Six key trends on how people’s use of social media is changing from We Are Social’s Think Forward 2021 report – Chief Strategy Officer, Mobbie Nazir, explains.

In 2020 everything we’ve known – from daily routines to long-term ambitions – has been disrupted beyond recognition. We’ve been forced to face the cracks in the established order of business and reassess what’s important as we grapple with an uncertain future. 

This was an interesting and - dare I say it - unprecedented context to compiling our annual trends report, Think Forward. Particularly as social has played a central role in the theatrics. With lockdown shaping much of our experience in early 2020 – at its peak, the first wave of Covid-19 saw over 3.9 billion people confined to their homes – the role of digital tools and communications have been pulled into even greater prominence.

As a result, our relationship with these channels – how we use them, and how we feel about them – has undergone an irreversible transformation. In some instances, inertia has been overcome; live content, shopping via AR and paying to customise an avatar are all behaviours that have entered the mainstream. But deeper systemic issues in these technologies have also come to light – we’ve been reminded how quickly misinformation around vital issues can spread, for example, and the disproportionate power of bad actors in digital spaces.

This is the backdrop to Think Forward 2021 - We Are Social’s sixth trends report to date. We look at how, as we move into next year, people will re-evaluate the role platforms should play in their lives, rethink which sources they engage with, and relearn how to use social in line with tectonic shifts in the drivers that underpin our screentime. This is the social reset. 

Here’s a summary of the trends we cover; to see them in full, take a look at Think Forward here

The Simple Life: 

People are re-evaluating what’s important to them, sharpening a desire to pay more attention to life’s simple pleasures, and reconsidering the role social can play in enjoying them. There has been a rise in communities like Gardening TikTok and the cottagecore movement – a Tumblr-born aesthetic defined by mostly-city based women participating in quaint, agricultural aesthetics and hobbies. This shift calls for brands to demonstrate their own engagement with, and investment in, what’s important. On social, it’s an opportunity to use platforms to connect directly with consumers and what they care about. 

Practical Advocacy: 

Amid new constraints, ‘armchair activism’ has undergone a practical transformation, bolstered by global communities who’ve realised the power they wield can translate to tangible offline change. People are getting an education on social justice via Instagram slideshows, with high-design 101s created for the IG carousel format. Brands must get comfortable with the fact that whatever they say or don’t say could be met with criticism. In the short term, brands are adapting to a landscape in which social has become a more practical tool for advocacy and education. 

In-Feed Intimacy: 

The notion that screens and social have a negative impact on our offline relationships is falling away, as people begin to overcome the inertia attached to tools designed to humanise our digital interactions. Facebook updated its suite of reactions with the ‘care’ emoji to facilitate more intimate online interactions and people are using TikTok to discuss complex subjects with empathy and nuance. In this landscape, brands should be taking this opportunity to facilitate more intimate connections with and between their customers, through private groups, humanised customer service and empathetic communications. 

Reliable Idols: 

People are being more discerning about who they follow, and why. They’re not unfollowing beautiful people, but they are putting more emphasis on the tangible value these figures can bring to the feed. Medical professionals are blowing up for democratising information that typically comes with a consultant’s fee, while specialists in niche fields are gaining traction for combating misinformation. This shift will have an impact on how brands partner with talent. Influencer strategies will need to ensure there’s alignment on the values and beliefs of brands and those who advocate for them. In addition, to gain traction with audiences, brands should be learning from, and emulating the behaviours of, this new wave of influencers. 

Unbound Platforms: 

Amid the new content needs of 2020, people have evolved the way they engage with social platforms, repurposing old tools for new purposes, and expanding their already prominent role in everyday life. Games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing have transformed into social hubs and live content has seen social feeds evolve into 24-hour events venues, whether for catwalks from Louis Vuitton on TikTok or micro drag shows aired on Instagram Live. The role digital spaces play in the consumer journey is evolving and becoming more tangible. Brands need to rethink how to use these channels in their consumer journey and be sure they’re not being discounted as pure-play arenas for PR stunts or one-off awareness drives. 

Open-Source Creativity: 

In a landscape of duetting and out-of-context soundbites, major social platforms are increasingly spaces for people to co-create content, not just engage with it. Charli XCX collaborated with her fans via Zoom to write her latest album, and on Instagram, film industry polymath Miranda July has been crowdsourcing entire scripts from her followers. We’ll continue to see major platforms evolve their tools and functionality to facilitate more collaborative creation. In this landscape, brands can expect the quality of ‘fan’ creativity to rise and should harness it where possible.