From Facebook rebranding as Meta, to TikTok reaching one billion monthly users – 2021 was a mammoth year in the world of social media.

But how will social evolve in 2022? We spoke to industry experts to get some insight on what the next year could bring, with social commerce, the changing roles of influencers, and the continued domination of TikTok all predicted to emerge.

Long-term influencer partnerships divorced from a specific platform

Pierre-Loic Assayag, CEO and Co-Founder of Traackr:

“…tensions between creators, brands and platforms are leading to a platform-agnostic future, where followers subscribe or pay for content directly with influencers and creators. Consumer attention will migrate away from ad-supported platforms to paywalled content, so brands will need to divert advertising budget toward long-term influencer partnerships divorced from a specific platform. It’s why companies like Stripe are enabling influencers to more easily earn money. There will always be the next TikTok and changing algorithms, but we’ve seen that audiences will indeed follow their favorite creators wherever they go. The medium is not the message. The creator is.”

Social becomes a learning platform

Tom Jarvis, Founder & CEO of Wilderness Agency:

“With the explosion of TikTok in 2021, we’ve seen social media emerge as a learning platform – everything from #booktok to #financetok has exploded on the platform. During the pandemic, people turned to social media to learn and uncover more about the subjects they are passionate about.

“On a macro level, this is being driven by the digitisation of both education and the workplace by big tech as the way we work and learn is disrupted.

“On a micro level, this is going to filter down in the type of content people want to consume and a shift in the traditional influencer model from what I would call “product placement” to “instruction as influence.”

Jim Meadows, Chief Strategy Officer, Takumi:

“Consumers turn to social media as an entertainment channel, however, many are starting to also see it as a place to educate themselves on new topics and share their knowledge and thoughts on current affairs and issues.

“Exploring the influencer marketing industry specifically, our recent research found that more than one in four (25%) UK and US consumers admit to sourcing news updates and opinions from creators over established news outlets – rising to nearly half of 16-24-year-olds (44%).”

A slowdown in social sharing (on open platforms)

Tom Jarvis, Wilderness Agency:

“We’ve moved beyond a place of social as means of status update to a place where social tools are now our main form of communication – both with those we know IRL and online.

“Closed platforms such as messaging apps now play a vital role in our lives – the average US teen sends 50 private messages a day! Snapchat has largely remained relevant for a youth audience because it has become the default messaging app for many teens.

“Our desire for more intimate connection and a lack of trust in the big social platforms will see a slow down in “social sharing” or open platform engagement but a continued increase in messaging as we not only connect with friends but also brands and the world around us in a more direct way.”

The domination of TikTok

Tod Nielson, CEO of Talkwalker::

“One trend that’s almost guaranteed as we move into 2022 is the continued dominance of TikTok in the social space. Our data showed a 61% increase in TikTok mentions year-on-year during the first half of 2021, and the app has since become the first non-Facebook app to reach 3 billion global downloads.

“What’s more, a recent study found TikTok usage surpassed that of Instagram this year among Gen Z, who find the platform to be more positive versus other social media networks. With 63% of the social app’s users under the age of 30, it will be particularly important for brands looking to engage with Gen Z to be active on the platform if they wish to remain relevant and drive growth in the new year.

“TikTok’s success is driven by consumers themselves, and if we’ve learnt anything over the past couple of years, it’s that companies which listen to consumers fare better in the long-run. Expect to see brands across multiple industries incorporate short-form video into their content strategies in 2022.”

Avatar creation

Jim Meadows, Takumi:

“Expect to see more conversations around “meta” and the Metaverse following Facebook’s recent brand update. With the virtual world taking off, it’s likely avatar creation will be another key development in 2022. Creators may be able to create multiple personas through the adoption of such technology and influencer marketing will continue to expand into the virtual reality world. We’re going to see a lot more avatar influencers, like Lil Miquela, emerging in the new year.”

The diversification of influencer roles

Alexander Frolov, CEO & Co-Founder of HypeAuditor:

“Look back to 2015 and social media influencers could be segregated into a handful of categories. Now, we’re seeing new categories emerging all the time, with influencers that choose to break the mould and influence across multiple categories. In 2021, we have seen the rise of ‘fintok’, as well as “petfluencers”, “skinfluencers” and “granfluencers”. These new categories will continue to gain momentum in 2022.

“Alongside this, next year we’ll see virtual influencers solidify their place in the world of social influence, securing more brand deals than ever before. This year, we saw Superplastic raise $20M to expand its cartoon influencer universe, and Rozy, the South Korean virtual influencer, earn around $1M in sponsorships. In addition, the recent announcement by Facebook around metaverse is also going to affect the future of virtual influencers.

Continued investment in live streaming

Pierre-Loic Assayag, Traackr:

“Social media platforms become the new QVC for Millennials and Gen Z. Influencers are the new storefront, but social commerce is no longer just about adding a shopping cart on a platform. It won’t be just a transaction, but instead will become an entire shopping experience. We already saw Amazon, YouTube and Pinterest add live shopping features to their platforms, and the most advanced brands will invest more budget and resources toward creating authentic retail experiences on social media such as live streaming.”

Social commerce comes of age

Jim Meadows, Takumi:

“Our recent research found that over half (59%) of marketers are using more ecommerce tools in their influencer marketing activity compared to pre-pandemic. This has been supported by social media platforms improving and widening online shopping functions, such as Instagram rolling out Shopping Tags in feed posts and in stories, and TikTok launching its Shopping feature.

“Brands will continue to embrace social media as an ecommerce channel, with new shopping features and store integrations likely to dominate the space in the new year. Updates to existing payment features will continue to make users’ in-app shopping experiences as seamless as possible meaning we’re likely to see even more users engaging in social commerce in 2022.”

Tod Nielson, Talkwalker:

“[Many developments in 2021 were] about making the shopping and monetisation process as seamless as possible for users, and point to the growing importance commerce will play in the future social landscape.

“Ultimately, nobody wants to go through a ten-step process just to buy a t-shirt – the simpler the customer journey on a social platform, the better chances there are of making a sale. To this end, ecommerce and monetisation features will become a centrepiece of social networks as brands look to realise the potential of social selling.”

Tom Jarvis, Wilderness Agency:

“There is a lot of talk about “super apps” inspired by the WeChat model but I think the reality is we are some way off that in the West. …the move to social commerce could be the driving factor in getting us one step closer to that reality as more of our daily habits are delivered by an ever-decreasing number of mobile applications.”

Communities and closed platforms to flourish

Michelle Goodall, CMO of Guild:

“While everyone is getting excited about Meta and Web 3.0 etc – the smart money, especially in B2B, is in Community Based Marketing (CBM) and creating niche, more valuable communities off of social media platforms; where spaces feel like social, but where the data is yours, and can be used to layer first-party data to help make meaningful decisions about campaigns, creative, customer experience and innovation etc.

“These communities are largely being driven by the difficulties brands face in generating visibility of content on social platforms, with many forced to resort to ‘engagement bait’ tactics in order to get their content seen. Consequently, we’re seeing more evidence of the migration away from ad-funded, data hungry platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and the emergence of alternative online communities – those that enable brands to create experiences and foster discussions that their community truly values, and at the same time, respects and protects their data.”

Transparent data collection

Jim Meadows, Chief Strategy Officer, Takumi:

“Apple and Google have become key players in the conversation about what tech companies can do to protect their users’ privacy and data. It’s inevitable social sites, who rely on user data to enhance their users’ experience as well as drive revenue through advertising, will have to adapt to ensure the user experience doesn’t change, even if data privacy restrictions do.

“Asking permission to use data is one way that social media platforms can adapt. Platforms need to be fully transparent about what user data is collected and how it’s being used. Transparency will help platforms foster trust amongst their users and encourage users to feel comfortable and safe sharing some of their online data with them.”