Even the smallest company needs to have a social media presence nowadays. It’s one of the best ways to make sure you’re consistently at the forefront of people’s minds, and, when used correctly, can give your brand a consistent and relatable voice.
But social media's greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness – if every company uses it to be seen, then it’s very possible to blend into the background and miss out on making any kind of impression.
That’s why, instead of using generic methods to present yourself and your brand, you should find ways of making your posts stand out from the crowd. While it’s a good idea to push the envelope yourself and try to think of new ideas, there’s also no shame in looking at some recent trends and integrating them into your own posts.
Biggest social media trends of 2021
Without further ado, here are the top six social media trends you should be adding to your social media strategy:
1. Baby boomers are turning digital
It was hard to escape the phrase “ok boomer” over the past year or so. This phrase was created by millennials and Gen Z as a way to dismiss the perceived-to-be misguided opinions of the boomer generation. However, this only rose to such recent prominence due to the fact that a huge amount of baby boomers have taken to social media.
For a long time, boomers were largely ignored in the world of digital marketing, since they were considered to be pretty sparse on the internet. After all, why would you advertise toys on a news channel, or expensive jewelry near a college campus? You just wouldn’t be hitting the right audience.
However, over the years, boomers have trickled into the world of social media and ecommerce. And now, with the pandemic putting a lot of them at risk and keeping them at home, they’re spending more time on the internet than ever.
They’re an unignorable market now, so it’s time for a lot of companies to expand their marketing to reach boomers, too. For some ideas on how to reach this valuable demographic, take a look at this Woolworth’s Facebook campaign, which makes a point of targeting the boomer demographic.
Remember, no one likes to be stereotyped, so don’t simply target people based on their age group. An entire generation is as broad of a demographic as “women” or “Americans,” so make sure your marketing goes beyond simply appealing to their age. For example, look at this collection of stock photos that feature elderly people engaging in fun, active hobbies.
2. The rise of TikTok
TikTok is the newest social media app to take the internet by storm. It was founded in 2016, but was exclusive to China (under the name Douyin), only finding its way out into the global market in August of 2018.
Since then, it’s experienced a meteoric rise to the top, with a total of two billion downloads, and over one billion videos watched every day. If you’re looking to get a foothold in the minds of the younger generation, you simply can’t ignore this app. However, don’t write it off as simply a bunch of kids – 60% of users are under 24, but that leaves a massive 40% of users who are fully fledged adults.
TikTok took advantage of Vine’s departure. Vine was a very similar app that allowed people to create and share short (often comedic) videos. However, due to the difficulty of monetizing these videos, Vine eventually fell.
TikTok has grabbed hold of the appeal of short, easily digestible videos, and allows you to share them to other platforms like Instagram. These can be comedic, educational, instructional, or fall under any other kind of category, with stars like Gordon Ramsay using it to share recipes and comedic videos.
However, the app has obviously exploded in relevance over the past year, due in no small part to the COVID pandemic. Since most TikTok content could be made by a single person in their own home, there was an influx of people using it to become influencers.
If you’re looking to start on TikTok, there are already loads of guides out there about how to build a follower base if you really want to devote yourself to it. You could also just upload some repurposed content if you’re pressed for time, as the app does accept videos made elsewhere.
As far as original content goes, small businesses are finding a lot of luck when making videos that go over their manufacturing processes. Watching something being handmade is a great trust signal for your audience, and falls under the banner of interesting, engaging content.
But why did Vine fall while TikTok thrives? And why do most TikTok news stories seem to tie back to some kind of controversy? Well, a lot of people believe TikTok to be a data-mining app that is financially backed by the Chinese government. This has led a lot of governments to be somewhat cautious about the app, with ex-president Donald Trump looking (but failing) to have it banned.
We won’t go too far into the validity of these claims – we’d have to go over a lot of data terminology and international relations – but if you’re looking to start on TikTok, it might pay to be aware of what the app does, as well as your country’s relationship with the app. It’d be a shame to build up a following, only to have it taken away from you if your country were to ban the app.
3. Social media platforms are integrating with ecommerce
Before Elon Musk passed him by, Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world, a number that was heavily increased by the influx of online shopping during the pandemic. And however much of the online marketplace Amazon takes up, you can be sure that online shopping has exploded in general over the past year.
A study done in the UK showed that 17.2 million Brits were planning on shopping online exclusively and permanently after the pandemic, after an influx of £4.5 billion spent on UK online sales in 2020.
Furthermore, 57% of people across 9 countries say they are shopping more often than ever before since the start of the pandemic, with a further 25% who are not sure.
Like we said, Amazon is obviously a titan in the world of online shopping, but it would be hard to find any medium-to-large sized business that doesn’t use a delivery service, especially after the pandemic. If you’re in the business of selling physical goods, it’s absolutely a good idea to invest in a website where people can buy your products.
But if you don’t want to go all the way and start your own website, don’t worry – you can now do it on some of your social media accounts. Even in 2018, before the word “COVID” was a whisper on anyone’s lips, 55% of shoppers purchased a product through a company’s social media account, with 87% of buyers claiming that social media helped them make a decision on a purchase.
Not every social media platform offers features like this – you can’t buy things directly through Twitter or YouTube (yet) – but Facebook and Instagram have implemented legitimate channels through which you can make sales.
If you boil it down, all you need to worry about is sending the product and making sure it’s listed correctly – user interface and security is all controlled by the social media platform, making this a great choice for a small business.
If you’re looking to take advantage of this trend, you’ll want to stay on top of the ever-growing field of social media commerce. Different platforms are always coming up with new ways to sell, especially with more people being homebound, so by keeping on top of these, you’ll be able to quickly jump on the one that suits you best.
4. Video content is continuing to gain traction
It’s not just TikTok that people are watching. As attention spans wane, people are finding themselves watching more and more video content as time goes on, since no one wants to scroll down silent feeds of images, or read articles that go on for pages (except you, of course – thank you!)
When we say videos, we don’t mean YouTube videos that go on for a couple of minutes – we’re talking about videos that last for as short as a few seconds. For a long time, Snapchat had a feature known as “stories,” which was quickly adopted by Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Stories were when people could post a ten second video to show off whatever they wanted. Whether it was just them talking about their day, or filming their friend do a ‘sick’ backflip, stories were a very popular addition to social media due to their digestible nature.
And it wasn’t long before companies jumped on the bandwagon, using these short videos to show off or advertise their products. Take a look at Nike’s reels on Instagram, and see how these short videos pack enough information to be worth watching, without being long enough to bore the viewer.
Just like TikTok, you can use these videos to show off any number of things, meaning they can suit any brand or company. And while they might take a bit longer to produce than a picture or a paragraph, they can be worth your time – indeed, 84% of people in a study said that they’d bought a company’s product after seeing one of their videos.
If you’re looking to adopt some video content of your own, there are a few easy steps you can take to make your content more enjoyable and engaging. Firstly, before you even start filming, make sure the video you’re looking to create suits your branding well. This could mean making sure the color scheme fits your logo, or that the music suits your business’s tone.
Secondly, make sure you have a good quality camera. These can be expensive, but filming on a cheap camera can make whatever content you produce have a far smaller impact than if the image was crisp and clean.
Finally, try to keep your videos short. Like we mentioned before, people’s attention spans are getting shorter by the day, so make sure you give them all the information you think is absolutely necessary in as short a time as possible.
5. VR and AR are changing the way people interact with content
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two of the most exciting developments in the realm of technology within the last decade. Firstly, let’s make the distinction between the two.
Augmented reality is when something like a Snapchat filter uses reality as a base, but lays something fantastical over that base. Those filters that make you look older, or put a dancing hotdog on your shoulder, are all augmented reality.
Virtual reality is the whole nine yards – the user is whisked away into another world entirely, like a zombie invasion or a spaceship. On the less whimsical side, you can also be taken to a virtual house viewing, or a tour of a real life place.
Both of these technologies have begun to be implemented within the past few years, and social media companies are using them to refresh the world of marketing. Here are some examples:
Facebook is owner of their very own massive VR brand, the Oculus. The Oculus was originally created as a gaming platform, but Facebook bought them for 2 billion dollars, as they saw potential in VR as more than a game platform.
Their idea is to use the headset to provide experiences, like virtual parties or touring far-off countries. This could be used for marketing purposes, like showing firsthand what certain products or experiences would look like. While the Oculus product is available on the market, it hasn’t fully taken off as a marketing tool. It’s definitely one to keep your eyes on, though.
If you’re wondering, Facebook is planning on monetizing Oculus by collecting data about users, like tracking the way they move their body or mapping out their room. They claim that they won’t use this information in any kind of evil way, but we are talking about Facebook here, so who knows.
With a company as big as YouTube, they’d have to be pretty slow to not be dipping their toes in the VR pool. Using a VR headset, you can use YouTube VR to view things like concerts, mountain trails, and a number of other experiences.
However, just like Facebook, you can assume this will also lead to marketing opportunities, like showing off 3D models of products or letting you see things like vehicle interiors from a first person perspective.
TikTok is throwing their hat in the ring with some AR advertising. Videos of people talking to the camera can be layered with things like mascots or products that can be interacted with by the person in the video. They even allow for CTA buttons to be placed on the videos, leading to a lot more conversions.
AR and VR are very much growing fields, with new and more advanced AR and VR technologies coming out constantly. Don’t just jump in without knowing exactly what you’re doing, as these technologies are expensive (especially VR), and might not suit your marketing method or your demographics.
6. The X factor is the human element
Our final trend, and possibly the hardest trend to grasp, is the recent increase in brands’ personalities. For the longest time, brands presented themselves with a degree of professionalism, doing their best to appear as upstanding organizations with complete control over their product and image.
However, as time marched on and marketing moved from billboards and television to Twitter and Facebook, marketing slowly morphed and became more of a conversation than a one way street.
After all, with the arrival of comments and replies, people could interact with their favorite drinks or video game companies firsthand – something unimaginable in the 90s. And with this development came the chance for some playful back and forth between customer and company.
The most famous example of this is probably the Wendy’s Twitter account, which is occasionally biting towards its own followers. This leads to retweets and further promotion, as people laugh about how Cooper Franklin got shut down for complaining about their square burgers, or how they made fun of McDonald’s for posting an incomplete tweet.
It’s a fine line to toe, though – it’s very possible to push it too far, or even tweet using an old meme format, which can make you seem a bit out of touch.
The main obstacle with this trend is that there’s no formula behind the perfect post. A lot of the back and forth can be rooted in humor, and there’s no real rule behind humor. But you don’t have to be the next Jerry Seinfeld on your social media – as long as you strike a consistent, friendly tone throughout your posts, people will feel more comfortable engaging with you.
For example, which Tweet would you rather see on your timeline?:
As long as your fun posts are suited to your brand, you’ll almost certainly drive up engagement by adding a human element into the soul of the account.
Here is what Andrus Purde, CEO of Outfunnel, thinks of the new human element of social media:
“Social media started from human to human communication, got sidetracked with “social media gurus” and wrong KPIs for a bit, and is now back where it started. The best way to get your fans and followers to engage is by starting and participating in real conversations.
“Brands that have an authentic, human voice on social media are the ones who will grow their following and business via social media in 2021. One of my favorite examples of this is innocent drinks – just take a look at their Twitter feed and you’ll get what I mean.”
The impact of COVID on social media
At first glance, you might think that the recent pandemic would have little impact on social media outside of people using it to check for news or updates. Not only were people checking their social media feeds more frequently, but they also had more time to do so, due to the massive influx of free time.
With people worldwide being instructed to work from home – or in many unfortunate cases, being furloughed or fired – we all had a lot more time to browse social media. Those who had been let go would understandably be using LinkedIn to find new employment, while those who had more time in their day due to not having to commute could often find themselves on social media a lot more than if they were in the office.
And it’s not just changes in the realm of work – anyone with a hobby that involves leaving the house or interacting with other people soon found themselves with not much to do. Readers and gamers may have rejoiced, but anyone into contact sports or going to conventions would have a lot more time to browse their feeds.
Not to mention, we all miss our friends. If you were a good law-abiding citizen at the pandemic’s peak, you’ll have likely had to cancel parties or hangouts, meaning you couldn’t see your buds. If that was the case, it’s likely that you made up for this social deficit by using social media.
This perfect storm of increased screen time meant that people were inadvertently viewing more social media campaigns, allowing companies to make more of an impression.
How much has social media usage increased per app?
How much did COVID actually impact our social media consumption? Let’s look at how each social media app grew over the past year:
Facebook is a tricky one, since most people who were going to make a Facebook account already have one. As such, the platform actually hasn't seen a notable increase in users over the past year.
Don’t get us wrong – they’ve definitely seen more people join, with a total of 360 million people jumping on over the past year, but this falls into the the company's normal trend – we don’t foresee a massive increase as the pandemic rages on.
Where they have seen increases is in the amount of time people spend on their site. People used to spend around five minutes looking through their Facebook each day, but that number has doubled as people spend an average of over ten minutes, probably arguing with their relatives about politics.
Much like Facebook, Instagram was already a social media titan. However, they did definitely see a jump in users that was a bit more than their projected trend. A total of 19.3 million profiles were added to Instagram in 2020, culminating in a total of 132.8 million accounts.
As far as usage goes, the average ‘grammer spent 30 minutes a day on their platform, which is a 13.8% increase when looking at their figure from 2019 (26 minutes a day).
Keep in mind that, unlike Facebook, not all these accounts are potential customers. Some of these will be brands, blogs, or other accounts that might not be interested in following your brand.
Just like the titular snaps themselves, Snapchat is used for short bursts, with 46% of users opening the app multiple times a day. You don’t really browse Snapchat the same way you’d browse Twitter or Instagram, so usage is always brief.
However, they did see a climb in users throughout 2020 after a plateau/dip in 2018, breaking 240 million users in 2020.
Some people think that Twitter peaked back in 2018, as it’s never since quite reached the heights of its 336 million users. That is to say, it hadn’t broken those numbers until 2020, when it pulled out of its dip in usage and broke 340 million users.
Since Twitter’s whole appeal is its brief messages, the average user didn’t spend more than around three and a half minutes scrolling down their feed – but that has more than doubled in the past year, with users spending nearly 11 minutes looking at their Twitter feed.
YouTube saw a steady climb in users – indeed, they consistently gain 100 million users every year. While they’re not too open about their exact usage information, they tend to average a billion hours of content watched a day. You can guess that this number skyrocketed over the pandemic.
When you’re stuck at home, there are few better hobbies to keep you busy than home improvement. Pinterest is a perfect site for people to find cool home projects, and it very much flourished in 2020.
From a user base of 335 million people in 2019, all the way up to 442 million during 2020, Pinterest has definitely further established itself as a solid social media brand. People only tend to spend around 5 minutes on there, but that’s more than enough time to catch their eye.
The freshest face on the social media scene, TikTok has exploded within the past year. Ever since Vine went down the drain, they left a big hole for a short video service, which TikTok swept in to fill.
There’s not much to compare it to before the pandemic, since it was already so new outside of China, but it’s worth noting that TikTok is home to 689 million monthly active users – with a global average of people spending an unbelievable 52 minutes on the app every day.
Self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” Reddit is a website that congregates content from across the world wide web. They host a massive amount of content, and the pandemic only helped to strengthen their grip.
Reddit released a mercifully comprehensive rundown on its usage throughout 2020, and it shows how they’ve been raking in the users. Reddit experienced a 44% increase in users throughout the year, reaching 52 million, with over 300 million posts – over double what the site received in 2019.
Finally we come to LinkedIn, the most professional social network out there. Rather than receiving any major boost, LinkedIn is steadily climbing – a trend which was healthy all the way through 2020.
Finishing up the year with over 720 million users, LinkedIn is a great way to get a campaign out there, as a million hours of content is watched on LinkedIn every week. It hasn't exploded throughout the pandemic, but it's still on a steady climb and definitely worth your attention, especially if your customer base is other businesses.
What should a business do in 2021?
So what steps should a business take to take full advantage of these various channels? Obviously, our first answer will be that if you don’t have any kind of social media presence, you need to get one as soon as possible.
Obviously there are a lot of social media channels – more than we’ve listed here – but if you jump onto all of them, you’re probably going to stretch yourself too thin, and you won’t do any of them particularly well.
The first thing you’ll want to nail down is the social media platform that suits your business the best. For example, if you’re a brand that focuses more on a teen audience and a bubbly personality, TikTok would be a good move – however, if you’re more of a more serious B2B brand, then LinkedIn would be a better move. There’s a social network for everyone, so take your time!
If you’re struggling to decide, look around at your competitors’ social media accounts. Don’t think of it as copying, think of it as inspiration – getting an idea for how to put your own spin on their methods.
And outside of social media, if you’re a brick-and-mortar, setting up an online store is a must nowadays. With some countries still in lockdown, and some people understandably apprehensive about going to stores in real life, taking the time to set up ecommerce for your store can boost your revenue.
- Boomers joining the world of social media
- TikTok continuing to take the world by storm
- Social media integration with ecommerce
- Video content becoming king
- VR and AR changing the way we consume content
- Increasing the human element
We’ve had decades to iron out television marketing, and centuries to master the in-person sales pitch, but the new world of online salesmanship is growing and changing in ways that we can only predict.
Depending on your brand and product, you’ll want to decide the best social media platform and trends for you, since your demographic and image will be better suited to some platforms than others. Good luck!