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:

  • Deloitte
  • Edelman
  • eMarketer
  • Forrester
  • GlobalWebIndex
  • 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.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2021.

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.

Chart: "What are the top 3 outcomes your organization (or clients) are trying to achieve with social media?"

Source: Hootsuite 2021 Social Trends Survey

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.

For example, face-to-face guidance from product experts is the driving force of Clarins’s retail sales and profits. When stores suddenly closed, they needed a new way for customers to consult with Clarins beauty advisors.

Launched just two weeks into the lockdown, their Clarins & Me video consulting service saw more than 450 bookings in the first month alone.

They also tapped Clarins beauty coach Rebecca Jones to post daily skincare videos from home on Instagram Stories. Followers appreciated this DIY approach. Story completion rates jumped from a previous average of 20% to 75%. This was the highest the team had seen on social channels.

Then Instagram introduced Reels. Rebecca now posts her at-home videos using this new social video format.

Those engaging short social videos create brand loyalty. But they can also drive sales. TikTok is experimenting with in-app purchases. And Taobao, China’s largest eCommerce platform, features short videos on 42% of product pages.

Live streaming events are another great way for brands, experts, influencers, and customers to connect. In China, a Tommy Hilfiger livestream event attracted 14 million viewers. They sold out of 1,300 hoodies in two minutes. In the US, livestream shopping events are predicted to generate $25 billion in sales by 2023.

What you should do in 2021:

Multiply ROI by adding more channels

Every channel you add can improve ROI and effectiveness by up to 35%. Start by adding social user-generated content (UGC) to email marketing campaigns. Or try uniting search and social ads.

Turn inspiration into revenue

Create fun in the online buying process. Use Instagram Live or Pinterest as virtual showrooms. Inspire fans by introducing them to things they didn’t know they needed or wanted.

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.

Ocean Spray, meanwhile, let a viral social moment unfold organically instead of jumping in with a marketing message.

You’ve probably seen the Ocean Spray challenge. It started when Nathan Apodaca posted a TikTok while cruising on his longboard. He was lip-syncing to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and drinking from a large container of Ocean Spray.

The post quickly went viral. And in true TikTok fashion, people began recreating the video. Celebrities, influencers, US state governors, and even members of Fleetwood Mac jumped on the trend. But Ocean Spray stayed silent for over a week.

Finally, their CEO recreated the video on TikTok. But only after they had bought a new truck (filled with Ocean Spray) for Apodaca. Giving back to the creator rather than just trying to capitalize on the free publicity earned Ocean Spray plenty of goodwill.

Many brands misinterpret new social media trends. They misunderstand what people want from them on social media, and how much people want to interact with them in the first place. Is it really a surprise that 68% of people don’t think brands or companies share interesting content?

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.

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.

Meanwhile, baby boomers are discovering more new brands and products through social media. Especially through Facebook.

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.

chart: social media platforms that marketers plan to spend more money on in 2021

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.

Pinterest marketing is a great choice for this. It’s a network known for passion projects and planning. It is also the second-most popular social network among boomers (after Facebook).

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.

Get the full report now!

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.

5. The perils (and promise) of purpose: Bold brands start in the boardroom, not the frontlines of social

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:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Patagonia (@patagonia)

But you can’t talk credibly about your brand purpose on social unless it really informs your company culture. Consumers are smart. They don’t care much about brands posting statements. They are much more concerned about whether a brand really works to make the world a better place.

Chart: "How important is it to you that a business..."

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.

You’ve read the social media trends. Let Hootsuite help you conquer social in 2021.

Hootsuite offers a full suite of tools to help you manage every aspect of your social presence.

From a single dashboard you can easily:

  • Plan, create, and schedule posts to every network
  • Track relevant keywords, topics, and accounts
  • Stay on top of engagement with a universal inbox
  • Get easy-to-understand performance reports and improve your strategy as needed

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