3 social media trends to watch in 2021

Here are the changes to keep your eye on when it comes to social media engagement and outreach in the coming months.

3 SM trends for 2021

2020 is finally over, and for most that calls for a giant sigh of relief. Digital marketers hardly have had time to relax, though, as they started the year much like how they experienced 2020—on their toes, ready to switch their entire online strategy in reaction to the most recent, unexpected global event.

Other than the important reminder to stay nimble and adaptable—and prepare for the unpredictable— here are a few predictions and trends digital marketers and social media managers should keep in mind as they think ahead to the next 12 months:

1. Expect the increase in influencer and user generated content to continue.

As we start to recover from a year that saw a massive drop, and for some a complete halt, in in-store shopping and in-person events, consumers have come to rely on influencers for product recommendations, recipes, virtual workouts and really any source of entertainment.

Online influencers are highly effective content creators and will continue to play an essential role in brands’ digital marketing strategies, even as in-person activities (hopefully) start to pick back up in 2021. These online personalities have established followings that will continue to crave human-generated content as a reliable source of information, even if the influencer is being sponsored by a brand. In fact, with 84% of consumers having shopped online since the pandemic began, promoting a product with a simple “swipe up” to purchase within the post is the way of the future.

It’s not only influencers who are creating meaningful content. User-generated content from normal, everyday people will continue to thrive this year, as online users continue to alleviate their boredom and lack of social interactions by finding their voice on social media. Livestreaming on Instagram increased 70% during the first few months of the pandemic, and this trend will likely continue.

Next Steps: Understand how online influencers fit into your marketing goals and then work to identify the right influencers for your organization. There’s an influencer for everyone. Brands just need to take the time to find their fit.

As for user-generated content, brands should capitalize on this trend and engage with the consumers who are helping to organically promote their products or services. For an example, look to Ocean Spray.

2. Social listening will drive content and message development.

The events of 2020 left brands consistently needing to change or reevaluate online messages as they faced issues that many never had to address, such as a global healthcare crisis, a movement against racial injustice, widespread environmental disasters—the list goes on. And while brands felt the pressure to contribute to online conversations about these issues, often the reactive messages fell short, feeling more like a bandwagon response than a genuine one.

Many brands learned their lesson, however, and 2021 will be the year of social listening, with time and investment put into tools that will help brand managers follow online conversations to determine if a brand’s voice is needed, or wanted, in the conversations. Beyond tracking relevant trending topics, brand managers must take the time to listen and identify what matters to audiences, then adjust their messaging to align. Hootsuite’s recent Social Trends survey shows that 66% of respondents claim social listening has increased in value for their organization over the past 12 months.

This trend applies to both organic and paid content. As brands start to better listen to their audiences, they’ll be able to create more customized advertising and adapt to consumers’ current beliefs and behaviors.

Next Steps: Social listening is made easier and more effective with tools such as Talkwalker, but equally important is the time investment to do a good job. Inspire PR Group sets time aside daily to monitor online conversations for our clients and analyze trends through Talkwalker, knowing that shifts in important conversations are happening 24/7.

Brands should also have a social media response plan in place for the next issue that arises, so marketing and PR teams are prepared to take deliberate steps to react, instead of resorting to an unplanned trigger response, which may have negative repercussions.

3. Watch for an uptick in Instagram ads.

Instagram stole the show in 2020. With over 1 billion people using Instagram every month, and 90% of Instagram accounts claiming to follow at least one business on the platform, it’s no wonder Instagram’s ad reach outgrew every other social media platform in Q4 of 2020.

Video content has been king for quite a while on social media, and ephemeral content has made such a splash in recent years that Instagram was bound to stand out from the crowd. Recently, there has been a significant shift in the way consumers use the platform. While it previously served mainly as a venue to see photos of friends and explore funny memes, Instagram now serves as a place for brands to reach potential customers. A Facebook survey found that 83% of Instagram users discover new products or services on the platform, and 87% said that they took action after seeing product information on Instagram.

What’s more interesting? Only 1% of users on Instagram use it as their sole social media platform. This means that most of Instagram’s users can also be found on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc. For marketers looking to reach consumers across several different platforms, there’s no better place to start than Instagram.

Next Steps: If you’re new to Instagram ads, the first step is to learn how they work and how much they cost. Like Facebook (imagine that!), there are different ad options available depending on your brand’s business objectives and calls to action.

If Instagram ads are already part of your digital marketing strategy, you’re a step ahead. Many marketers are suggesting increasing Instagram ad budgets over the next 12 months, considering Instagram saw the largest growth in new users between July and September 2020 and continues to trend upward.

Learn more about what’s next for social media managers and online comms by joining our Social Media and Digital Communications Conference March 16.

Logan Trautman leads strategic digital marketing and advertising campaigns at Inspire PR Group, a national public relations firm based in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with Logan on LinkedIn.


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