Social media predictions 2021: Marketers share their forecasts for what’s next

Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, Pinterest and more.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that predicting the future is a fool’s game. What kind of nutcase, after all, could have forecast a global pandemic, civil rights revolution, and Fleetwood Mac back in the charts?

That said, we’re all catching our collective breath and looking ahead.

What’s next in digital? We ask Meg Coffey and State of Social panelists Jorden Teo and Mike Drysdale to hazard their best guesses and social media predictions.

Clubhouse will be the next TikTok…

The celeb-endorsed audio-only platform (think a virtual conference room) has so far only been for those lucky enough to snag an invite – which may explain the buzz, says Mike.

“Humans are fascinated by exclusivity and wanting to be involved,” he says. “There’s the promise of being able to chat with Ashton Kutcher or Chris Rock or Kevin Hart – the neophytes are crawling all over it.”

But TikTok will still be big …

“I think we’ll see TikTok continue to grow, especially in Australia, and start to take more eyeballs away from the big three,” says Jorden.

And it’s not just your teenager’s app anymore. According to Mike, “Tiktok is still in that afterglow of its golden era now – now we’ll watch it become monetized and probably age up a bit.”

And will influence content across the board.

“I think TikTok’s irreverence and reality-driven lack of pretense has been its greatest strength in a social media ecosystem that up that point had been feeling very curated,” said Mike. “The mental health impacts of this are now really obvious.”

As Instagram gets in on the action with Reels, we’ll see more off-the-cuff content and less filtered #justwokeuplikethis perfection. “People will define the content and then algorithms amplify that.”

Facebook’s on the way out…

Increasing weariness about security, social warfare, and the attention economy may see Facebook finally fall from grace this year. “ I think Facebook is going to be a big loser in 2021 given the iOS 14 security update which a lot of people will opt out of being tracked,” says Jorden. “This will hurt revenue for Facebook as ads won’t be as effective. It’ll be interesting to see the changes that Zuck makes.”

According to Meg, who’s been off the platform personally since September, “Facebook’s been in trouble for a long time – and I don’t know if the platform as we know it will continue to exist. It’s become a toxic place.”

So businesses should redirect their spend…

“Facebook ads will be less effective, unless you have very strong organic engagement,” says Jorden. “If you’re a company with large budgets, high website traffic and large email databases, you’ll be OK, but SMEs are going to be hurting as they rely on the ‘pay to play’ model and don’t have the budget or resources to manage and cultivate communities in the same regard. The big players will have to evolve to ensure SMEs get similar ROI on their social ads as they’re used to, or these dollars will go elsewhere!”

Perhaps to Pinterest…

“We’re changing our strategy this year,” says Meg. “We’re looking to invest our organic and ad dollars in other platforms – namely Pinterest.”  While it’s been around since 2009, a 2020 study by Socialbakers revealed Pinterest is secretly the fastest growing platform in revenue. Not just a pretty face.

And definitely to email marketing.

“Cultivating your own email lists to ensure you own your audience’s data will be everything,” says Jorden.

Meg agrees. “We are doubling down on email marketing. You own your email database, you don’t own social media.” Her advice? “Tell stories with lots of interesting info, get it branded up, make it look pretty and get it into people’s inboxes.”

QR Codes are making a comeback…

Remember when they started cropping up on magazines and soda cans a decade ago… and then promptly disappeared? Well, QR codes are poised for a resurgence, says Mike. “When they first came out, people rejected them – it was seen as weird and difficult. Now we’ve been forced into doing it with COVID, we’ve got used to using them.”

He predicts companies will use them for sharable scavenger hunts, linking informative audio to destinations, and unlocking discounts codes and sales. “That idea of being able to create content to specific place you’ve connected with is really fascinating.”

And it’s your last cast call to get on Twitter.

While it’s still not big for reaching consumers in Australia, “If you’re a marketer and you’re not on Twitter in 2021, you’re missing out,” says Meg.  “Amazing conversations and connections are happening, the trade of ideas is fantastic.”

Share campaigns, network, and get inspired by others in your field. Just get familiar with the block function. This is one social media prediction we can get behind!

Community leaders may be the new influencers…

While bikini babes aren’t going away, Mike predicts brands will “raise the voices of people making a difference in the community. It’s the 2021 version of the brand ambassador – finding the people our audience knows, likes and trust and leveraging that through sponsorship or paid content. People trust people – not brands.”

While storytelling is more important than ever…

“The way consumers are reacting to marketing is changing,” says Meg. “I think we’re both a lot more cynical and a lot more invested. We want authenticity, we want a story, we want the little man.” 

A strong story will underlie ever aspect of marketing, adds Mike – from unboxing videos that delve deeper into a brand story to clothing labels that align themselves with social causes.

But above all, expect the unexpected.

“If last year taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to plan – the goal post is constantly changing,” say Meg. “It’s a whole new world out there. I’m loath to say it’s going to go one way or another because we’re still in flux – in a state of chaos.”