Social media management has played a major role in keeping content campaigns on track in 2020 as many leaders have admitted that they were forced to pivot away from their original plans in order to deliver relevant posts to target audiences.
After 12 months of hard lessons and new ways of working, social media experts have weighed in on what trends they expect to see in 2021 and what brands should do to incorporate them into their strategies.
Read the room
Keeping pace with new memes and trending topics appears to be a full-time job on social media now, but Twitter marketing manager Lindsay Bruce believes that social teams should allocate time to listen to what’s happening around them to effectively “read the room”.
Being aware that a certain post may be insensitive, for example, is “critical” in a fast-paced environment where mishaps are amplified and brand reputation could be at stake.
Bruce notes: “Before every Tweet, I looked at the day’s headlines, trending conversations and looked to see if/how other brands were engaging.”
Incorporate brand values if it makes sense
Marketing driven by brand values is something that consumers have come to expect this year amid a rise in social activism.
Sunwink’s head of social Jayde Powell does not believe that every brand needs to speak up, but says that those that do should be ready to back it up with content that sheds light on important issues and gives a voice to marginalised communities. Social media is a great outlet for this.
“Values-led marketing matters,” Powell says. “If there’s anything that 2020 taught us, it’s that consumers want to purchase from brands that are on the right side of history.”
Brands that are not ready to participate should also try to listen and learn before considering making a stand. This is preferable to trying to support issues even though a company has not set out clear, core values beforehand.
Look to shareable content formats
In 2021, you will need to use all of the content formats at your disposal correctly to engage audiences on different platforms and on social media. This means prioritising shorter, snackable, shareable posts.
The latest Sprout Social Index found that both videos and images were among the most widely shared formats on social media. The old adage that a picture says a thousand words is arguably more relevant on social platforms where users are constantly scrolling through news feeds and looking for something to catch their attention.
Visual content will engage audiences quickly as it is easy to digest at a glance. If it is also funny, informative or entertaining, you stand to benefit with likes, comments and shares.
Bite-sized video also aligns neatly with multi-channel distribution as you will be able to post this content with only a few platform-specific amendments across all of your social media accounts. TikTok and Instagram, for example, are hotbeds of short visual content right now.
Be creative with uncertainty
It’s incredibly difficult to envisage everything being completely back to normal in 2021, which brings with it a great deal of uncertainty related to project planning.
While it may be tempting to proceed slowly and fix problems when they arise, social media manager Austin Braun has urged brands to “embrace the expected” and “learn to love it”.
He believes that those able to think on their feet and execute quickly will be vanguards next year, though he noted that briefly halting campaigns might be right if it feels like the right thing to do. Trusting “your gut instinct” is the most important thing.
Braun also advocates the listening aspect of social media and, more specifically, thinking critically about the tone and perception of messages before publication.
Serve your audience
Taking care of the community was a popular trend for brands on social media this year due to the pandemic and how it impacted personal and professional livelihoods.
Pinterest social media manager Brianna Foster expects this to continue in 2021 as brands have realised that communities can be incredibly powerful when there is a two-way dialogue supported by added-value content and engaging posts.
Foster said that Pinterest’s own ideas for work were recently thrown off course but that its decision to sit down with its audience, listen to them, and understand how they could serve them proved to be the most valuable strategy of the year.
She believes that “keeping a pulse on social movements” and tracking social trends, two factors outlined by other experts, are key to effective community management.
Meet people where they are
Drift social media associate Pat Timmons shares similar sentiments after stating that it is important that brands don’t make everything about themselves.
While there is a certain degree of expectation that products and services will be promoted on social media platforms, users also want brands to provide valuable, relevant content in the moment.
Timmons said that marketers should not aim to take people “out of their day to day” and instead need to “meet them where they are”. This will build real, authentic connections that both parties can benefit from.
Remember passion and empathy
2020 proved to be a turbulent year for many people and that made empathy and compassion crucial emotions for brands to portray to provide the support that audiences needed.
University of Florida marketing instructor Brianne Fleming reminds brands to “speak to the heart” with powerful stories that will resonate far beyond the initial post.
Noting empathy as the “true essence” of 2020, Fleming is hopeful that brands will continue to care about those around them in the new year by doing things such as checking in with consumers to see if everything is okay.
Perfection can be a futile pursuit
Finally, VIZIT senior insights strategist Christina Garnett believes that there should not be any pressure on social media managers to achieve perfection as consistency and relatability are more likely to help you achieve key goals.
Garnett notes: “Brands and personal accounts are creating the most buzz when they are starting conversations, showing what’s behind the curtain and sharing their human (flawed) side.”