As social platforms introduce new features and change their algorithms, social media trends likewise undergo an evolution. Take Instagram Stories, for example. A few years ago, Snapchat was known for its disappearing, FOMO-inducing content, but there didn’t appear to be a wide appetite for similar features on other networks. Now, over 500 million people use the feature daily on Instagram, and more and more platforms are adding equivalent features.

That’s testimony of just how quickly we adopt new trends in social media.

These rapid changes present a whole new challenge for brands and social media marketers as they have to constantly review their existing strategies and pivot to add new types of content to their repertoire. Marketers continually have to keep an eye out for the latest trends influencing the future of social media and evolve accordingly.

If you’re looking for the latest social media trends 2021 has in store for you, you’re in luck. We’ve put together some of the top trends to watch to help you adapt and grow.

1. Live streams will remain popular

The global health crisis of 2020 saw many businesses going digital however they could to maintain social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face-to-face meetings turned into Zoom conferences and live concerts turned into live streams of artists playing from their homes.

So naturally, there’s an uptick in the use of live streaming features on social media. Facebook saw a massive rise in messaging and live streaming, especially in COVID-19 hotspots like Italy. For instance, the number of views on Instagram and Facebook Live doubled there in just a week.

While the situation continues to evolve in 2021, people have gotten used to being able to interact with brands live without ever leaving their homes. So live streaming will continue to gain popularity and should definitely be a part of your social media marketing strategy.

Molbak Garden + Home, for example, created a series of live tutorials on Facebook to provide gardening tips.

Tips for Summer Containers

Posted by Molbak's Garden + Home on Thursday, May 28, 2020

According to the latest Sprout Social Index, 25% of marketers said live video was one of the most valuable types of content for achieving their social goals.

2. Stories as a content format

As highlighted earlier, more than 500 million users interact with Instagram Stories every day. So although Instagram Stories were already dominant content format in the previous year, they’re not going away any time soon.

Brands will need to take a more organized approach and plan for Stories as a content format for their publishing calendars, if they aren’t already doing so. More importantly, the use of video as Stories will increase since they appear to outperform photos.

A SocialInsider study found that images in Stories have a 5.65% higher tap-forward rate than videos. Tap-forward rate is the number of people who saw your Story and moved on to the next one before finishing it. The same analysis also found that photos in Stories had more drop-offs than videos, showing that people tend to spend more time viewing videos.

No wonder 51% of brands are already using videos in Stories, and the number will likely increase in 2021.

Exit rate for video Stories vs. Stories with image

3. Virtual reality will become more popular on social media

Amid the stay-at-home orders and the need for social distancing, people are seeking more meaningful interactions virtually. Virtual reality (VR) is one of the current technological trends that can provide them with those interactions.

Interacting with people through VR gives you a sense of actually being together even if they’re halfway across the world. This is the exact kind of experience that people need at a time when they have to socially distance.

2021 is likely to see virtual reality gaining more popularity on social media as platforms push forward with incorporating this technology.

Take Facebook Horizon, for example. As of early 2021, Facebook is leveraging the Oculus VR platform to beta-test a virtual world that allows people to explore, connect with others, and play games.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Is8eXZco46Q&ab_channel=Oculus

4. Augmented reality as a media trend

Similar to virtual reality, recent events have accelerated the adoption of Augmented reality (AR) experiences, including in the social space. AR doesn’t require additional hardware beyond a smartphone, making it even more readily accessible than VR. It’s also familiar from experiences like dynamic photo filters that have been on multiple social platforms for years.

Augmented reality experiences are inherently interactive and highly effective for engagement.

Brands are quickly buying into this latest social media trend by creating AR filters to promote new products or encourage fan interaction. This keeps your audience engaged and entertained, and could even help you attract new customers with the right promotion.

One excellent example is how McDonald’s came up with the Spice Zapper filter, which allows users to zap nuggets as they fall.

woman shooting beams out of eyes to zap nuggets

With limited brick-and-mortar shopping in 2020, AR can also be effective in driving purchases. AR shopping options to let you ‘try on’ products via your phone camera were implemented on Instagram in 2019, and AR experiences that let you envision products in your own home are only likely to continue to drive sales.

Creatively implementing AR into your social media marketing strategy for 2021 could very well help your brand stand out. The 2020 Sprout Social Index even found that creative and entertaining content are some of the top factors that make a brand’s social presence stand out.

data for marketers and consumers opinion on what makes a brand's social presence stand out

5. Social commerce will continue to grow

With the social media industry constantly adapting to enhance the user experience, we’re seeing more features and tools that support quick and easy shopping. Instagram, for instance, allows you to add product tags and enable easy checkout without ever leaving the platform. On Facebook, you can set up a Shop that people can browse and buy right on the platform.

You can already see brands like ThreadBeast setting up such social media storefronts.

Facebook Shop for ThredBeast showing four different outfits with pricing

This could be the perfect tool for marketers to capitalize on in 2021, especially considering the role of social media in purchase decisions. Keep in mind that 54% of social media users research products using social media. And social media referrals can influence the purchase decisions of 71% of users.

And when you add social commerce to the equation, you have something that simplifies and shortens the customer journey. Now when your audiences see a product they like on social media, they no longer have to go to the website and search for it. They can buy it straight from the platform, which is likely to reduce abandoned transactions.

In fact, simply having a a buy button increases the likelihood of purchase and helps move transactions forward on social.

data for percentage of people whose purchase decisions are influenced by social media

So setting up social media storefronts and making your posts shoppable are among the top social media best practices for 2021. If you don’t adapt your strategy to fit changing audience behavior, you could lose out on prospective customers.

6. Purpose-driven campaigns to take center stage

While social media has always driven engagement with causes, the global pandemic has shined an even brighter spotlight on these causes. People want to help more than ever, and they expect brands to pitch in.

In fact, 74% of respondents in a Twitter survey want brands to showcase acts of kindness. And 77% feel more positively about brands that try to support society during this crisis.

So even for 2021, we’re likely to see brands helping out however they can through purpose-driven social media campaigns. 86% of respondents in the survey want brands to support vulnerable members of the community. And 82% of respondents expect more support for frontline health staff.

Companies like Unilever have taken steps to support emergency efforts.

As brands have navigated multiple crises in 2020, it’s also highlighted the importance of authenticity and backing up their marketing actions. Knowing when to engage and when to back off from a sensitive issue that may not be perceived as relevant to your brand is essential. Audiences expect brands to show leadership and meaningful action on social issues, rather than exploit them for marketing opportunities.

7. Inclusivity will matter more than ever

Brands are increasingly under pressure to make meaningful strides for inclusion in their business operations and marketing. Audiences are more aware than ever that they have plenty of options, leading them to put their money behind companies that show investment in the communities and issues they are passionate about.

And brands need to keep up. You can no longer afford to be silent and passive about issues that your target audience passionately cares about. An Accenture study found that 29% of all shoppers would switch to a brand that’s committed to inclusivity and diversity.

However, audiences are also increasingly aware of performative activism that looks more like a marketing play rather than a meaningful contribution – make sure your content on inclusivity is well-informed and make sure your brand is ready to act. These important social issues can’t just be treated like another trending topic.

So in 2021, inclusivity will become an even bigger focus for brands that want to build deeper connections with their customers. If your brand’s social presence doesn’t reflect your audience’s views on identity and diversity, you’ll end up missing a crucial opportunity to connect with them.

Fenty Beauty has made a name for its inclusive line of beauty products. The brand’s social media presence also reflects this stance by regularly highlighting real people using its products.

8. Authenticity and transparency will be paramount

Consumers want brands to get real. That means maintaining authenticity and transparency about your products and operations. If you want people to trust you, you need to be honest with them.

And what better way to do that than through social media? According to the 2020 Sprout Social Index, transparency and engagement with the audience are the top two factors that make a brand’s social best in class.

data for marketers and consumers opinion on what makes a brand's social best in class

If you made a mistake, own up to it through a heartfelt social media message. Allow your customers to freely reach out to you in case of any problems or disappointments. And instead of deleting negative comments, openly address them and show them how much you care about their problems. Audiences are more social-savvy than ever, so you can’t expect to ‘get away’ to attempts to avoid, delete or otherwise sweep missteps under the rug.

Tools like Sprout Smart Inbox simplify this process with tools to tag messages, save reply templates, and filter your inbox across all channels. This can help you catch different types of messages–including critical ones–and prioritize them across your team.

Ready to stay on top of trends?

Anticipating the latest social media trends today could help you build a stronger presence for the future. You’ll know just what to watch out for and how to adapt your social strategy according to the current social trends.

But knowing what to prioritize next can be a bit of a challenge. Download our free social media prioritization workbook to start putting these trends into practice with a focused approach to 2021.