by Lisa Zone

February 10, 2021

This is the first installment of a two-part series exploring 2021 social media trends identified by eMarketer. To read the second post, click here.

I just finished reading a really insightful eMarketer report predicting how social media will continue evolving in 2021, and it provides some great nuggets as marketers develop their social media strategies. In my opinion, social media is the piece of any marketing program that requires the most constant attention and refinement because platforms, algorithms and user preferences shift so often. (Case in point: the explosive growth of TikTok since the pandemic started.) Here’s a high-level overview of the 10 predictions from the eMarketer study. (You can find a lot more nuance and detail in the full report.)

1. Social entertainment will continue to grow. The popularity of user-generated short videos (deemed “social entertainment” by eMarketer) continues to grow – TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Snapchat Spotlight and more. (See chart.) What’s more: the more traditional uses of social media – like reading updates or sharing news – now have negative sentiment attached to them due to ongoing challenges with misinformation.  Social entertainment is how people want to spend their time, moving away from the negative and into the positive. After all, it’s hard not to feel good after watching even just a few TikTok videos.

2. “Stories” will need to work hard to stay relevant. With the rise of one platform (in this case, social entertainment) comes the inevitable decline of another. According to eMarketer, “stories” – those posts that appear on various platforms for only a short period of time, often just 24 hours – will be put to the test as social entertainment continues to grow in popularity. Especially now as many platforms now have several places to publish video content. Instagram alone has the feed, Stories, Reels and IGTV. There are many choices to place – and consume – video content, and you’ll need to find a way to keep your story content fresh and relevant.

3. Livestreaming will take off for shopping and events. Stuck at home during a pandemic, consumers moved online to get their concert fix or do some shopping. eMarketer predicts consumers will continue this trend even after pandemic-related restrictions on in-person activities resume. Influencers are likely to play a big role here, with many hosting live streams for everything from shopping “show and tells” to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. This presents a lot of opportunities for brands to sponsor content or place their brands within the livestreams.

4. There will be more ad boycotts. eMarketer predicts ongoing challenges around brand safety and ethical concerns within social media platforms. How those platforms handle misinformation, disinformation and other controversial content remains a big question mark, and that can cause headaches for brands of all sizes. The chart below shows that 55% of marketers think social media is likely to expose them to brand risk. At a September 2020 ANA event, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, noted social media is about 5% of the company’s spend and 150% of its problems. It may just end up that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, and some brands may move away from certain media types to avoid the agita that comes along with them.

5. UGC will make its way into paid and organic marketing. The pandemic presented challenges related to normal production processes, and many brands found a work-around through user-generated content. Some brands have already started making this shift – the report notes examples from Buffalo Wild Wings, Domino’s Pizza and Hormel Foods – and it’s only a matter of time before others find ways to use UGC to increase brand affinity and engagement.

What are the last five trends to round out eMarketer’s 2021 outlook? Keep an eye out for our next post or subscribe here to have it delivered right to your inbox.