2021 Outlook: Three Questions on Digital and Social Media Marketing

Ed.’s note: Our agency leaders recently took a beat to ponder their beats. The following is a look back on the year that was in digital and social media marketing, and thoughts on what lies ahead for the practice in 2021.

What has this past, unprecedented year taught you as a communications professional most about the digital and social media marketing space? 

The importance of authenticity in social media. Remember the backlash that celebrity Imagine video had this March? And the number of brands that fell short when it came to addressing Black Lives Matter? This year, more than ever, showed us how important it is for brands to stand behind what they talk about – on social and IRL. It’s not enough to put out statements of support, or say you believe something, you need to live it, and social media has provided a great outlet for sharing brands’ authentic stories.

What do you believe separated the struggling brands from the more resilient brands in the digital and social media space during this past year and why? 

The ability to pivot their social strategy and adapt to this new world. Brands needed to get creative this year as they faced slashed budgets, potentially fewer relevant products in COVID times, and an audience grappling with economic, political and social firestorms (and, sadly, actual real firestorms). Brands created content that inspired and delighted, that fostered communities, or supported a cause managed to survive 2020. A great example of this is Airbnb. Its  #FrontlineStays and Go Near campaigns are great examples of how the brand stayed relevant and supported a cause despite travel being one of the most affected industries.

What will be the biggest opportunities for brands in digital and social media in 2021 and why?

Three things:

  • Leaning into the “UGC video” trend… aka TikTok and its clones. TikTok isn’t going away any time soon, and even if it does, the format is here to stay, as we can see in the growth of TikTok clones – Instagram’s Reels, YouTube’s Shorts, Snap’s Spotlight and more. In the search for a way to connect authentically and find an outlet for creativity during COVID times online, users have found value in the ability to easily create their own videos, remix content they’re passionate about, and be part of a community around those shared passions. Users have more control over the content they see, which is refreshing compared to some of the other ad-cluttered platforms that dominate the social space. This has revived the “organic social” space in a world where paid content has overwhelmed users’ feeds. The format also continues to evolve, from its music video remix origins to now including tutorials, live videos, social media challenges, and more, opening up its accessibility to users, and of course brands. Brands that can capitalize on these various formats and figure out the virality-fed algorithm will thrive.
  • AR is the new experiential. Augmented Reality (AR) has a lot of potential for 2021 as the future of IRL experiences remains unknown. AR provides the opportunity for brands to create unique experiences for their fans or potential customers despite being all online. “Try before you buy” AR experiences continue to grow in the retail space as online shopping has been paramount for keeping retail alive
  • Embracing Instagram shopping. With Instagram’s recent roll-out of ads with product tags and the ability to create custom audiences from Instagram Shopping engagements, retailers will want to be utilizing this platform to remain competitive in 2021.

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