Want to stay on top of the social media game? Here are the biggest social media trends we've seen in 2021 so far.
Given its growth, social media has become a key channel for marketers to engage potential customers, but the high competition and saturation of content online means that it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd.
Fuelled by the consistent evolution of smartphone technology, social media is an endless stream of new fads, features and platforms. And with an estimated 3.2 billion social media users worldwide, a number that’s reportedly growing by 100 million daily, it’s no surprise that new social media trends are constantly emerging, growing and evolving every day.
Last year, we saw the explosion of TikTok, increased activism and support for political and social movements, Instagram Shops, not to mention the boom of UGC due to the global crisis. Now halfway through 2021, many new social media trends have already emerged.
Ranging from the trends we predicted, to the ones no one could ever have anticipated, we thought it was time to check in with our Social Media Trends Predictions from the beginning of 2021 to see how they’ve played out.
It’s been known for some time that video is the most engaging form of digital content online. But due to the quick-fix nature of social media, short-form video content in particular has quickly become a staple of our socials.
Short-form video absolutely exploded in 2020 with the introduction of TikTok and Instagram Reels, and as we predicted, it’s only increased in popularity throughout 2021 – making short, snackable video content a staple of our social media feeds.
Most big brands have now jumped on the TikTok trend – including Nike and Gucci – to make their brands more accessible and give a glimpse behind the scenes, and almost all the big names are now using Instagram Reels, with the likes of Chanel and McDonalds utilising the short-form video feature to promote their products.
But it’s not just TikTok and Instagram – other social media giants are now jumping on the short-form video trend. So far in 2021, YouTube has introduced their Shorts feature, Pinterest has created Video Pins and Facebook has ramped up their Stories feature. Long story short – if you want to stay ahead of the social media game, short-form video is where it’s at!
“If you want to stay ahead of the game and front of mind, it’s crucial to jump on new features, like Reels for Instagram,” says Envato Marketing Specialist Madeleine Rochecouste. “If Instagram is your main social media platform or if you create content on the regular, you’re best to start creating or repurposing your content for Reels. Instagram is pushing and favouring content creators who use Reels by predominantly featuring their Reels on the Instagram feed and explore page. The fact that Reels is inside the Instagram app also is a huge indicator that Instagram wants it to be a success and can be a huge advantage for a content creator to have all their content in one app. So if you can, it’s best to ride this wave in the early stages to get some more exposure from Instagram for what you’re wanting to say, sell or share with your community.”
Last year, we saw Instagram introduce Reels as their alternative to TikTok. Facebook introduced Stories, which has been a popular addition to Instagram – and originally a defining feature of Snapchat. Are you keeping up? The trend of big social media players copying newcomers in a bid to stay relevant has continued to develop in 2021, with social media giants such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook introducing similar features to that of smaller and emerging social platforms.
Substack is a fairly new name in the online game that you may not have heard of. It’s a platform that allows writers to send digital newsletters directly to their readers, while also monetizing their work behind a paywall. Since its launch in 2017, Substack has accrued more than 250,000 paying subscribers.
In response to Substack’s growing popularity, both Twitter and Facebook have introduced similar features to their platforms. Twitter bought a Substack competitor and introduced their own writing and newsletter platform called Revue, and now Facebook is following in Twitter’s footsteps announcing it will be launching its own publishing platform, Bulletin, at the end of June.
Similar to its competitors, Bulletin will introduce Facebook users to find writers they’re interested in, and allow them to sign up to receive content in their inbox. Offering both a free and premium version, Facebook has already got a leg up in this space due to its massive reach of 2.85 billion users worldwide, as well as its ability to target and segment certain audiences and readerships.
This monopolization of social media space by a few big players isn’t a new concept, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s a dog eat dog world out there!
Launched in April 2020, Clubhouse is the latest social media platform to take the internet by storm. Gaining traction super quickly throughout the last year of global lockdowns, it has now become one of the biggest social media trends of 2021 – and we didn’t see it coming.
Clubhouse is an app which allows you to create your very own TED-Talk-style digital stage, and speak about your projects, brand or business in front of an audience (if they’re interested).
A combination of Instagram, LinkedIn and an interactive podcast, Clubhouse is ideal for networking, as well as promoting and advertising anything you have to offer. Like other social platforms, you can create a profile with your details, interests and topics, as well as searchable keywords that relate to you and your business.
The app’s ‘hallway’ – similar to a feed – allows you to scroll between different virtual ‘rooms’ which you can choose to enter (if it’s an open room). Once invited into a room, users can raise their hand to speak on a virtual microphone, and the host of each room chooses who has the floor. Clubhouse rooms are audio-only and happen in real-time, meaning there’s no way to record sessions within the platform itself.
With the likes of Drake, Kevin Hart, Elon Musk, Nicki Minaj, and even Oprah Winfrey taking to its digital stage, Clubhouse has exploded in popularity and is getting bigger by the day (and it’s likely going to drive a whole host of copycats – see trend 2). So, if you’re wanting to stay on top of the social media game in 2021, it may be worth thinking about how audio chat and voice-driven networking plays into your marketing strategy.
With almost half of the world’s population now using social media, social commerce — the use of social media to drive e-commerce purchases – has become the obvious next step for online shopping. A trend that has been slowly infiltrating our social media platforms over the last few years, social commerce has now been officially cemented as one of the biggest social media trends for 2021.
This year so far, we’ve seen the development of social commerce trends such as shoppable video, augmented reality, voice commerce and even sustainable commerce. But, without a doubt, Facebook Shops and Instagram Checkout have been the biggest developments in the world of social commerce. Introduced in May 2020, these features — available across both platforms — enable businesses to establish simplified online stores that run through the Facebook and Instagram apps. Optimized for any platform or device, Shops make it super easy for your customers to make an in-app purchase while they scroll.
With 55% of online shoppers now making purchases through social media channels, many big brands are now selling their products via Instagram, Facebook, and even Pinterest Shopping Ads and Catalogs. Big names such as ASOS, Boohoo, Levi’s, and Windsor Smith have all set up shops with either Instagram, Facebook or Pinterst, and are all moving towards using social media as their main sales platforms.
Giving brands the opportunity to streamline their shopping experience across multiple channels and platforms, while also allowing consumers to buy while they scroll, there’s no denying that shoppable posts are the way of the future.
“Back in the day I always thought it’d be pretty cool to buy something you saw on the TV then and there from the click of your remote. That pretty much is what social commerce has achieved,” says Madeleine. “That you not only can admire and engage with the content, but you can now also purchase it. You’re already putting in the effort creating some epic content to sell your product, so why not add the functionality for your community to purchase it straight from the post? It’s so important to make a conversion funnel as frictionless as possible. So allowing potential customers to convert from your post can help reduce drop offs that may occur if they would have to instead leave your post, find your website, navigate your website, find the product and proceed from there.”
With our world now revolving around technology, the augmented reality (AR) trend has continued to impact social media big time throughout 2021. In fact, AR has now become a staple of some of the most popular social networks in the world, with new AR filters and AR technologies being introduced all the time.
As opposed to virtual reality – which implies creating a whole new world from scratch – augmented reality is technology that takes the real world and projects virtual, computer-generated augmentations to it to enhance our experience.
Favored by platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, we’ve seen a big increase in both the quantity and quality of AR filters on social media this year. While in-feed social media content is continuing to become more authentic and organic, these days it’s rare to see an Instagram Story not altered or enhanced with an extravagant AR filter or face-changing technology.
AR filters have become so popular that Instagram now allows anyone – brands, businesses, influencers and even users – to create their own filters for others to use in their Stories.
“The ability to interact on social media is what sets the medium apart from others, and AR is the next evolution of that interaction,” says Envato Social Media Specialist Jo Birleson. “AR technology allows you to superimpose digital interactive experiences over your view of the real world, helping to bridge the online and offline worlds and provide a deeper experience. From a marketing perspective, AR will allow users to interact with a product or brand on a much deeper level than they usually might. For brands, Instagram Stories AR filters are a playful and interactive way to build engagement and awareness, bringing their brand or product into people’s everyday social experience. While Instagram Stories AR filters were introduced a while back, it’s only recently become possible for anyone to create their own AR filter with Spark AR Studio. So now that you can, why wouldn’t you?”
With more brands and businesses popping up on social media every day, users are becoming much more selective with the content they’re choosing to consume. As a result, many brands have begun incorporating personalization into their social media marketing strategies to wow their customers and stand out in the crowded social media space.
Personalized marketing is nothing new, and is essentially the art of using consumer data to tailor your marketing to a target demographic. But, the beauty of using social media for personalized marketing is that it provides a deep well of data, information and insights, all of which can be leveraged to better engage audiences and personalize content. It can be used to present individualised offers, ads, product suggestions, or even tailored content based on demographic, previous purchases or content preferences. And many brands have taken full advantage of these metrics.
In 2019, Spotify released their yearly personalized marketing campaign Spotify Wrapped, which revealed individual listeners’ streaming trends and music preferences from the previous year. This extremely personalized approach proved to be very popular among Spotify users, prompting millions of people to share their individual #2019Wrapped on social media.
Fast forward to now, and Spotify are continuing to capitalize on their successful personalized marketing strategy, introducing their latest ‘Only You’ campaign in early June 2021. A global campaign complete with an in-app experience and personalized playlists that celebrate each individual user’s listening habits and music preferences. The Only You campaign features a unique Audio Birth Chart, Dream Dinner Party, Artist Pairs, Song Year, Time of Day, as well as Unique Genres and Topics for each listener.
Another early example of personalized marketing to dominate social media is Coca Cola’s famous 2015 #shareacoke campaign. The brand replaced its brand logo with consumer names, and encouraged people to share photos on social media with the hashtag. It spread like wildfire, and Coca Cola have recently relaunched the campaign this year with nicknames, slang and even an increased focus on diversity.
With the increasing amount of user data available on social media, many brands are jumping on personalized marketing and creating campaigns targeting specific groups of customers on social media. Regardless of how you go about it, there’s no denying that personalization is an incredibly effective social media marketing strategy, and a trend that we predict to continue well into 2022.
“If you have not added a Facebook pixel to your website, I highly recommend you do so ASAP,” says Madeleine. “Even if you’re not planning to run Facebook or Instagram ads right now, the pixel will allow you to build targeted audiences for future ads and create remarketing campaigns based on the actions your visitors have taken on your website. This data is fundamental for building personalised ad campaigns. You can also use Facebook Analytics to get insights into your audience via the Facebook pixel which can help you create great organic content for your social accounts.”
To mock up your own personalized branding or advertising campaign, check out this Soda Can Mock-Up by L5Design, these Product Facebook Ads by fathurfateh and Facebook & Instagram Ad Banners Shape Memphis by nanoagency, or even these Instagram Stories by uicreativenet.
Throughout 2020, live video quickly became the most engaging form of content on social media. In fact, according to a roundup of data from Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Mixer by Daily Esports, there was a massive 99% year-over-year growth in hours of live stream video watched between April 2019 and April 2020.
Plenty of brands are now going live on the regular, such as MTV who are going live on IG with their #AloneTogether jam sessions. Makeup megastore Sephora has also been using Facebook Live to stream live makeup tutorials, and even NASA is using YouTube Live to live stream news around scientific discovery and aeronautics research.
One of the main reasons why live video has become so popular, for both brands and individuals, is due to the high level of interaction and engagement that it generates. Live video has the highest rate of engagement of all content types, allowing audiences to not only engage, but actually interact with their favourite people, brands or businesses on social media in real time. While this trend was sure to have grown on its own, the live video trend has really taken off this year – between the global crisis, environmental issues and social movements that have dominated 2021, people are craving interaction now more than ever.
“In 2020 consumers watched more video than ever before. And now, in 2021, it’s all about going live! From Facebook live and Tik Tok to Instagram Live & Reels, it’s proving to be the best way to capture the attention of your social audience,” says Jo. “It seems to make the audience feel more involved – as if they can influence or be a part of the action as opposed to passively watching it. It’s more in the moment and appeals to that deep need we have for instant gratification. And in a time we’re surrounded by content, watching something live makes it seem as if you’re the first to find out. Which has got us all thinking, if it’s not ‘live’, did it really happen?”. Another benefit is that when a user goes live, that content is prioritised and pushed to the front of the queue. IG notifies followers and highlights their profile picture in the Stories section, making it appear first in line on their follower’s feeds.”
To make your live videos stand out, check out Online Live Stream Instagram Stories by Kahuna_Design, Youtube Elements by agungugang, and Facebook Live by flikmotion.
With the increased focus on social, political and environmental issues across the world throughout 2020 and 2021 – such as Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Feminism, Covid-19, and many more – social media has quickly become the primary way to spread awareness and share content for good. This is because social media allows people and brands to reach a large number of people with their positive message, while creating an open dialogue by welcoming interaction and engagement from their audience.
Big brands such as Reebok, Nike, Netflix openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement on social media in 2020, and Ben & Jerry’s teamed up with the Climate Council for their climate-change focused ‘Unfudge our Future’ campaign – a new range of products urging the Australian government to ditch fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.
More recently, TikTok just launched their #CreativityForGood campaign to highlight creators and causes on the platform. In celebration of Cannes Lions, the promotion will invite TikTok users to create a TikTok-style campaign or advertisement for one of four partnering non-profits, or another cause that they’re passionate about. Procreate has also been very vocal on social media campaigning for diversity, sharing heartfelt content around Pride Month and the LGBT+ community.
And it’s not just for the greater good – social media posts focused on activism and change have actually proven to generate more engagement. According to a recent study by Keyhole, this post from Nike fighting against racism obtained 968% more engagement than their average Instagram post. Additionally, this Netflix Tweet around the BLM movement received 15,000% more engagement than their average on Twitter. This has led them to show support for BLM and LGBT+ communities, which has boosted their overall performance on Twitter.
“Whether it’s content on environmental sustainability or racial equality, a brand that creates content for good can become more memorable for having a defined position,” says Jo. “One way of doing this is by aligning the ‘content for good’ with your brand purpose or mission. And is also seen as more mission focused (or passionate about doing the right thing) that goes beyond being solely revenue driven. But voicing an opinion doesn’t go very far without action to back it. If you’re going to share content for good, make it meaningful. You don’t want to add more noise than value.”
Keen to start sharing content for good on social media? Check out these Feminism Campaign Graphic Templates by Chanut_industries, this Environment Day Social Media Template by VictorThemes and this poster for Black History Month by lilynthesweetpea.
In this day and age, it can be hard to scroll through social media without feeling like you’re being targeted with ads left, right and centre. In fact, the average person is exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 ads daily! Due to the oversaturation of ‘purposeful’ brands and marketing on social media, as well as the move toward more authentic content, as a consumer it can be super refreshing to see brands admit what they are: brands built to sell products. And as people begin questioning the authenticity of ads, brands and products, self-aware advertising has become one of the latest and greatest trends to grace our social media feeds over the last few years – and it’s still going strong in 2021.
The ‘reverse psychology’ of the marketing industry, self-aware marketing is centred around satirical or ironic adverts that poke fun at themselves, other brands or the concept of advertising in general. While traditional marketing campaigns aim to hide the fact that they’re trying to promote products or hit sales targets, self-aware marketing campaigns do the opposite by putting ‘the sell’ front and center.
Over the last few years, plenty of big brands have started waking up to the concept of self-aware marketing. The poster-child for self aware marketing done right, Swedish oat milk brand Oatly caught eyes all over the world with their range of hilarious OOH posters and billboards in 2018, a campaign blatantly poking fun at not just themselves, but the concept of advertising in general. And now in 2021, they’re continuing to utilize this clever marketing strategy on their social media.
And in 2020, Marmite used self-aware marketing in their social posts to blatantly point out the controversial nature of their product. And this year, they haven’t slowed down on the self-aware marketing front, continuing to poke fun at themselves on social media.
While marketing your brand by making fun of it may seem counter-productive, the best self-aware marketing campaigns take the assumptions that people hold about a brand or product and face them head on – showing a level of authenticity and transparency that consumers are craving more and more.