It’s fair to say 2020 is legendary for all the wrong reasons and from a social media marketing point of view the ups and downs of the year have forged a host of new perspectives. Covid-19 has impacted consumer behaviour and industry norms, meaning marketing has had to switch and filter to match the mood of the time.
What are the key changes?
Research by Hubspot and Talkwalker suggests 2021 will be characterised by the four C’s – cleanliness, community, compassion and contactless. Their report found that these elements have been constants within online communities and are a key tenet of effective brand communication in 2021. This underlying shift is expected to be seen in various aspects of social media marketing.
Conversation and connection
Connection is king but a global pandemic has a way of shifting the way we connect with each other. It’s no longer a case of who shouts loudest, it’s all about being the brand that inspires conversation and creates real connections with its consumer. The phrase people buy people has never been more appropriate – or more challenging to engineer.
What is conversational marketing?
Conversational marketing is about building relationships – things like chatbots and social messaging will be key, but a sense of personalisation will also be essential to develop the trust fostered by real-life relationships. Features like Stories – adopted from Snapchat by Instagram in 2016 and Facebook in 2017, and now part of Instagram and Twitter – allow the creation of a social marketing dynamic that shifts with the mood of the consumer, just like a real-life conversation. Like any relationship, the consumer can choose to continue it, moving on to read a longer post or article, or to just take that snapshot; the relationship has started and that is the key.
Seismic events such as those seen in 2020 create a longing for times when things seemed simpler – or at least less pandemic strewn. The emotions wrought by nostalgia are some of our most powerful and capturing these will bring a boost to any brand. Studies like the one carried out by Hubspot cite marketing trends from the 1920s and the early 2000s as showing trends towards nostalgia (remember Keep Calm and Carry On?) so the anticipated economic downturn is likely to spark similar emotional needs. Connecting positive memories with your brand will have a lasting impact on the relationship with consumers and connecting this positivity at a time of crisis will have immeasurably more impact.
Our social conscience has shifted – the worship of excess seems to be fading, with consumers having more interaction with the relationship between brand and key social issues becoming ever more important. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter came to the fore in 2020 and in its wake, we can expect to see brand stance on a host of issues such as trans rights, mental health and environmental responsibility become even more important to the relationship with the consumer. According to Talkwalker, the days of hard sell seem to be fading.
Developing a socially conscious brand isn’t a quick fix though - Gen Z has grown up with marketing tricks and will be quick to call out any sniff of fakery. Brands need to actively engage with issues and have a cause led approach to business.
This neatly leads us to the problem of digital disinformation or fake news. While the phrase itself has become a red flag for falsehood, consumer awareness of the flaws of digital platforms has never been higher. We’re seeing a switch away from the filtered lives of Instagram influencers, with a strong shift towards authenticity – the hashtag #nofilter was forecast to be one of the most popular of 2020, and signs are that this will continue through 2021.
Covid-19 has highlighted the very real danger of digital disinformation, and perhaps accelerated this shift to transparency and trust. Consumers need to be confident that the information they receive is authentic.
Still space for the social media giants?
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds and continue to form the cornerstone of any social media marketing campaign. Whilst all platforms continue to adapt to the shift in psyche – think of Facebook Stories, and Instagram Reels deigned as a response to the not insignificant impact of TikTok, the big three looks reasonably solid, at least for the moment.
New features like emerging VR experience Facebook Horizon and Twitter’s voice tweet feature show the level of adaptability held by the main social media players and their commitment to staying at the forefront of developments.
Gamification and personal engagement
Forging connections through gaming has been part of the digital landscape since the days of Pong in the early seventies. Isolation caused by Covid-19 has increased this need for connection, and alongside the need for new forms of entertainment, the gamification of social media marketing has exploded. Entire communities have grown around particular games, and with these communities come identities ripe for brand attachment. 2021 will see these gaming groups become more mainstream, and brand focus will shift to capture what will be an ever more powerful market.
Brand ambassador to brand voice
Platforms like TikTok have caused a shift in user-generated content, with more and more brands harnessing the value of remixing their identity in the image of their user. Building on the need for authenticity, we’ll see brands turning more and more to their own fans, and seeking to allow them to express their own ideas, rather than simply be a spokesperson with a rigid set of brand approved soundbites.
As suggested by Talkwalker, it’s likely that 2021 will see an increase in collaboration and co-production with a shift towards looser templates for consumers to use as a basis for sharing their experience of the brand. It seems that 2021 will be firmly in the hands of the consumer and that social media marketing has to focus on building and developing a relationship that fully represents and resonates with the brand.