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The 7 Most Important Social Media Trends to Know for 2021

A woman embracing the future of virtual reality while wearing a headset.

Social media shows no signs of losing steam as 2021 approaches. Platform developers (engineers) and users (recorded engagements) act as key players in a quest to deliver new and better ways to connect online. With greater adoption and ongoing development, exciting, cutting edge features emerge.

The Evolution of Social Media

What began as a place to customize a profile to one’s likes and hobbies (such as MySpace) or instant message friends and strangers (such as SixDegrees) has transformed into a world of intuitive connectivity, information, and online shopping tools. 

Social media as we know it has blossomed over the last 20 years to bring together friends, family, and lifestyle experts from nearly every demographic. It has become such an integral part of 21st Century life that people from all over the world use their favorite social platform to ask a family member a question, catch up on current events, and everything in between.

“Social media users are now spending an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day multinetworking across an average of 8 social networks and messaging apps.” – Smart Insights, Global social media research summary August 2020

Facebook was one of the early adopters and molders of modern social media, and it continues to be a major player in the social media landscape. Thanks to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, each of those channels offers new engagement tools and metrics for users, creators, and brands alike.

Over the last two years, TikTok has become one of the most popular channels for younger audiences and emerging influencers. Not only has TikTok offered fun ways to make and share video content, it has also forced other major platforms to adapt and push back on previously-established boundaries.

Finally, social media is largely responsible for migrating users away from desktops and onto their smartphones. Brands are following this trend and looking for new ways to connect with their audience and provide a better user experience.

As we all anticipate a new year in digital marketing, here are our top seven picks for social media trends to watch in 2021.

1. Remixing User-generated and Influencer-generated Content

Marketers are beginning to promote user and influencer-generated content over branded content. What others have to say about your brand generally feels more objective and trustworthy, particularly if those opinions come from friends, family, or authoritative figures.

Now that social media users have embraced the mashup or remix technique, there are even more opportunities to use, reuse, borrow, and recreate user-generated content in 2021.

What is It?

Content remixing involves taking something that already exists (i.e., song, image, video, lyrics, etc.), extracting parts, and creating something new. Even though remixing borrows from other creators, social media users still regard the content as original.

The two leading remix platforms are TikTok and Koji. Engagement options like challenges, duets, etc. allow any user to perform a mash-up of their own. And if consumers can use these features, then so can brands.

In most cases, remixing does not violate copyright laws, since regulatory agencies consider using small portions of an original work for non-commercial purposes to be within the realm of public domain. That said, using large portions of copyrighted material or for the express purpose of selling products and services means that brands need permission from the original content creator.

Brands partnering with influencers should acquire content permissions from their influencers. Influencer-generated content is easy to repurpose for owned and paid media.

Why It’s Important

“The best pieces of content will be the ones marketers don’t create, but facilitate. At a time where consumers’ lives have changed dramatically, they look for people, not brands, for inspiration about products and services that fit within their new lifestyles post COVID-19.”- Hubspot and Talkwalker’s 2021 Social Media Trends industry report

The “name of the game” for modern marketing is content authenticity. While there are various ways to achieve it, authenticity does not typically come from traditional advertising techniques, such as mass media. 

Both user and influencer-generated content showcase real life scenarios and incorporate the products they love into their content. Brands that learn to leverage that kind of content through remixing and mash-up campaigns will connect with their audience more effectively now and into 2021.

2. Social Media Ephemeral Content

There’s newsfeed content, and then there’s content highlights. Social media is looking for new ways to help users do more with their content. A growing trend exists in the realm of ephemeral posts.

What is It?

As the name implies, ephemeral content lasts for a limited period of time, usually 24 hours. Facebook and Instagram Stories are currently the most popular form of ephemeral content. But don’t be surprised to see this post option arise in other leading social channels.

Facebook and Instagram Stories allow users to post image or video content, along with post features, such as swipe ups (to a link), interactive polls, follower chat, countdowns, and more. Once the story lasts for 24 hours, the post disappears.

Why It’s Important

Ephemeral content generates a sense of urgency that brands can leverage for more engagement and conversions. The automated, “limited-time” nature of these posts helps users act now, even if only to consume an image, video, or message before the post expires.

3. Connected and Conversational Marketing

Thanks to social media and artificial intelligence, it is now possible for brands with relatively small work teams to maintain one-on-one interactions with consumers. This personalization is transforming social media into a more powerful conversion tool.

What is It?

Connected and conversational marketing are tools and techniques that engage customers one-on-one on product questions, recommendations, feedback, or customer support.

Chatbot creators initially had a vision for this approach, but AI limitations frequently produce engagement constraints, such as nuanced customer questions for which the automated “bot” has no understanding or answers. Nevertheless, chatbot technology is developing as a sort of routing tool.

Social media platforms, however, provide a natural environment for brands and consumers to interact in real-time. Influencers are perfect “go-betweens” in these product-centered discussions, answering questions and providing guidance to “on-the-fence” buyers.

That said, brands that are prompt to engage follower questions on branded or influencer post comments achieve greater brand sentiment and more conversions.

Why It’s Important

User experience (UX) is a crucial part of what motivates consumers to buy. And real-time feedback from brands is often a key component to UX design. Brands that leverage social media as a means of providing connected marketing achieve mobile UX capabilities similar to one-on-one sales agent assistance offered by big-name eCommerce brands like Amazon or Ebay. 

Each of these implied UX design features in social media conversational marketing have shown to boost conversions by as much as 30%.

4. The Rise of Social Media Live

With the advent of binge-enabling media streaming sites like Netflix, one might think that the thrill of live streaming is past. But user data demonstrates that that is simply not the case at all. In fact, a number of media streaming platforms are hastily adding live streaming to keep up with user demand.

What is It?

Sports and gamer media is not the only form of live streaming content exciting consumers. Social media users are having a blast sharing live talks or events via their preferred social channel.

Facebook and Instagram are among the most popular social media live platforms. But this trend is also exploding among gamer social platforms and video apps like Marco Polo. By tuning into a live event, followers, friends, and family can experience the content in real-time.

Why It’s Important

“[Live streams] have been proven to be effective in maximizing engagement and driving optimal viewership, dominating the world of social media.” – Bella Khaja, Founder and Account Director at Nimble Marketing Consultancy

Viewing video content via live stream presents an elevated sense of connectedness between the viewer and the creator. Brands that learn to leverage social media live tools on their own channels or with the help of influencers can build brand affinity among members of their audience.

5. Short Social Media Videos

Without intending any disrespect to long-form videos available on Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook, cutting video down into bite-sized chunks forces creators to do more with less. Simultaneously, users can absorb information even if they only have a few seconds to spare.

What is It?

Short-form videos exist on TikTok, Instagram Stories, and other channels with opportunities to create time-limit video content. 

These brief videos can stand alone or give users a preview of a long-form video or event. The short format can attract audience attention with a lower time commitment, thus raising viewership significantly.

most important social media trends of 2021  short-form social media videos

Image via Vidyard

Why It’s Important

It’s true that consumers today have short attention spans, but in today’s information-rich culture, users are inclined to invest two minutes or less in a full video that they find relevant. Short social media videos force creators to be concise and compelling in a shorter period of time.

Short-form videos are also better for repurposing content, such as in the case of user or influencer-generated content and S-commerce.

6. Social Commerce (S-commerce)

Consumers are growing more fond of product suggestions and recommendations mixed in with content on their social media newsfeeds. To accommodate this growing trend, eCommerce and social media platforms have taken steps to merge these two technologies and improve the online shopping experience.

What is It?

“Social commerce is consumers’ ability to shop and purchase products or services inside a social media channel without having to leave the platform to complete a purchase.” – How to Integrate your Influencer Marketing into your Social Commerce

Before recent developments in S-commerce features, social media users might see a product or ad that prompts them to move off the social platform to shop. This lack of seamless integration is cumbersome, especially for those shoppers that want to browse products, build a cart, and even make a purchase before returning to the social platform where they began.

Now that S-commerce features allows brands to merge their shop with the social platform, users can shop and buy with fewer clicks without having to venture off the social channel

Why It’s Important

The most effective advertising doesn’t look and feel like advertising. In fact, digital word-of-mouth is often the best way to scale your brand. The challenge is finding ways to invest in that digital word-of-mouth.

S-commerce makes digital word-of-mouth possible. Influencers, ambassadors, family, and friends can share product/service recommendations publicly or through direct messaging more easily. This form of digital marketing also paves the way for shoppable ads, which are also making major headway this year and into 2021.

7. Augmented Reality

Social media is pulling user data from augmented reality’s “beta years” (specifically, 2018-2019) and introducing their own take on AR features to platform users. AR technology continues to blur the line between avatar and reality, creating more opportunities for authentic engagement.

most important social media trends of 2021 augmented reality

Image via eMarketer

Snapchat was arguably the first to adapt AR on social media, but other leading channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest are not far behind. Quarantined users have had plenty of time to play with social media AR features, and nearly every major channel intends to expand their AR capabilities in 2021.

What is It?

Augmented reality puts the user in the center of the content. For example, users can “try on” glasses, make-up, or clothes. They can also create AR content using AR web cameras that allow followers to explore the inside of buildings or a beautiful outdoor setting as if they were there in real life.

Why It’s Important

Mobile devices are equipped with increasingly more powerful cameras. Social media is also about connecting remote audiences with more tools to make users feel as though they are in the room or using a product.

Combining these technological advancements creates opportunities for brands and consumers to engage on a new level. Real estate agents can give home tours to live audiences, while apparel makers offer virtual fitting rooms to help the consumer make a more informed buying decision.

Conclusion: Prepare your brand for these 2021 social media trends

It may not be reasonable to accommodate every trend listed above, but there are likely a few that fit nicely with your brand. Understanding these 2021 social media trends can also help you find the right influencers, since many of them are already tracking on these trends.

At the end of the day, your goal is not merely to advance the latest technology but to connect with consumers. Understanding where consumers are engaging one another can inform your own content placement in 2021. Over time, you’ll nurture more engagement, expand your audience, and scale your business.

Special thanks to our friends at Grin.co for their insights on this topic.
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