2021 predictions: The future digital media technology amidst the pandemic

This year was unpredictable for marketers: Social justice movements took center stage, budget cuts, and in-store shopping closed down. As brands plan in 2021, what trends will be game-changers?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Social listening has gained traction in 2020 due to the pandemic, but what is in store for 2021? 

Chief Technology Officer Ryan Donovan of Vancouver-based social media management platform Hootsuite and Pierre-Loïc Assayag co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based influencer relationship management platform Traackr predict that 2021 will be a good year for social business.

The pandemic changed our focus on how we communicate. People relied on social media to stay connected while spending more time at home. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram became lifelines for connecting and maintaining relationships at work and with family.

The pandemic accelerated the move to digital across industries -- especially in sales and marketing. Unfortunately, some brands will realize in 2021 they are already too late to the game.

Social commerce and influencer marketing

As budgets shrink and digital becomes more and more crowded, the divide between companies who invested early in social commerce and influencer marketing, and those who have just begun their journey will dramatically increase. In three to five years this will translate directly to market share for digitally-savvy businesses.

The brands that did not use social media to drive customer interactions and sales before the pandemic will be forced to digitize their operations.

Brands that already established a presence on social before the crisis will increase the use of analytics and reporting tools to make business decisions. This will result in brands forming stronger bonds with their customers.

Brand values over price

The most successful brands used social to connect with customers, particularly through one-on-one interactions. Consumers want to see the human element behind the brand and experience real, consistent, and authentic action. In 2021, consumers will increasingly prioritize brand values over price -- increasing sales for brands.

Localize data in Europe 

The EU-US privacy battle will force social networks to change. In 2020, the European Court of Justice deemed the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement as invalid, striking a major blow to social networks.

Regionalized networks will emerge

This decision will require substantive changes to social networks and how these platforms operate. Without having the legal right to collect and store data of European users in the US, social networks will be forced to either localize their data in Europe or abandon European markets altogether.

As privacy regulations tighten and the need for social platforms to engage with friends and customers remains, new regionalized networks will emerge to fill the connection gap.

Consumers are now taking steps to protect their personal data online. Instead of giving away an email address or phone number to connect with a brand, consumers prefer to interact with brands via messaging apps. 

Research shows that over two in three (66%) consumers prefer to reach brands this way as they interact with their friends and family, more so than by phone or email.

Higher standards of social action

Social media management platforms continue to grow and follow the likes of Facebook by implementing direct messaging capabilities across applications. Businesses will have more meaningful conversations with their customers this way improving customer loyalty. Brands will be held to a higher standard of social action and responsibility.

Social commerce

Social commerce will take center stage as in-person shopping becomes less viable. Brands will look toward digital with social commerce becoming a key sales channel as it connects customers to brands they trust. The trend is still on the rise, but will soon become a crowded space.

In 2020, social platforms made great strides to advance social commerce offerings during the pandemic. Facebook introduced Facebook Shops and rolled it out to Instagram and Facebook.

Data analysis 

Snapchat announced its first shoppable show and Pinterest made it easier for users to find similar products on its platform. In 2021, brands will heavily invest in data analysis to understand the connection between social and sales metrics, further define their KPIs, and inform strategic decisions.

With more than half of the world's population on social, platforms will focus on developing new features that make it easier for consumers to shop.

Purchases through Instagram or Facebook feed

Advancements in mobile payments will be critical for social commerce. In 2021, Apple Pay and Google Pay will enable consumers to make purchases through their Instagram or Facebook feed.

Digital crypto-currency

Social platforms will experiment with other payment methods like digital crypto-currency, but this nascent e-commerce technology will take place in the background.

Emulating TikTok

TikTok has marked the beginning of a new era by proving the social media platform giants can be challenged with fresh ideas. Starting in 2021, there will be a surge of platforms emulating TikTok with short-form video, low production content, and content-based algorithms for better virality.

With changes in how we communicate, shop, and greet one another, what has become clear is the need for brands to digitally adapt to the new way of working.

With over four billion people around the world using social media each month, social media has played a pivotal role in helping brands fill the void and build customer loyalty during the pandemic.

The challenge for brands is maintaining that loyalty as the world permanently shifts to the new commerce model.

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