In July, the number of social media users reached 4.57 billion (which equates to half the population), as predicted by Hootsuite and We Are Social, with 346 million new users joining in the 12 months prior.

So, how will social evolve in the next year? We spoke to the experts to find out what 2021 might bring…

And if you want to hear more on 2021 trends, join us on January 26th at 3pm GMT as Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein will reveal his digital and marketing trends for the year. Register here.

Facebook dominance continues

Sebastian Redenz, Head of Paid Social, Havas Media Group:

“Facebook is a winner in the pandemic, and brands’ continued investment is proof that it’s a very effective advertising platform, combining granularity with scale. Facebook is heavily protected by its underlying bidding model, which means as soon as one advertiser drops out, another one takes its spot. No business can afford to see competitors taking their place, which is why all clients returned quickly returned their spend to Facebook.”

“While Facebook was already ascending to dominance before the pandemic, the trend has accelerated this year, which is why I predict that the stock will trade at around the $400 marker in 2021.”

More live, longform and lo-fi video

Tom Jarvis, Wilderness Agency:

“The pandemic has accelerated our need to share in real-time through live video, with Facebook reporting a 50% increase in viewers watching live videos in March compared with the month previously.  With a vaccine in sight and “normal life” returning in some form soon, we will see a huge increase in us all sharing our real-world experiences in real-time.”

Sarah Penny, Head of Content, Influencer Intelligence:

“The usage of video content has been really driven by the huge popularity of TikTok and this is only set to increase. As every-day users become ever-more comfortable broadcasting on video, duration of content will get longer, as is already anticipated by TikTok who are apparently already testing three-minute videos. Inevitably also other platforms will follow suit and longer-form video will become the norm.”

Michelle Goodall, CMO at Access Intelligence:

“Making premium, high production value video social content during the pandemic has been difficult. Consumers during lockdown have embraced Instagram Live, Zoom and other video platforms and this use and acceptance of lo-fi 1:1 video content is increasingly being mirrored by many brands, sometimes through necessity. There are many example of this, but Adidas’ The Huddle campaign, pairing influencers in their homes stands out given how important production values are traditionally in this sector.”

Social gets closer to a true sales channel

Matthew Fanelli, SVP, Digital, MNI Targeted Media

“Increasingly, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter videos and AR will entice consumers to ‘shop now’. Brands establishing a dialogue with consumers, and staying fresh, fun, and relevant with creative will see ecommerce from social continue to thrive.”

Raquel Rosenthal, CEO, Digilant

“We should expect to see the role of social evolve to become that of a true sales channel. The growth of social commerce has been slow to start, but as social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok expand commerce and shoppable ads features it will become a no-brainer for marketers to look to social as a channel to convert consumers.”

Sarah Penny, Influencer Intelligence:

“Companies are now waking up to the true opportunity that lies within consumers dwelling in higher volumes than normal on social channels, especially when ecommerce was the only option for driving sales.”

“I’m hoping that we will see in 2021 the acceleration of the smoothening of social commerce. We’ve already seen moves surrounding this by the platforms, signified by the release of Google Shoploop and the TikTok x Shopify partnership, and the move to bring together creators, content and commerce is only going to get closer in the year ahead.”

Social Media Advertising Best Practice Guide

Creative differentiation required?

Camilla Yates, Strategy Director, Elvis:

“Creatively, I’d like to see a renewed focus on distinctiveness in social media. Stories of reassurance told with stock imagery or lo-fi video created a comforting blanket of samey social content during the pandemic, but as we move into 2021, let’s set the bar higher and create moments of brand relevance with more salience and longer staying power.”

Social messaging a burgeoning channel

Michelle Goodall, Access Intelligence:

“The use of messaging is greater than social media, so it’s going to be fascinating to watch what’s happening in this space. Whatsapp will almost certainly get advertising in 2021 as Facebook Inc, who were merely dented by the #StopHateForProfit ad boycott in the summer, looks to expand its ad inventory to two billion users.”

Kirit Rayatt, strategist at Waste:

“2020 saw an increased need for people to connect on a more human level online. We predict that in 2021, we will continue to see this desire to connect authentically with smaller networks of like-minded individuals.”

“Specifically, we expect to see people using dark social, avatars, and voice and face-to-face platforms to facilitate this need.”

Improving measurement in a fragmented ecosystem

Michelle Goodall, Access Intelligence:

“Identifying, making sense of, and finding who is at the centre of conversations… simply can’t be done manually. Especially when these interactions happen over multiple platforms and when many of them are video or image based.”

“In 2021, we’ll see more brands investing in tools (like Pulsar) that will help them draw valuable audience and consumer insights from social datasets and blend their own data, search data, and other data APIs to make those insights incredibly powerful.”

Barbie Koelker, VP of Marketing, Spiketrap:

“It’s no longer enough to simply monitor mentions and engagement on a per-platform basis. Such measurement is limited by Boolean queries and lacks the contextual information needed for marketers to identify a brewing crisis — let alone work their magic. Rather, it’s critical to follow conversations as they flow from one channel to another, monitoring the topics truly affecting audience sentiment while keeping an eye on brand safety. Doing so will enable marketers to more meaningfully engage with their audiences. The vanity metrics we love to cling to will follow.”

Luke Hathaway, VP of Social, Amobee:

“Over the course of 2020, the landscape for reaching consumers became more fragmented and more polarized, meaning certain people are only available through certain channels. At the same time, TV viewership data is more usable than ever across digital and social channels. Advertisers looking to drive successful social campaigns in 2021 should use these TV datasets to build an omnichannel approach in order to reach desired audiences across various screens and minimize duplicated reach.”