2020 Put The Social In Media, But What Will 2021 Look Like?

Born Social’s executive strategy director & partner, Callum McCahon, reflects on the most significant social media trends in 2020 and how they might shape the next year.

Last year was the year we lived vicariously through social media. Cooped up indoors, it was our portal to the outside world, removing the miles between us and our friends, family and colleagues. We took the party on Zoom, did fitness challenges and shared Covid memes. It was the year that social reverted to its original and pure purpose: to bring people together. Social media became, well, a bit more social again. Over this period, we saw a number of significant shifts that will shape the next. Here’s a round-up:

The Rise of Social+  

For an industry that feeds on innovation, social media hasn’t changed much over the past decade. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter still rule the digital empire and many believed the market had been fully saturated. But then, last year, accelerated by the impacts of the pandemic, we witnessed the start of a meaningful shift in how we use and understand social.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm, Andreessen Horowitz, known more widely as ‘a16z’, coined the term ‘Social+’ to describe a new wave of products that integrate social from the start. These brands take a single category – from gaming to music to e-commerce – and build an integrated social experience around it.

An early adopter of the Social+ model, exercise tracking app, Strava, blends social and fitness to create a world of exercise for its users. People share their workouts with others, upload pictures and interact with one another, creating a motivational space to reflect on their progress and set targets. Another Social+ company that has made waves in its sector is the audio networking app Clubhouse, which takes live audio and adds a community. The industry is increasingly growing wise to the fact that the best version of every consumer product is the one that’s intrinsically social.

TikTok takeover

No social trends piece would be complete without mentioning the almighty TikTok. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that no-one should have ever underestimated junior – a platform that’s been pushing to take a seat at the head of the table since its launch. Facebook now has a serious rival and it’s far from the fad its critics once thought. Standing tall as the world’s most downloaded app of 2020 and with over 500 million users, this is a platform that has well and truly comes of age.

In 2020, TikTok for Business launched with a rallying call – “Don’t make ads, make TikToks” – asking advertisers to reconsider traditional marketing and come onboard its storytelling platform. TikTok’s immersive, full-screen, short-form videos give businesses a platform to participate and engage with a community known for its creativity, ingenuity, and joy. What more could brands want?

In July, Mexican restaurant chain, Chipotle, launched the #GuacDance challenge encouraging guacamole fans to show off dance moves dedicated to avocados. The Mexican restaurant chain broke records, amassing 250K video submissions and 430M video starts in just six days. Chipotle has carefully crafted a unique voice that is perfectly in tune with TikTok’s audience and has now earned a cult following that has kept the brand in the minds of a whole new generation. In 2021, TikTok will be a mainstay on media plans.

Social commerce

Social commerce has been on just about every trend prediction list for the last five years. Why? Because it has the unique ability to bring together both brand and performance objectives. Shopping was once limited to a process of discovery on social, with purchases taking place outside and off-platform, on e-commerce sites. For a long time, social commerce was just around the corner and then last year, we witnessed a series of significant social commerce moves that turned the dream into a reality…

Instagram Shop was a function many of us were waiting for, allowing users to find and buy items straight from a brand’s photos and videos – and e-commerce platform Shopify has just announced its Shop Pay feature will be coming to Instagram, removing yet more friction. TikTok’s partnership with Shopify was another major move allowing users to shop as they scroll through short-form videos. These two launches couldn’t have come at a better time with an e-commerce upswing in 2020 that is likely to outlast the pandemic. In 2021 the onus is on brands to take back control of their whole funnel, joining up brand and performance, and social commerce might just enable that to happen.

Scaling subcultures

Achieving cultural credibility is the holy grail among brands. The strongest among them know this, spending years attempting to build a collective understanding with consumers by immersing themselves in the cultural spheres of relevant communities. On the flip side, many brands take the lazier approach, instead of dipping in and out of popular culture, on the hunt for reactive success – that opportunistic viral moment. Consumers can detect this a mile off and will reject brands that haven’t earned their right to be there.

In today’s digital world, culture is more fragmented than ever, posing a clear challenge for brands hoping to build a collective understanding. A new breed tends to win in this arena. We call them social-first brands, brands that are built on social, involving their communities of subcultures from the get-go.

Netflix’s mastery of subcultures is impressive. Two years ago, the streaming platform began to focus on subsets of its audience that are popular on social, but often get overlooked by traditional marketing. Netflix launched dedicated social channels, including NX for all things geek and sci-fi; Con Todo, a channel for Latinx audiences; LGBTQ+ channel The Most; Netflix Family for parents and Strong Black Lead, celebrating TV and films starring black actors. On Instagram, these channels have become mini brands in their own right, complete with thriving communities, each consisting of hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s a great example of scaling subcultures, and it’s working brilliantly for Netflix.

In 2021, we’ll continue to see social playing a more significant role in the marketing mix for brands of all shapes and sizes. Tomorrow’s brands won’t treat social spaces as just ‘another’ marketing channel, they’ll see it as the environment in which their brands live and evolve. It’s where, increasingly, it all needs to start, which is why tomorrow’s brands will put social-first principles right at the heart of their brand.