Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

What does 2021 hold in store for social media?

By social media expert and author of SLASHED IT, Unsah Malik.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for many reasons. Now more than ever, social media is becoming an increased number of users’ go-to resource. Partially because we’ve been ‘locked down’ at home, and partially because we’re finding what we need behind an app before we do elsewhere. Here’s what 2021 has in store.

Authenticity, values and awareness of world events will be a necessity.

Being transparent and ethically correct has always been, and will always be, important for businesses but brands, agencies and influencers will now need to double their efforts on actioning incentives to educate their audiences — and to actually be genuine and authentic about it. Social media is rapidly becoming a news and education resource for most users, so it is up to those with bigger followings to take on the responsibility to share the right things.

Take a closer look at your brand values. If you say you represent every type of person, your content should equally mirror that. If you say you’re against racism, your content should equally mirror that. If you say you believe in women’s rights — you guessed it — your content should equally mirror that. This isn’t to say everyone’s feed needs to be the equivalent of a publisher who focuses on activism, but to remain silent is no longer an option (about time, too!). Find ways you can do your part which aligns with what your business stands for, and ensure it is being communicated well in your content.

Audio will continue to lead

Probably to no one’s surprise, podcasts, audio-based content and audio-based spaces will continue to surge in 2021. We’ve seen platforms secure exclusive partnerships with celebrities and thought leaders this year — for example Michelle Obama for Spotify — as much as we’ve seen a rise in niche and solo-host podcasts created by, and for, specific and smaller communities.

There’s also been a greater interest and demand for audio spaces, with the most recent ‘hype platform’ amongst US and UK audiences being Clubhouse (invite-only for now because it’s in a Beta phase). Brands understand that it’s no longer about appealing to a mass audience of listeners; it’s about continuing to provide education, entertainment and value to the target demographic within your niche; asking and answering questions a particular type of person is likely to engage with and enjoy as opposed to pleasing every potential listener.

A step back from the noise with a stronger emphasis on value

Social media can be overwhelming even at the best of times. Content overload has never been greater, and nor has the number of individuals seemingly fighting their way through the crowds to be heard. Whatever angle you look at the industry in general, there’s a lot going on between influencers, brands, publications, service providers, creatives, startups, entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, celebrities and political figures. Brands and influencers who thrive in 2021 will take a ‘step back’ to block the noise and focus on their own audiences and values to build a content strategy.

It’s always a good idea to be in-line with trends and on top of competition, but it should never override what your brand stands for and, more importantly, what your customers/followers love you for. Simplicity sells, while complexity deters. You’ll be surprised how many consumers gravitate towards small-brand values because they’re growing sick of mass-brand attitude and bombardment.

Think what you want, but influencer marketing is here to stay

The platforms influencers exist on will change or transition for as long as social media evolves, but the industry as a whole is here to stay and make some big bucks. At this point, there’s no excuse for mass brands or those with bigger budgets to not use influencer marketing to their advantage – and smaller brands should always consider to take up the opportunity when their budgets (or stock levels) allow it.

One development for the coming year, however, will be the bigger need for data to justify the bigger spends and to measure ROAS. This will see the rise of (even) more influencer-based platforms for both brands and content-creators to see whether the partnership is right for both parties, and to also crunch those numbers for end-of-campaign reports.

Engagement has always been and will always be important when identifying which influencer(s) to work with for a particular campaign, and 2020 has overall seen brands making better decisions on selecting the right influencers for their campaigns and objectives, but the justification for spend needs to be seen in greater hard data.

More context, less perfection

Brands and influencers will turn their efforts to the context of content as opposed to visuals and aesthetics.

I made this point for predictions in 2019 and 2020 too because it should always be the case irrespective of who you are or what you do, however, I’ve only sensed a proper sense and rise of understanding with this point during the past 6-7 months. Does the pandemic have anything to do with this? I think so.

The idea of looking and feeling less perfect because we’re in the midst of a pandemic became more acceptable. General users gravitated towards those who made them feel more normal, brands became more relatable, and influencers started sharing their ‘real life’ as opposed to the one once seen behind a filter only. In turn, this saw real value and context outshine ‘visually perfect’ content. We’re posting things to make others feel normal and good, not for others to be in awe of us. Less ‘me vs you’, and more ‘we’re in this together’.

Life as we know it won’t ‘go back to normal’ when the clock strikes 00:00 for 2021, so content as we once saw it won’t either.

As for TikTok?

It’s simple. It’s not going anywhere. We’ll only see an increased use of spend from brands, more ads within the app, the birth of thousands of more influencers, a gazillion more challenges…and probably an algorithm change everyone will hate (is the platform even successful if this doesn’t happen?).