December 22, 2020Published by: Drew Benvie

Battenhall’s social media trends for 2021

Over the last week, the Battenhall team has been presenting our social media trends predictions at a series of briefing events, held online of course, to a global audience of clients, media and friends. As we do each year at this time, our team pores over the data we gather daily for our publications, and annually for major social media reports, and we consider the trends that we believe will be considerable for the year ahead.

Annual social media report: the Battenhall Instagram Brands 100 Report

At our events, which were the official unveiling of the annual Battenhall social media report, we revealed some of the trends we can see from the data that have been shaping up over the last 12 months. As explored in-depth in this post by my colleague, Jonny Atter (above), our data showed a number of key trends. Instagram's demographic is ageing, and not just year by year - in the last 12 months, the biggest demographic of the followers of top brands on Instagram has shifted from the in-demand 18-24s youth audience, to the more mainstream 25-34s audience.

The other stand-out trend for me, which has informed our predictions for the year ahead, is the change in user behaviours. The TikTok-style Reels function has rocketed in use amongst the leading brands analysed in our report, as has the overall volume of content being published by brands and consumed by followers. The report in full is available to download here.

Social media trends for 2021

Our data back in 2019 showed us the growth of live video and Stories amongst the highest performing brands on Instagram, and across newer apps and networks such as TikTok. Our prediction back 12 months ago was that Stories-style content would overtake the feed, and video, especially live video would rise to the fore. In the year that has transpired since, we saw LinkedIn and Twitter roll out Stories, or Fleets as Twitter calls it, and we saw the rise and rise of this format as well as live video.

This year we noted from our latest report that there are new social media consumption trends taking over, with TikTok-style navigation being adopted by Instagram in the form of Instagram Reels (below). We have seen some of the most impactful campaigns of the year take place on social first, from COVID health and safety campaigns right the way through to the worlds of politics with the US election, and brand campaigns and consumer trends alike. We saw gaming rising to the fore on social media, a long standing niche trend is now a high profile content theme on high profile YouTubers' channels and even on AOC's Twitch. Then we saw corporates and executives in particular turn to social, as the working world went virtual in 2020, and from this we see lasting implications for the social media ecosystem.

Trend 1: social-first

Our first trend looks at the increase this year, and projections for the year ahead, of deep-impact social media movements, from political campaigns in general elections, to activism, to the increase in use of the main social networks at the hands of consumers and brands alike. With the scale and power of a social media movement, we foresee for the year ahead the beginning of an era when social media will be the first element of the marketing mix to be considered when planning a campaign, and to leverage the kind of deep impact seen in the year gone by, brands will go social first with campaign strategy and planning.

Trend 2: corporate social authenticity

As senior executives adapted to work on lockdown, while meetings and conferences went virtual, business' use of social media rocketed. From the surge in use of LinkedIn to Zoom calls, corporate use of social media has not only evolved and increased, engagement in their content has grown also. While previously corporate social media activity has largely been the realm of formal, broadcast communications, in 2021 we predict a boom in authentic use of social media by corporate firms and by senior executives across all brands. Authenticity will be key, and a true positive to arise from the increased focus from those at the top of the world's corporates will be the real understanding and engagement from the C-level. Brands should look to harness this corporate social authenticity and use it to engage internal and external audiences alike.

Trend 3: emerging post-pandemic platforms

As lockdown reshapes our use of social media, new platforms are emerging that will have lasting effects on the media landscape. Social gaming is one, with Among Us as a current example of how players together experience a new type of gaming, experienced in turn by the millions watching live stream on Twitch and the final edit on YouTube. AOC's recent stream of Among Us to 400k voters during the US elections is a recent example. Brands should look to harness the opportunity of social gaming to engage audiences in 2021.

Other emerging platforms for 2021 will emerge, as innovation will rise to cater for new media consumption habits. Front and centre will be audio, growing through the rise in use of smart speakers, podcast listening figures, and a new kind of social networking in the form of Twitter's Spaces and standalone social network, Clubhouse. Look out for innovations in audio for social media in the year ahead, and check our Battenhall Voice for some insights into this space.

Trend 4: new user behaviours

The final trend, which was presented by my colleague Steph Bennett (below), looked into the changing user behaviours on social media, across platforms. Recognising and harnessing the way in which we behave and our relationship with social media is key to success in 2021. Brands will require a nuanced approach, in order to harness the full capability of social media in their brand campaign planning and strategy.

While some social networks elicit a rabbitholer user behaviour, where content is discovered through the user going deeper and deeper into a single topic, the same social network can also create a very different approach from its users, such as scanning, scheduling or quick-peeking. All these and more were explored by Steph, who urges brands to get deep into the data and avoid the one size fits all approach in 2021.

My colleagues Steph, Jonny and I, will be presenting our trends briefing again in January, and should these themes be of interest, the events are open for registration and you can reserve your place here. We hope to see you there.

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