Seven Social Media Predictions for 2021

By Jane Ainsworth on 9th December 2020

Given the year we’ve had, it might seem optimistic to be making any predictions for the year ahead. No one could have guessed how unusual 2020 would turn out to be, with today’s world unrecognisable to the one left behind on 31 December 2019.

But it’s not just the pandemic that’s shaken our belief in making educated guesses. The US presidential election, which somehow is still not officially over, once again defied the analysts by delivering a much closer result than expected. Leading up to election day, many of the polls had Biden winning by a landslide, yet Trump fought back by winning key battleground states like Florida and Ohio. For a few days, no one could call the result and old arguments about voter sample sizes and demographics rumbled on.

The election may have given little cause to pay attention to the polls, but it did restate the case for social media. Before Biden became the Democrats nominee, Michael Bloomberg spent $1 billion of his own money on a campaign that relied heavily on influencers and other social tactics. While unsuccessful, it showed how important the ‘digital ground game’ had become for political strategists. This chimed with the 72 per cent of Americans who said they now actively use some form of social media. Put simply, an audience of that size matters.

With that it in mind, it’s seems more important than ever to gauge the possible trends and changes for social media, even if they do follow one of most tumultuous years in recent memory. Here are WPR’s seven predictions…

1. Social With a Conscience

At one time, brands would steer clear of issues deemed to be too sensitive for fear of alienating followers, but 2020 has changed that. ‘Blackout Tuesday’, an act of collective protest in response to racism and police brutality in the US, showed even big names were willing to acknowledge society’s problems. The fear of being seen to capitalise on tragedy means there will always be an element of risk, yet research shows consumers are now more likely to support brands who are socially responsible. Businesses will be keenly aware of this – expect more of this content on your feed.

2. Gamification

According to research from software developer HubSpot, the number of social media users who identify as ‘gamers’ increased by more than 32 per cent in 2020. This is perhaps unsurprising given the amount of time people have spent indoors this year. However, more brands are using Facebook’s interactive gaming ads, streaming platform Twitch is expanding its online game-streaming capabilities and Snapchat has launched its own mini-games. The line between gaming and social media will continue to blur in 2021.

3. More Storefronts

Many brands have had to adjust to selling only online in 2020. The major social platforms have responded in kind, racing to develop their own business marketing offerings. On Facebook Shops and Instagram Shoppable, for example, users no longer need to leave the app to purchase a product. This is not only convenient for users but also helps brands to reach more customers, especially when they have struggled to establish their own ecommerce store.

4. TikTok’s Rise

The Chinese video-sharing app has enjoyed a meteoric rise this year, with average monthly users expected to exceed one billion in 2021. ByteDance, the parent company, has recently come under fire from the Trump administration, though the proposed US ban has yet to make its way through the courts. Should ByteDance win this legal battle, TikTok will establish itself as a major social media player and businesses will flock to the platform to take advantage of its developing paid advertising offering.

5. Niche Platforms

It might seem odd to refer to a website like Reddit as ‘niche’ when it boasts around 330 million active monthly users, yet it’s not often top of a business’s social media shopping list. Paid advertising reach, however, is believed to be 60% higher than other platforms and these ads can also be targeted at specific communities. This makes the website an attractive proposition for smaller, boutique brands looking to increase sales in a cost-effective way. Next year will likely see greater spend across different channels, especially with ones that have specific interest-led audiences.

6. Pod Power

Podcasts might be seen as another odd choice given how closely tied they are to the mid-2000s, long before most of today’s social media even existed. But it’s hard to overlook the stats: 10 million people in the UK listen to a podcast every week – 18 per cent of the adult population. And it’s even higher in the 24-34 age group, where 27 per cent listen at least once a week. Much like vinyl records, it’s an older medium that’s enjoying a revival with younger audiences. The sheer number of people tuning in will be difficult for businesses to overlook. Expect more podcasts, more listeners and more ad spend.

7. Quality Over Quantity

Many brands chose to dial back the number of posts this year in favour of more thoughtful content that dealt with the difficulties experienced in 2020. With many losing their jobs, and some even losing family members, it didn’t seem appropriate to go on as if nothing had happened. This ‘less is more’ approach will likely remain in 2021 as the pandemic’s long-term economic impact becomes clear. Algorithms typically favour high-volume accounts but brands may be willing to disregard this out of fear of appearing tone deaf to the world around them.

 

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The author: Jane Ainsworth is managing director of WPR. She has over 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering communications strategies for consumer brands including Dunelm, Tesco, Mothercare, Greene King, John Lewis, Bullring, Beaverbrooks and Westfield.