Opinion | 02 December 2020

Would we have got through 2020 without social media?

Henry France 800

Henry France

Head of Strategy

Tags: Marketing

Would we have got through 2020 without social media_hero

Love it or loathe it, social media has played a crucial role during 2020 as COVID-19 forced people to stay at home and inevitably on their mobile devices. Our Head of Strategy, Henry France, takes a look at the role of social during the pandemic.

The global pandemic of 2020 has been a tragedy but, as we look ahead, it’s the after-effects that will come to dominate our marketing strategy worlds. Social media usage both increased and changed in 2020. Channels have exploded with activity and people are now finding themselves using social for purposes other than what they’d originally signed up for. Throughout most of this year, fears of rising infection rates combined with lockdowns and movement restrictions have pushed people more than ever online and onto social channels. On social media, users feel that they have a safe space to interact, be entertained, be willingly distracted and find inspiration without the risks of venturing outside their homes.

July 2020 saw a rise of 10.5% in social media usage, compared with the previous year. 46% of women and 41% of men said they've spent more time on social media during the pandemic, making it the second-most popular digital activity. Brands that had not been noticed previously are now finding they have an influx of audiences that they can reach for the first time as people are spending less time passively surfing, and more time actively searching for things to be entertained by. The reason we’ve seen the explosion of certain platforms such as TikTok (with downloads in Q1 of 2020 topping 315 million and now over 2 billion lifetime downloads), is because we’ve needed new ways to be entertained. From teens to boomers, TikTok has seen a meteoric rise, even by modern standards. TikTok is about finding humour in the darkness and giving some light relief to both the creator and the viewer through absurd trends, jokes, quirky dance moves and funny skits.

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TikTok now has over 2 billion lifetime downloads

Generation Z demands to be entertained and considered!

From content to creative, users want to be entertained, even in the ads they see. Brands need to think deeper about the experience users get from their digital touchpoints. The peaks and troughs of this journey are more likely to be heightened during this period. Young consumers are looking for humour in a lot in their searches, but are not getting it currently. However, this behaviour should serve as a stark reminder to brands that Gen Z will be the next generation to really make its mark on the consumer journey. They represent a significant opportunity for all brands. Understanding how this new audience behaves, considering they don’t know a world without the internet and social media as digital natives, is crucial. It’s particularly interesting as an opportunity as they’re already proving to be quite different from what has gone before. They ‘care’ about the brands they shop from (where price is not the most important aspect to them), they shop through Instagram as easily as previous generations considered physical shopping – it’s second nature. This isn’t because they are detached. Quite the opposite, they are keen to engage with their immediate and broader social networks. Brands must connect with Gen Z’s in this space by optimising social digital experiences.

More engagement creates longer lasting impressions

As our attention spans have undoubtedly increased during lockdowns, people expect to be engaged with and clever creative to turn their passive experiences into active ones. CALM’s recent example with Joe Maler might be the best use of scrubbing on YouTube I’ve ever seen. Not since the chapter functionality was brought in has a video encouraged me to interact with it in such a meaningful way.

Spreading the right information is critical

With so much noise on social, it’s important to get your comms right. As we entered the first lockdown, we were inundated with ‘A message from our CEO’ emails and social posts, which were incredibly boring and uninspiring to read. Social media has caused the pandemic to turn into an infodemic of misinformation and we must be careful with what we say and when we say it. Often the brands that have come out on top this year have been the ones that have not said anything about the pandemic and have just gone about their business professionally. Brands that have thrived this year are those that stayed human (not ‘humaning’, mind!) and true to their brand values by empathising with their audience and what they were going through. Corona as a brand have played this year perfectly given the pitfalls they could easily have fallen into by virtue of their name alone.

We must be careful with regards to information overload though. As particular generations now turn to social as their main news source, meaning we have a responsibility to add to the information at the right time, on the right medium and in areas we have both knowledge and expertise.

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Many are turning to social media as their main news source

Marketing strategy increasingly requires scenario planning

2021 is the year to recover, rebuild and renew. It’s the year to work on where you can go with social, learn from mistakes and seize the opportunity in this new wave of engaged users. Platforms that were spiralling have seen renewed engagement (Facebook community groups have provided huge comfort and benefit to many suffering from loneliness and isolation). When a vaccine does arrive in 2021, we must plan for the different scenarios in which we may find ourselves – it’s going to take a long time to vaccinate the world’s population. Next year’s strategy planning must be in short cycles and you must be prepared to adapt and change with the markets and global economic events. Our recent Active Strategy Report can help your business be ready to react quickly should the external factors at play throw another giant curveball our way.

Google and Facebook will continue to strengthen their duopoly on digital advertisement

Whilst Amazon and TikTok have certainly moved into the conversation of places to spend advertising budget (44% of advertisers planning to spend more next year on TikTok). Facebook and Google will dominate the landscape as, according to the WARC social toolkit,

Four of the five platforms most likely to receive increased investment in 2021 belong to Facebook and Google-owner Alphabet, according to the Toolkit survey.

WARC | The Marketer's Toolkit 2021

There are other trends to take into consideration when planning strategically for 2021:

  • The return of influencer marketing. Almost three-quarters of advertisers (73%) expect to allocate budget to influencer marketing in 2021, a clear sign that influencers are becoming more central to brand-building on social platforms.
  • Social commerce is also rising to the fore. Established platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook – which launched its Shops storefront concept last year – are vying for a slice of a burgeoning market. Growing numbers of brands are also testing TikTok’s tools, and the ability to monetise content via its branded Hashtag Challenge tool.
  • The kickback from this could see diametrical behaviour occur. Will people actively try and take a detox break from social once the reliance on it is less acute? I wrote recently about the expected bounce back of the experience economy and this could see social media usage decrease as people are allowed back out into the real world again.

Together, the fear of infection and the social restrictions of the pandemic have brought significant changes to the way in which consumers interact with social media. It’s driven them to seek more creativity, connection and inspiring entertainment whilst they’ve been stuck indoors. With restrictions due to continue until a vaccine is widely available in the Spring, we won’t truly know for some time if this year’s social media habits are here to stay, or whether the global pandemic has changed the role of social forever.

If you’d like to talk to us about your 2021 marketing strategy, then now’s the time to get in touch.