If there’s anything 2021 proved, it’s that a lot can happen in 12 months.

Over the past year, social has increased its influence on trends, industries and even markets. As its impacts continue to grow, social media managers have taken their roles in new and innovative directions. Now, people across organizations are realizing that the role isn’t just drafting and scheduling—it’s creating internet culture.

Running a brand account takes hard work, thick skin and endless creativity—not to mention an incredible amount of foresight. Understanding which trends will work for your audience and brand (not to mention your legal team) is both an art and science. Some days it feels like you need a crystal ball.

So who better to predict the future of social media marketing than the people behind the profiles? That’s why we asked SMMs across industries what they think is next for social media as both an industry and a profession.

Here are their predictions on what’s in store for the future of social media marketing in 2022.

1. More senior-level marketing roles will call for social media experience

The social media field is becoming more complex as it expands. According to Sarah Chapman, Digital Strategy Director at CareSource, navigating these changes has primed social media managers for senior leadership roles.

“We’re going to see more in-house, senior-level roles that are explicitly staffed by people who came up through social,” says Chapman. “I believe social expertise is finally being valued as a competency after the pandemic. We’re beginning to see non-agency leadership roles that highlight that.”

Over the past year, social media managers have had to analyze trends in real-time to maintain brand relevance. This has given many the leverage needed to break out of marketing silos and join conversations throughout their greater organizations. As the role continues to evolve, there’s even a chance that the next generation of CMOs may come from social media teams.

2. One-person social teams will become a thing of the past

Will 2022 be the year we say goodbye to job listings that ask SMMs to do it all and then some? Saad Khan, Senior Social Lead at Shopify, thinks it might be.

“Social teams will get bigger as the success and potential of social becomes more evident for organizations,” says Khan. “There will probably be realizations that one-person social teams aren’t sustainable and that you need a team of dedicated craft professionals—ideally resulting in a lot more specific jobs, and growth opportunities.”

Courtney Gagné, Inclusion and Diversity Program Manager and former Senior Social Media Specialist at Progress, echoed this sentiment. “For a social strategy to be successful, organizations will need a fully staffed social team with the resources to back them or they will miss a massive opportunity for their business.”

Social professionals can help drive this change within their organizations by calling on members of senior leadership to rethink roles that have been historically regarded as “teams of one.” Prepping a sample social media org chart will show them what can be done with more resources, getting their wheels turning in the right direction.

3. More businesses will hire for social support and community management roles

Nearly one in two businesses anticipate that social media will become their primary external communications channel within the next three years. Codi Dantu-Johnson, Social Media Strategist at Mini Media Marketing, anticipates that this shift will inspire more companies to build out their teams with customer-centric social media roles.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, digital has truly taken over,” says Dantu-Johnson. “People are engaging more with the brands they love on social media. I think in 2022 we will see businesses focus on creating robust social media support teams and community management teams to engage with fans and customers.”

4. Your audience will take center stage…

In 2022, engagement will have to go beyond liking posts and responding to comments. Your audience wants the mic and Briana Rabiola, Social Media Manager at the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, thinks passing it to them can create meaningful connections.

“This upcoming year, there’s going to be a lot more opportunity for customer collaboration,” says Rabiola. “User-generated content will continue to grow, taking a larger role in overall marketing strategy and campaign development. Audiences will become part of brand images and voice.”

Rabiola mentioned that this prediction is partially inspired by TikTok-driven content trends. While the network didn’t invent user-generated content, it certainly revamped what it looks like and the impacts are being felt across the social media landscape.

5. …And they’ll be the ones setting the trends

In the past, trends were set by few to be followed by the masses. Now, everyday people are starting major moments in internet culture and it’s on brands to keep up. Both Dantu-Johnson and Khan say that keeping up will mean spending more time getting to know your target audience online.

To do that, Dantu-Johnson recommends setting aside time for research. “Take the time to learn about human behavior. This is not an easy job. It requires a great understanding of buying patterns, culture and society. A lot of thought goes into what’s being posted on a business account.”

When it comes to researching your target audience, your own social feed will be your greatest asset. “The best place to learn social is on social,” says Khan. “See what popular brands are doing, but more importantly see what other humans are doing. Take note of how people interact with each other and keep tabs on trending conversations, styles of language and types of creative content.”

6. You’ll master remote content production

Remote and hybrid work has shaken up typical content formats, especially when it comes to employer branding. After a year of acclimating to our new environments, Anu Hautalampi, Social Media Lead at UN Women, predicts that 2022 will be a year of creativity and experimentation.

“Lingering lockdown exhaustion made it challenging for social teams to feed and foster their collective creativity,” says Hautalampi. “For so long, it wasn’t possible to create in-person content like social video without ripping it from a Zoom recording. These restrictions have made many a bit rusty when it comes to content creation. This can be an opportunity to come back to your work with a fresh perspective and reevaluate your social style.”

The transition to remote video production has come with challenges, but it’s also encouraged social media professionals to think outside the box. Next year, we’ll see social teams regroup and learn how to create even more innovative visual content to stand out in feeds.

7. Vertical video content will become the norm

Speaking of TikTok trends, the network has also sparked another emerging norm. Kevin Vicker, Social Media and Online Reputation Specialist at Children’s Hospital of Colorado, predicts that vertical video will become the standard format in 2022.

“It’s a challenge when videos are produced for multiple mediums, as opposed to just for social media,” says Vicker. “There’s a lot of archival footage in 16:9, but all the major social media networks are moving toward a norm of vertical video. It’s going to become increasingly out of touch to share horizontal video content on social.”

8. IRL marketing efforts will be created with virality in mind

In October, Londoners flocked to social to discuss something eye-catching on their morning commute.

Shortly after online conversations began, people realized this man wasn’t actually atoning for any romantic wrongdoing. He was a part of a marketing campaign for a new dating app called Thursday. This stunt, along with a few others, doubled the app’s weekly downloads on a $35 budget. John Thorton, Social Media Manager at innocent drinks, believes we’ll be seeing more stunts like this in the new year and beyond.

“Companies like Thursday are showing you don’t need to spend millions on billboards,” says Thorton. “You can just buy one good in-person activation and let social do the rest. I expect to see a lot more Thursday-esque stunts—IRL marketing created purely to go big on social.”

9. Creators and influencers will need to differentiate

Influencers and content creators aren’t going anywhere. If anything, more will continue to rise to fame. The space is getting crowded and Danielle Trevino, Social Content Coordinator at Twitter, thinks this will result in a growing need for differentiation.

“In 2022, I predict social media influencers will have to work a lot harder to differentiate themselves from the pack,” says Trevino. “As social media platforms become even more user-saturated, standing out is going to take a lot more effort from a creator standpoint.”

These changes will have certain implications for brands as well. In the past, creator partnerships were all about casting a wide net. Now, to effectively incorporate creators into their content strategy, brands will shift their focus to creativity and brand alignment as opposed to just reach.

Cheers to the future of social media marketing

Regardless of what exactly is in store for social media marketers, one thing is for certain: the future is bright. There’s more opportunity for creativity, innovation and career growth than ever before. Now’s the time to step into your power and seize the moment.

If you need help along the way, check out this collection of free social media templates and tools. Inside, you’ll find resources that will help you lean into a new world of marketing possibilities made possible by social.