What are going to be the prominent trends on social media in 2021? Hootsuite lists them out.
After surveying 1,189 marketers, interviews with industry experts, and exhaustive research, Hootsuite has identified the five key social media trends for 2021.
TREND 1 - The race to ROI: Social bridges the gap to a new customer experience
According to the survey, 73% of all marketers ranked “increased acquisition of new customers” as their top outcome for social in 2021, compared to only 46% last year, marking a 58% year-over-year increase. While marketers race to generate new revenue, it’s interesting to note what slid further down the list. Only 23% of marketers cited “improving the customer experience” as a key business outcome for social. And using social to “improve customer insights” sunk to 15%—a worrying slip when so much about customer behavior and demand has shifted in a historic year.
Marketers mainly resorted to short-term, ROI tactics to help keep the lights on this year but it looks like they'll be continuing down this path in 2021 as well. Since the in-person customer experience element has been put to a halt, marketers need to figure out how to innovate the online experience. E-commerce is a perfect place to look for inspiration. The medium has been rapidly reimagining the online customer experience with social media at the core. The very nature of social media revolves around discovery, connection, and fun— elements that customers are sorely missing in the absence of in-person experiences and events. Livestreaming events on social platforms have helped fill the void, offering new ways for brands, experts, influencers, and customers to connect. The results speak for themselves.
To put in hindsight, simply chasing bottom-funnel clicks in 2021 won’t be enough. Marketers must use social’s performance abilities, while also helping to recreate missing customer experiences. Marketers need to create multi-channel campaigns by including UGC content into email marketing campaigns, or by uniting their search and social ads. They can also get creative and introduce a little fun in the online shopping experience by using Instagram Live or Pinterest as virtual showrooms.
TREND 2 - Silence is golden: Brands find their place in the conversation
The dramatic uptick in social media use this year presented an irresistible opportunity for brands to put themselves front and center in the conversation, overlooking the fact that people primarily want to connect with each other, not brands—especially in a time of crisis. This disconnect was on full display in the early days of the pandemic, when many brands adopted the same overly sentimental tone in their content, resulting in a wave of nearly indistinguishable campaigns that people began mocking on social media.
In 2021, the smartest brands will understand where they fit into customers’ lives on social media. And they’ll find creative ways of fitting into the conversation instead of trying to lead it, creating content that breaks through the wall of indifference. While most marketers know they shouldn’t only count vanity metrics such as likes and shares, it’s a hard habit to break. However, only a small minority of online users actually comment or share content—the vast majority of all online media is consumed passively. Marketers will need to learn when to aim for engagement and participation and when to aim for reach and reaction.
Producing polished brand content is difficult right now, thanks to the logistical and financial limitations of pandemic life. But with the uptick in social media usage this year, there’s no shortage of content being created by people themselves. UGC is cheap and has the added bonus of being content that people trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, earned media is far more effective than advertising when it comes to earning trust, as consumers are more likely to listen to their peers than a brand itself.
TREND 3 - Way more than OK: A generation ignored by digital marketers booms on social
2020 has been a tipping point for baby boomers online. Increased time with social media, digital video, gaming, and mobile payments have yielded new forms of digital literacy that are turning into habits set to outlast the pandemic.70% of internet users aged 55-64 say they’ve bought something online in the past month,23 and 37% are planning to continue doing so more frequently when it’s over.
Marketers have typically targeted baby boomers through traditional TV advertising, which is still one of the most effective ways of reaching them. But it’s worth noting that cord-cutting reached historic highs in 2020. In fact, eMarketer is forecasting that households without cable TV will outnumber those with it by 2024. Meanwhile, there’s been a 66-point increase in baby boomers discovering new brands and products via social media over the past four years, according to GlobalWebIndex, over a quarter of baby boomers are spending even longer on social platforms now as a result of the pandemic.
In 2021, marketers cannot afford to overlook older generations on social media. By using smart segmentation and thoughtful representation, marketers that include baby boomers in their digital strategies can leapfrog those still stuck in stereotypes and capitalize on this growing technological enthusiasm. Instead of targeting baby boomers by age, marketers can now target them by passions and hobbies and they’ll be more likely to attract a cross-generational audience, which can lead to new revenue opportunities. It's also important to include them in creatives but in a non-stereotypical way.
TREND 4 - Do I know you? Tying engagement to identity gives advanced marketers new momentum
Right now there over four billion people on social, including more than 450,000 new users in the past 12 months, which equates to more than 12% annual growth. Yet, in a survey of 2,162 marketers and executives that Hootsuite conducted with Altimeter for their Social Transformation Report, 54% said they aren’t confident that their social media followers are more valuable customers than those they don’t engage with.
This is because most social media managers have no idea if they’re replying to a lifelong customer, a new lead, an ex-employee, or a disgruntled detractor. But your customers are out there, and you can use social media to create more valuable relationships with them. You just need to get better at closing the loop and quantifying these things—and this year is the perfect window of opportunity to make it happen. The pandemic has given executives renewed appreciation for social media, which became the strongest bridge for connecting with customers after so many traditional strategies collapsed.
But what's really preventing marketers from being able to confidently prove they’re engaging in the right ways with the right people is data integration. Only 10% of marketers feel they have mature practices around integrating social data into enterprise systems like Adobe, Marketo, or Salesforce. Without pushing every social engagement into some kind of database, it’s hard to match it with other behaviors like purchasing, applying, or donating. Data integration is a complex, messy process for even the biggest organizations. The survey uncovered a much more accessible entry point that can help marketers better connect social engagement to customer identity and measurable ROI: integrating paid and organic social media activity.
The targeting opportunities and detailed reporting metrics that come with paid ads are crucial for delivering relevant content to the right people on social media. Yet almost (28%) of respondents in the survey don’t run any social ads at all, even though the oasis of organic reach started drying up as early as 2010. In contrast, mature organizations with completely integrated paid and organic social strategies are 32% more confident in quantifying the ROI of social media.
TREND 5 - The perils and promise of purpose: Bold brands start in the boardroom, not the front lines of social
Between the economic and emotional fallout of COVID-19, the uprising against racism and police brutality, and climate change fueling historic wildfires across Australia and North America, marketers were under significant pressure to publicly address issues that their organizations had never focused on or were only beginning to align with. A lot of meaningful change did happen this year as a result of this public pressure.
But modern brand building is clearly starting to change as organizations adapt to the socially conscious mindsets and expectations of younger, more diverse generational cohorts like Gen Z. Purpose-driven companies will certainly be on the right side of history in the years to come—but becoming one isn’t something you can fake or simply mimic on social media. The understandable desire to respond to public pressure and positively contribute to these conversations ended up manifesting in knee-jerk reactions, many of which were quickly called out as hypocritical.
While consumers are developing higher expectations for what they expect businesses to contribute to the world, using social media as the megaphone for promoting it may not be as critical as marketers think in 2021. Social media statements alone can’t make up for a lack of true brand purpose embedded deeply across an organization. Research data shows that consumers are much more concerned about whether a brand operates according to its values and proactively makes the world a better place than they are about its performative actions around those values.
If 2020 was dominated by reactivity from brands on social media, 2021 is a year for restraint as brands work to get their house in order and take the pressure off frontline social teams. This has to begin at the top. If CMOs are not actively working toward creating a truly purpose-driven organization, they can’t expect their marketing and social teams to create the veneer of purpose on social media.
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