Talkwalker, the social media analytics and monitoring platform, teams up each year with global experts and industry professionals to predict social media trends for the coming year. 2020 was a year no one could have predicted. The consensus is that COVID-19 was a catalyst, not an outcome. They say it expedited issues, ideas and initiatives that were bubbling away, but happened sooner because of the crisis.

For 2021 the ultimate trend is the customer is king. To succeed in 2021, customers need to be at the center of every marketing strategy. The brands that fully understand their customers—their motivations, needs, conversations— and take decisive actions based on those insights, will be the ones that survive the turbulence ahead. Now is the time to listen to the customer voice and turn it into brand success for 2021.

The 10 trends for 2021 are ranked from what customers think will have the least impact to those that will have the most impact.

This is the new term for repurposing. It’s the art of taking existing formats, templates, or ideas, and recreating them to express a user’s own personality or ideas. Expect 2021 to bring even more opportunities for remixing, with brands engaging with new audiences and creating additional content that stands out from the crowd. User-generated content will be bigger than ever. Apps like TikTok, Koji and Instagram Reels are driving much of this. Anyone can take a trend and recreate it into something new.

The Four Cs of COVID-19 Content
Even when the pandemic is resolved in 2021, the four Cs of COVID 19 – community, contactless, cleanliness, and compassion – customers will still search for and turn to brands for information and reassurance.

Formats for events that mix virtual and in-person opportunities will evolve to replicate networking moments. Brands will connect more with their customers, analyzing their conversations to understand the details of their concerns, which can help them to tackle these issues more effectively.

Brands need to consider the four Cs in marketing and PR efforts. Take a lesson from KFC. It’s not “Finger Lickin’ Good” anymore because during a pandemic finger lickin’ isn’t exactly advised. KFC even had some fun with it and have a tongue-in-cheek campaign to go with it.

Memes are Media
Memes are now the way we communicate. Of 13 to 35 year-olds 55% send memes every week. They turned to them for engagement and escapism while under lockdown. They’re not all positive and cute, though. Like any communication, they can be used to manipulate the mindset of viewers. In 2021, we need to be ready to protect brands from memes.

Memes are a fast, easy way for consumers to respond to company news which can be a benefit or detriment for brands. Following company news or releases, a company can quickly see how it was taken by reviewing the meme responses.

As for sharing memes, make sure to be 100% certain of what it means and its implications. And keep in mind memes live on the edge of copyright rules so be cautious in using memes for marketing purposes to avoid legal repercussions.

Nostalgia Marketing
The positive emotions connected with the “good old days” help boost current emotions. The appeal of nostalgia marketing is clear. It connects strong positive emotions to a brand, and gives it a sentimental boost. During times of uncertainty and economic downturn, it appears more frequently as customers look to connect with happier times to distract from current situations.

People want to remember the “good old days” even if they weren’t so good. Nostalgia marketing was used more during the 1920’s depression, the late 2000’s Great Recession. Connecting with positive memories from the past helps people disconnect from their current struggles. Connect that positive memory to a brand and that sense of positivity will build an emotional relationship with customers. Make them feel good and they that feeling with the brand.

Nostalgia campaigns work especially well with Millennials as they mainly focus on purpose also because a good marketing strategy should always have a purpose. Reliving positive memories and beloved icons from the past can feel good.

Conversational Marketing
In 2021, expect brands and platforms to engage in more AI-led opportunities to connect with more consumers. Promotions will become less forced and derive more from natural conversations and established relationships with consumers. It’s all about conversations and connections—having conversations with customers to build relationships, and create sales. Information, engagement, and social issues are driving engagement and future retention. The pandemic has brought this to the forefront. Connecting with stories is key going forward.

Technology is starting to catch up with the conversational marketing potential, with more AI-powered solutions. 2021 will enable conversational marketing’s full potential. Combine this with a more conversational style, one that brings a human voice to social media, and you open up your brand to active customer conversations.

Domino’s is being recognized for its pioneering role in conversational marketing. Domino’s interactive Facebook Messenger bot helps tackle consumer questions on a large scale enabling so customers can quickly and easily access customer support, track orders, and even buy directly. The bot has a name, Dom, giving it personality, even if a person isn’t involved. This combines perfectly with the brand’s conversational style that also engages with relevant, relatable content.

Social Gaming
As the COVID-19 lockdown took hold, people turned to video games as another form of distraction. Forums and groups rose within and around games, creating entire communities dedicated to the various fanbases. As we learn more about how players benefit from games, developing relatable skills that are valuable within the real world, in 2021 the stigmatism associated with gaming should lift, as brands become more focused on these relevant communities. Expect to see expansion beyond gaming origins, with franchises building more upon community connections.

Old-School Marketing for a New Market
Some trends come and go overnight. Some circulate, swinging back into vogue every now and then. Marketing techniques are no different. Tactics we previously saw reappear, especially during times of uncertainty - with communications professionals switching back to tried-and-tested methods over disruptive ideas. In 2021 “old-school marketing” will rise to the top as brands switch back to a simpler way of engaging consumers.

Like many of the other trends, this is about building communities. What’s different here, is that it isn’t about how the content is shared— it’s that the content is good and easy to access making for a great user experience. Expect brands to focus more on providing customers with more content to fulfill their information voids with a particular focus on content over style.

Social Media Giants Adapt to the New Normal
Expect the dominant social media platforms of today to be just as significant in 2021. They may have new features and will adapt to the trends in their own particular way, but their significance is unlikely to dwindle anytime soon.

Over the past 13 months, the level of news stories around the three biggest social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) have balanced out with Twitter being mentioned slightly more across digital news channels. Despite differences in audiences, demographics, and users, these channels hold similar positions in consumers’ minds, and it’s extremely unlikely they will lose that dominance. Even though awareness of TikTok is increasing, it still has a long way to go before it catches up. These larger platforms have the size and capabilities to adapt quickly to changing trends and consumer habits.

Though things are unsettled now, they will remain a vital element of every marketing strategy, especially earned and paid marketing.

The Rise of Digital Disinformation
Social media has always blurred the lines between fact and fiction. The COVID-19 health crisis has brought the issue of disinformation to the forefront. Society is facing an uncertain future, and this uncertainty has created a hotbed of misinformation, with false stories leading to life-changing decisions. Expect 2021 to be the year brands and social media channels focus on highlighting the truth.

The audience will show greater prudence in detecting propaganda and fake news - they have seen conspiracy theories fall flat in the year 2020 and are aware that the content on leading social platforms are not gospels of truth.

The Impact of Socially Conscious Audiences
This is the number one trend as defined by Talkwalker’s survey. In 2020, it was clear how this socially conscious generation (and the future Generation Alpha) had an impact on brands, politics, and society as a whole. Companies will have to engage more with topics like mental health, inclusivity, and social justice, or face becoming irrelevant and potentially obsolete in 2021.

When looking at Generations Z and Alpha Conversation Clusters relating to from 2020, it’s quick and easy to identify how socially aware they are. Politics, equality, education, mental health, finance, changing food trends dominate conversations on social media. These topics are critical to these generations, and social media is their way to bring them to attention.

Brands will start to reposition themselves. However, socially conscious marketing isn’t a quick trick, and brands that act superficially will flounder when called out by consumers, while brands that authentically engage with the issues that matter will thrive as younger generations increase their spending power.

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