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Finding Your Way Forward: Five Key Social Trends for 2021

As we approach the end of 2020, we can look back on what has been an unpredictable and turbulent year. A ‘new normal’ for many of us has been the forced transition to a more digital world. Socializing, organizing, working, learning—we do it all online in a way that would have been unimaginable just a year ago.

So, what lessons have we learned? And what path forward can brands take to resume growth, innovation, and creativity? Henk Campher, VP of Corporate Marketing at ‎Hootsuite, looks at six important social trends that we need to take note of in 2021.

We surveyed 11,189 marketers and asked industry experts, analysts, and brand enthusiasts to weigh in on how social media use has shifted this year. Here are the five key trends that emerged, what your brand can do to adapt, and which companies are leading the way:

1. The Race to ROI: Bridge the gap to new customer experiences

The disruptions of 2020 have affected both consumer spending and brand loyalty, leaving many marketers with a primary need to bring in new customers. In our global survey, 73% of all marketers ranked “increased acquisition of new customers” as their top social objective in 2021.

While marketers will continue driving quick results for ROI as a tactic to combat financial hardships companies have faced, strategic brands will realize a need to develop innovative, memorable experiences for customers to build long-term relationships and growth. To do this, brands will rely on social media to engage with consumers and recreate the intimacy of in-person customer experiences.

For an example of this in action, look no further than Clarins – a luxury skincare, cosmetics, and perfume company. Its team quickly pivoted to a digital consultant strategy when stores were forced to close.

Instead of in-store advice, beauty coach Rebecca Jones shared her expertise, insights, and techniques with customers in an authentic way via daily Instagram Stories. Website visits from social during the closures topped 30,000.

Your way forward in 2021:

  • Multiply ROI by adding more channels to better engage and create a memorable brand.

  • Turn inspiration into incremental revenue by adding fun to shopping experiences.

  • Recreate consultant and customer interaction through live Q&As or by leveraging influencers on social.

  • Make social the leading light in customer loyalty by using it for what it is meant for: connecting, building, and maintaining relationships online.

2. Silence is Golden: Find your place in the conversation

The events of 2020 have impacted the global community on a whole new scale. With the world reeling and championing change, brands who jumped to insert themselves into conversations without providing true value often missed the mark.

Our 2021 Social Trends report cited that on average, 32% of Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers said “finding funny or entertaining content” was their main reason for going on social media. This is an angle many brands missed when they rushed to release repetitive campaigns right away without listening to their consumer’s needs.

Brands who took the time to listen to their audiences were able to produce more impactful and insightful campaigns when the right time came and could leverage their voices on social media in ways that resonated.

Securian Financial is one such company that did this well. The team took the time to listen to customers before acting, seeking to understand what was needed and avoid any insensitivities. Using social listening tools, they learned customers were most interested in sharing content on how to stay connected. So, they launched a campaign encouraging users to share their new normal and hashtag #LifeBalanceRemix. It was a huge success with over a thousand participants.

Your way forward in 2021:

  • Bolster social listening data with other sources of insight to fully understand audiences and get better results by spotting interesting opinions and trends.

  • Lean on trusted UGC to replace costly content production, especially if budgets are tight. This is an effective way to access audiences with great content.

  • Don’t be a slave to vanity metrics; research says you still reach users and make an impact through passive content consumption.

3. Way More than OK: Reach a generation ignored by digital marketers

Older generations have long been a forgotten target group for social and online marketing, but the pandemic encouraged an interesting shift in online usage for the ‘boomer’ age group. Hootsuite research revealed that 70% of internet users aged 55-64 bought something online between September and October of 2020, with 37% planning to continue doing so regularly.

Unlike many younger people, older generations were more prepared with healthier finances leading up to the pandemic. They are also more digitally savvy than many may assume. This wide-open market of consumers should be targeted in digital marketing strategies going forward.

In Australia, Woolworths has seen its focus on this demographic pay off with an AR and video campaign through Facebook directed at baby boomers. Users could plant and care for a virtual tree, contribute their reward points towards an environmental charity, and have a real tree planted in their honor. The results have been impressive: An 11-point lift in brand favorability and a 46-point lift in message association among females aged 55-64, and over 6,000 trees planted.

Your way forward in 2021:

  • Include baby boomers in your social marketing strategies, by passions or hobbies—not simply by age. Not everyone will be an appropriate audience for your brand.

  • Include baby boomers in creative campaigns, but leave the stereotypes at the door.

  • Utilize online reviews to boost trust—boomers rely on reviews for purchase decisions more than other sources.

4. Do I Know You?: Tie engagement to identity for new momentum

According to our recent Social Transformation Report, 54% of companies are not confident that their social media followers are more valuable customers than those they don’t engage with.

Why? Because most social media managers have no way of knowing who they are reaching and what relationships they are deepening. In the same report, we found that only 10% of marketers feel they have mature practices to integrate social data into enterprise systems like Adobe, Marketo, Microsoft, or Salesforce.

Our Social Trends Report found that of those who have data integration processes in place, 85% had confidence in their organization’s ability to accurately quantify the ROI of social media. Brands able to quantify social engagement and ensure they’re reaching the right customers can impact the bottom line with their social strategy.

One brand getting this right is Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs Group, a French tourism group with a reputation for delivering unique and memorable vacation experiences. With customers already highly engaged on social media, the Group designed a strategy to gain a better understanding of where people were at each stage of their journey.

By integrating the data generated by social and CRM, the team created new commercial opportunities based on their engagement with customers before, during, and after their stay—the strategy resulted in a 200% lift in social media ROI.

Your way forward in 2021:

  • Hold social media accountable for more than just reactive engagement, and build a strong, strategic foundation.

  • Start taking small steps toward gathering quantifiable data from social engagements to track performance, and understand which channels and content pieces are driving action.

  • Set up manual workflows in the absence of perfect technological solutions.

5. The Perils (and Promises) of Purpose: Plan from the boardroom, not the front lines

With many people recalibrating what’s important to them this year, we’ve seen consumer focus shift towards purpose-driven and socially responsible companies. For Gen Z, 60% say they’re planning to buy products and services from large businesses that have taken care of their workforces and positively affected society during the pandemic.

Brands are right to respond and adapt to this, but it comes with a word of warning: Becoming socially conscious and purpose-driven is not something that’s easy to fake or mimic on social media, and consumers expect brands to implement changes that follow the narrative shared on social.

One interesting example comes from Expensify’s CEO, David Barrett. Ahead of the U.S. election, he sent an email to 10 million customers urging them to vote for Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden. With this bold, controversial move he set an example for the rest of the company to follow and made a clear statement on where the brand stood.

Barrett received input from the company, prepared his social team, and encouraged customers to tweet him rather than hide behind the brand name. In the 24 hours after the email was sent, Expensify went from 50-100 typical daily mentions to 30,000—an example of building purpose-driven brand awareness via social, directed from the top.

Your way forward in 2021:

  • Create or revisit social media policies to set guidelines for entire organizations and give everyone the ability to act quickly.

  • Set up social media crisis communication workflows to save valuable time and keep everyone focused.

  • Use social listening for intelligence, not interruptions; remember to not just find ways to insert your voice, but to listen.

6. Building resilience after 2020

This year has been challenging in so many ways and we could all—brands as well as individuals—do well to build resilience into our preparations for the future.

Focus on these five trends to reconnect with consumers on social, and foster those relationships that will contribute to long-term success for your business. As our very own CEO, Tom Keiser said:

“To say any of us saw 2020 coming would be a lie. A global pandemic, economic collapse, unignorable calls for racial equality, and an ongoing climate crisis all made for a tough, dark year. But when there is darkness, there is light. There is resiliency, innovation, and creativity—and there’s always a path back to growth.”


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