy and social listening. This creates even more value for social. It’s a virtuous circle.
Here’s an example of what data integration looks like in practice.
The vacation property brand Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs Group united their social and CRM teams. Both operating within the sales department, the teams now share tools and data. The new insights for both teams have allowed them to engage more effectively with customers before, during, and after their stay.
What you should do in 2021:
Hold social accountable for more than just reactive engagement
Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to do or think? Clear objectives aligned with real business goals help keep you on track.
Take small steps toward gathering measurable data from social engagements
Use UTM parameters. They help track all data from both your organic and paid campaigns. This will allow you to understand which channels and content pieces drive action.
Modern brand building is changing. Sixty percent of millennials and Gen Z told Deloitte they plan to buy more from large businesses that have taken care of their workforces and positively affected society during the pandemic.
Businesses have to adapt to these socially conscious mindsets and expectations.
But becoming a purpose-driven company is not something you can fake. This is where a lot of brands stumbled in 2020. They responded to important issues like they were simply new social media trends. Their posts were quickly called out as hypocritical.
Brands like Patagonia and Ben & Jerrys have established reputations as purpose-driven companies. They can credibly post about social change because they have proven to customers and followers that they walk the talk.
Compare the impact of these posts to simply sharing a black square:
Social media insights can help your brand adapt to these new buyer beliefs and new ways of doing business.
Brands “that only pursue brand-driven narratives that aren’t sensitive to the times we’re in simply won’t retain customers,” says Michael McGoey, senior manager of enterprise partnerships at Twitter.
What you should do in 2021:
Create or revise your internal social media policy
Your social media policy outlines how your brand and employees are expected to use social media. These guidelines are especially useful during a crisis, but they also steer day-to-day work.
Set up a social media crisis communications workflow
A solid crisis communication plan can help save valuable time and keep everyone focused when a crisis bubbles up on social media.
Use social listening for intelligence, not interrupting
Yes, social listening can help you monitor keywords, track sentiment, and find opportunities to insert your brand into trending conversations. But the crises of 2020 have shown the value of social listening as an intelligence tool.
In fact, 66% of respondents to our Social Media Trends survey said social listening has increased in value over the past 12 months. Use the insights gained to make smarter decisions based on changing customer needs and concerns.
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