We stand on the brink of a much-anticipated new year. Vaccines are rolling out, positive change is inching forward in areas of racial equality and climate action, and it’s fair to say that most people are feeling cautiously optimistic about 2021.

For marketers, 2021 planning will look a little different than in previous years. While it is true that change is constant in marketing, 2020 shook up the field so dramatically that many marketers are revisiting everything from personas and buyer journeys to brand purpose.

The resurgence of social media

One marketing discipline that rose back to prominence in 2020 is social media. It makes sense—as the world was forced to remain physically distanced, social media bridged the gap and kept us connected to family, friends, and the brands we love.

Until earlier this year, most brands knew where they stood on social media. They had the right balance of engagement, listening, content, and advertising. However, once the pandemic hit, the rules of the game changed.

New social rules for marketers

Hootsuite, the most widely used social media management platform, just released its annual Social Trends Report to help marketers plot their course in 2021. The report is based on a survey of 11,189 marketers and is supplemented with insights from interviews with dozens of industry experts and third-party research from leading industry analysts. Here are some of the highlights for marketers:

Trend #1: The race to ROI: Social bridges the gap to a new customer experience

Almost three-quarters of marketers surveyed for the report ranked “increased acquisition of new customers” as their top outcome for social media in 2021, a 58% year-over-year increase. However, transactions alone don’t create memorable brands or ensure long-term growth.

In 2021, marketers will continue to use social media to meet two equally urgent imperatives:

  1. Deliver short-term ROI with targeted performance marketing tactics
  2. Building innovative digital experiences to win long-term loyalty


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A post shared by ClarinsUK (@clarinsuk)

Clarins’ beauty coach takes the makeup counter digital with online tutorials shared throughout lockdown periods.

Trend #2: Silence is golden: Brands find their place in the conversation

Many brands made the mistake of trying to capitalise on the increased social media activity during the pandemic, completely overlooking the fact that people primarily wanted to connect with each other, not brands.

For the most part, these brands saw the error of their ways early and pulled back on advertising spend, redirecting focus to crisis response, social customer care, and engagement. In 2021, marketers will strive to place more value on content over engagement—passive audiences are still consuming your content.

Brands like Guinness are tuning into the zeitgeist, giving people a reason to connect with one another over a virtual beer.

Trend #3: Way more than OK: A generation ignored by digital marketers booms on social

Marketers have typically targeted baby boomers through traditional TV advertising, which is still one of the most effective ways of reaching them. However, there has been a 66-point increase in baby boomers discovering new brands and products via social media over the past 4 years, and over a quarter of baby boomers are spending even longer on social platforms as a result of the pandemic. In 2021, social marketers will continue to explore this increasingly digitally savvy audience.

Poundland is one example of a brand sharing user generated content to increase brand favourability with baby boomers.

Trend #4: Do I know you? Tying engagement to identity gives advanced marketers new momentum

The pandemic has given executives renewed appreciation for social media, which became the strongest bridge for connecting with customers after so many traditional strategies collapsed.

Hootsuite’s research found that 85% of organisations that integrate social data into other systems have confidence in their organisation’s ability to accurately quantify the ROI of social media.

In 2021, marketers will take steps to bridge the gap between engagement and customer identity by connecting more customer data with social data.


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A post shared by Center Parcs UK (@centerparcsuk)

Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs Group unites social and CRM for a deeper understanding of the customer journey.

Trend #5: The perils (and promise) of purpose: Bold brands start in the boardroom, not the front lines of social

In 2020, marketers stumbled under pressure to publicly address issues that their organisations had never focused on. Strong CMOs will use the intelligence gathered by social media teams in 2021 to help the organisation adapt to new buyer beliefs and pave a new path to growth that requires balancing the twin demands of building a better business and a better world.


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A post shared by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys)

Brands like Ben and Jerry’s acted on their brand purpose, using their platform to educate their followers on the Black Lives Matter movement.

If you’re interested in reading more about these trends or in learning how brands can capitalise on them in the new year, download Hootsuite’s Social Trends 2021 Report.