10 social media trends to keep an eye on in 2021

The year 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride for marketers. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted consumer behaviour and industry demands, and brands should be aware of these changing trends, and adjust their content and brand messaging accordingly to fit the current landscape. According to a recent study done by Talkwalker and Hubspot, the tone of 2021 will be shaped by the “four Cs” of COVID-19 content: community, contactless, cleanliness, compassion. The report found that these four aspects have been trending online and have become common conversation drivers. Hence, brands will need to adapt their communications with this in mind.

There is also a communication gap among consumers and brands when it comes to the 4Cs. While business accounts have been focusing on messages around supporting communities, consumers are more focused on cleanliness. Moving forward, while brands have to be part of these COVID-19 conversations, they will also need to assess the topic carefully to ensure their communication is relevant. Additionally, brands will have to be pandemic-conscious when it comes to developing brand content. With COVID-19 driving their consumers’ motivations, invasive advertising won’t work, the study found. Instead, brands should focus on relevant content that covers audience needs and concerns.

The “2021 Social Media Trends” also highlighted nine other aspects that brands should take note of the next year.

1. A little more conversational marketing

The pandemic has also brought the need for brands to connect with consumers to the forefront. Brands now can no longer shout their messages into the void and hope for the best. Instead, it is all about conversations and connections. Having conversations with consumers to build those relationships, and create sales.

Sales are no longer top priority for customers. Instead, it is information, engagement, and social issues that are driving engagement and future retention.

Connecting with those stories will be key in 2021, the study found. Talkwalker predicts that 2021 will enable conversational marketing’s full potential. Conversational marketing is a method of engaging customers through conversations, using chatbots, social messaging, calls, and more. It is about building relationships through personalised, one-to-one content. 

Although a relatively new marketing methodology, the study said conversational marketing is highly adaptable, so brands can alter their messaging quickly to meet varying situations or consumers. Additionally, technology is starting to catch up with the conversational marketing potential, with more AI-powered solutions, and omnichannel conversations with chatbots. This means that brands can have personalised contacts on an enterprise scale.

Brands can also open up their brand to active consumer conversations by combining it with a more conversational tone in its messaging, one that brings a human voice to social media.

2. Nostalgia marketing

The drastic shift in society and lifestyle caused by COVID-19 has also increased the use of nostalgia marketing by brands. Nostalgia marketing connects strong positive emotions to a brand, and gives it a sentimental boost. During times of uncertainty and economic downturn, it usually appears more frequently as consumers look to connect with happier times to distract from current situations. According to the study, nostalgia marketing was used more during the 1920’s depression, the late 2000’s Great Recession, and therefore should be big in the economic downturn over the coming years.

It was added that when social and travel restrictions were put into place, mentions of keywords on social media related to nostalgia or remembering the past shot up from a baseline of around 13 million mentions to 24.4 million, which saw an increase of 88%. 

People want to remember the “good old days” even if they weren’t so good, because connecting with positive memories from the past helps people disconnect from their current struggles.

Brands should thus aim to connect that positive memory to their brand and that sense of positivity will build an emotional relationship with their consumers.

When brands make consumers feel good, they will associate that brand as a good brand.

3. Socially-conscious marketing

The most impactful trend that the study found is the rise of socially-conscious consumers. In 2020, this socially-conscious generation were seen making an impact on brands, politics, and society as a whole. These range from issues such as #BlackLiveMatters to influencer Xiaxue's saga during the elections in Singapore, where consumers called for brands to stop working with her. Other issues such as equality, education, mental health, finance, changing food trends have also been found to be proliferant conversations on social media. These topics are critical to these generations, and social media is their way to bring them to attention.

Thus, brands will have to engage more with topics such as mental health, inclusivity, and social justice, or face becoming irrelevant and potentially obsolete in 2021. 

They will have to make their brand more socially-conscious and focus their marketing on their mission. Hard-sell tactics won’t work for Millennials and younger generations.

That kind of advertising can be seen as invasive, and only 1% of Millennials say a compelling advertisement will build trust. A mission-led marketing campaign will instead connect with the audience on a more emotive level, creating stronger brand resonance.

Talkwalker foresees that brands will start to reposition themselves dramatically over the coming months, moving away from marketing methodologies, to more cause-driven messaging. However, it cautions that socially-conscious marketing isn’t a quick trick, and brands that act superficially will flounder when called out by consumers. It is added that brands that authentically engage with the issues that matter will thrive as younger generations increase their spending power.

If you are looking to learn more about Marketing to Millennials and Gen Z, join our masterclass where we deep dive in creating frameworks for marketing success with the next generation. Find out more here.

4. The rise of digital disinformation

The marketing industry can also expect 2021 to be the year brands and social media channels focus on highlighting the truth, and silencing “fake news”. Social media has always blurred the lines between fact and fiction—from the highly edited lives of some Instagrammers, to Twitter parody accounts. The COVID-19 health crisis has brought the issue of disinformation to the forefront. Society is facing an uncertain future, and this uncertainty has created a hotbed of misinformation, with false stories leading to life-changing decisions.

From February 2020 onwards, mentions of fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories increased dramatically. The sudden rise of COVID-19 created an information void - people desperately wanted more information around the global pandemic, yet it wasn’t easy for people to identify an authoritative source they felt they could trust. This led to consumers filling in the gaps for themselves, leading to a rise in fake news and conspiracy theories.

5. Social media giants adapt to the new normal

Over the past 13 months, the level of news stories around the three biggest social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have balanced out, with Twitter being mentioned slightly more across digital news channels. Despite differences in audiences, demographics, and users, these channels hold similar positions in consumers’ minds, and is extremely unlikely to lose that dominance. Even though awareness of TikTok is increasing, the study said it still has a long way to go before it catches up.

These larger platforms have the size and capabilities to adapt quickly to changing trends and consumer habits. Incorporating new features such as Facebook Horizon or Twitter voice tweets is very doable while pivoting their features to counteract the popularity of growing channels, at the same time reacting to the trends to counteract disinformation and engage socially conscious audiences. In 2021, they will still have a significant grip on the social media market, though they certainly won’t be exactly the same platforms used today.

6. Protecting your brand from memetic media

Memes (a type of social media trend) are now the way to communicate online. The study found that memes are big amongst younger generations, with 55% of 13 to 35-year olds sending memes every week.

Over the last year, that number has grown. Mentions of memes increased by 26% over the last 13 months, from 19.8 million mentions in August 2019, to 24.9 million in July 2020, with a peak of 28 million during April 2020. Online users generally turned to memes for engagement and escapism while under lockdown.

As memes become more popular, though, they become more susceptible to being used for malicious reasons. With disinformation on the rise, these memes can influence the mindset of consumers. Many of these mentions originated from forums that are highly politicised and topics covered included COVID-19 (2.9%), the economy (2.8%) and politics (2%). All highly-charged topics are at risk of memetic manipulation. In the coming months and years, brands should expect memes to be used more to persuade consumers, both on key issues, and the issues that could impact a brand.

To protect the brand from memetic media, Talkwalker’s study suggested five steps:

  • Monitor brand logo - Normally, memes will appear with little to no text mentions. The only way to see if a brand is in one is through monitoring them through image recognition.
  • Engage in the meme community - Connecting content to popular memes can help engage this aspect of the community, encouraging engagement, with the aim of creating more virality for the brand.
  • Share user-generated memes - If any user-generated meme jumps out, brands should try to share it on the channels they are naturally most effective on— forums such as Reddit and Twitter are ideal for this. Brands also have to make sure they credit the creator, as it will build a stronger brand connection while encouraging others to create branded content too.
  • Be careful what you post - Before brands share a meme, they have to make sure they are fully aware of what it means and its implications. In late 2016, Wendy’s included a meme including Pepe the frog. This caused significant negative response, as the character is often associated with the Alt-right, an ideological movement using online media to disseminate provocative content, which often expressing opposition to racial, religious, or gender equality. Wendy’s had to respond quickly and delete the offending tweet. 
  • Check the regulations - As memetic media continues to grow, there will be repercussions, and possibly regulations. Brands should keep track of them to make sure they are not breaking any rules. Memes may also tread on copyright rules. Careful use is essential when using memes for marketing purposes, so brands need to be cautious to avoid any legal repercussions.

7. Old-school marketing for a new market

During times of uncertainty, marketers tend to switch back to tried-and-tested marketing tactics instead of disruptive ideas. In 2021, Talkwalker predicts there will be a rise in “old-school marketing” as brands switch back to a simpler way of engaging consumers.

These include marketing tactics such as newsletters and podcasts, which may lack the finesse of more recent methods, but are easy to establish by marketers and most importantly, easy to consume by customers.

There will also be a rise in “old-school” communication methods coming from users, with voice calls coming back. Voice used to be essential for communication, with calls significantly outweighing the use of messaging. Yet currently, 68% of consumers text more than they talk on their smartphones. Now, the industry is seeing voice coming back, with voice search, voice notes, and even voice Tweets. This “new” communication method of voice Tweet has already had 164,000 mentions with 744,400 engagement, showing these will become bigger in the coming years, the study added.

8. Social gaming

As the COVID-19 lockdown took hold, people turned to video games as another form of distraction. Forums and groups have risen within and around games, creating entire communities dedicated to the various fanbases. In 2021, the stigmatism associated with gaming should be lifted, as brands become more focused on these relevant communities.

Over the last 13 months, it is found that the number of people who identify as gamers has increased from 31.1 million in August 2019 to 41.2 million in July 2020, with an immediate uptick shown during the lockdown months. The conversations these consumers are having reveal the trend.

Additionally, the keywords that come up more frequently are not related to the games people play, but rather who they play with. People, friends, community are all conversation drivers, with platforms for connecting with other gamers such as Twitch and YouTube also showing up. The tone is also positive. Since people are not able to connect face-to-face in the real world during a global pandemic, they turn to building connections in the digital realms. These communities are only going to get stronger in 2021 and beyond.

9. Remixing the new user-generated content

Last but not least, user-generated content will evolve to include remixing. Remixing is the art of taking existing formats, templates, or ideas, and recreating them to express a user’s own personality or ideas. According to Talkwalker, it is on the rise through apps such as TikTok and Instagram Reels. The trend is only just taking off, the study added.

There will be more co-production opportunities in the future, with brands providing templates for users to base their content off. This will enable more organic connections between companies and consumers.

The marketing industry can expect 2021 to bring even more opportunities for remixing, with brands engaging with new audiences and creating additional content that stands out from the crowd.

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(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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