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Social media trends 2021: What’s working and what isn’t this year?

Author's avatar By Gabrielle Wright 20 May, 2021
Essential Essential topic

We predicted social media would continue to grow in 2021, and it did. Back in January, we collated your top 6 social media marketing (SMM) trends to reach and convert more customers, but how's it going so far?

Social media has proven itself to be a valuable channel for marketers to reach and convert customers. Renowned for an agile approach, social media marketing requires channel managers to keep up to date with the latest SMM trends in technical and social developments to make sure they are exploiting all the opportunities available.

It's no surprise that this year has seen unprecedented change in social media usage, alongside a whole host of other customer behavioral factors. Planning for 2021, we already knew from Datareportal's July 2020 Digital snapshot that nearly half of respondents have spent more time on social media due to COVID-19, evidenced by a 10% YOY increase in usage resulting in 3.96 billion active users in July 2020. An impressive number.

Now, as of April 2021, the total number of active social media users has grown again, to 4.33 billion. That's an increase of 9.6% in 9 months. So, we're well on track to beat YOY growth by July, again. And as the social community increases, so do the opportunities to reach, interact with, convert and engage your target audience.

Coming into 2021, we asked ourselves - how do I keep my social media audience engaged? What content is appropriate for today's environment? These questions are still the pinnacle of marketers looking to social media trends to improve their performance. Plus, it's more important than ever to get it right. That's why we're here to help!

Social media trends usage April 2021

Alongside each of our curated social media trends, I am really pleased to be able to share a recommended module from our brand new suite of Learning Paths for Business Members. Designed for members, Learning Paths optimize your marketing performance to drive your results and achieve your goals.

From rising platforms to worthy causes, utilizing social media for shopping, live events, or forming relationships, it's time to dive into the 2021 SMM trends.

Social media trend: The organic social media relationship funnel

Who do your customers trust the most? With rising concerns over privacy and fake news, Neal Schaffer warned us that forming a trust relationship with your customers in 2021 is harder than ever.

With studies showing that 75% of people don't accept advertisements as truth, there is a lot to be said for a relationship marketing approach to building trust with your social media audience. These stats speak for themselves:

  • 63% of social media users feel consumer ratings are #1
  • 70% of consumers believe customer opinions (more than double those who trust advertisements)

People first 2021 social media trends

[View the entire social media referrals infographic by Hubspot ]

Now, cutting through in 2021, social media marketers are investing in their relationships with employees, customers, and influencers, to ensure our key brand messages are backed up by the voices our customers value the most.

Insights from Iterable's 2021 consumer psychology poll, May 2021, highlight the increasing importance of customer experience for attracting (or losing) new customers through online and in-person word of mouth.

social media trends consumer insights


Social media expert:

"The new normal requires every company to put extreme importance on all things digital marketing. While search and email are two major components of digital marketing that can be done in-house, social media is both the most popular activity people do online as well as the most challenging for businesses.

This is because companies still look at social media as a promotional and advertising channel rather than as a grand arena to collaborate with social media users, primarily customers and influencers, and work them through a relationship funnel to incite word of mouth marketing for your brand in social media."

Neal Schaffer, President, PDCA Social

Neal Schaffer is an authority on helping innovative businesses digitally transform their marketing. Neal's latest book, The Age of Influence (HarperCollins Leadership), is a ground-breaking work redefining digital influence.


Learn how to improve the impact of your organic social media activities with the Optimizing your organic social media module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Core Module
Optimizing your organic social media

Optimizing your organic social media

Part of the Social media marketing Toolkit

Learn how to benchmark and optimize your organic social media activities and identify areas of opportunity

Learn More

Social media trend: People-first social media

Two-way communication is the ticket to boosting your organic posts to the top of your audiences' social feeds. As we know, 'the function of an algorithm is to deliver relevant content to users', alongside targeted paid ads.

So, an engaged online community who engage with your content through likes (good), comments (even better), and shares (super!) can help you out by amplifying your content, through a channel which your customers trust.

Now, in May 2021, this trend is more important than ever, with both Apple and Google making changes to cookies processes with huge implications for retargeting and lookalike paid advertising. The future of paid advertising is uncertain, but, the future of customer engagement and organic reach is certain for marketers with great content.

Social media expert:

"The social media algorithms will always favor people. It's time to wake up to this fact and be the first in your industry to craft a radically different people-first social media strategy that is driven by the voice of your employees, customers, and influencers.

Influencer marketing often has a negative connotation associated with it, but as I wrote in The Age of Influence, influencer marketing is about embracing the nano influencers and above who already have brand affinity for you, and finding ways to collaborate and include people who love your company as an essential component of your digital marketing."

Neal Schaffer, President, PDCA Social

Learn about strategic influencer relationship management with the Influencer marketing module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Core Module
Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing

Part of the Content marketing Toolkit

Learn how to improve your process of influencer relationship management

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Social media trend: Diversification

We can't talk about 2021 social media trends without acknowledging the huge shake-up of social platforms we've witnessed this year. TikTok, peaking in March 2020 with almost 76 million downloads, has pioneered a new approach to social engagement.

Tiktok is a popular short-form video sharing social platform where celebrity and amateur creators alike share user-generated content from dance, cooking demos and makeovers to animal videos and social media challenges! This content is proving extremely popular with the audience base of Tiktok, of which 41% are aged 16-24.

TikTok trend global social media downloads

Later, in August, Instagram rolled out its Reels, offering influencers, brands and fans alike the opportunity to create short 15 second videos. We took a look at our favourites.

Unlike TikTok, Instagram already has a huge following, with over a billion users. The platform's largest demograpic group is aged 25-34, making up nearly 34% of Instagram users, but undeniably Instagram's presence can be felt amongst many age groups.

Instagram trends age demographic

Dmitrii was right to highlight diversification as a trend for 2021. In fact, new research published in February 2021 highlights 11 online platforms and apps used by more than 10% of US adults. Interestingly TikTok, now #9, is used by more than a fifth of responders.

Social media trends diversification 2021

But what does this mean for your marketing strategy? This year, the goalposts have moved, which means you need to reconsider your social media platform content strategy in the second half of 2021.

Social media trend:

"COVID has impacted the lives of every audience, every age group, and users spend more time than ever online, on social media specifically. There are limited ways to reach users in the real world, so, in order to catch up, every channel has to be utilized.

Companies will be (and already are) investing into social media platforms they stayed away from previously, be it the new sensation TikTok, somewhat stale Facebook, or any other previously unexplored platform."

Dmitrii Kustov, Internet Marketing Director, Regex SEO

Dmitrii is an entrepreneur and founder of Regex SEO, where we develop successful custom marketing campaigns for companies large and small, including Tulsa Federal Credit Union, United Salt Corporation, Dignity Memorial, and more.

Dmitri Kustov

Learn how to structure a social media strategy to achieve your goals with the Create a social media strategy module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Core Module
Create a social media strategy

Create a social media strategy

Part of the Social media marketing Toolkit

Learn how to structure a social media strategy and translate it into practical actions to improve your goals

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Social media trend: Live social media

Live social media has soared in terms of its uptake this year, and it's not difficult to pinpoint that growth to a particular period earlier this year. Using live streaming to fill the physical void had become the new normal for so many consumers, but how are marketers using this opportunity to meet their customers live online?

US Streaming live social media

Buffer lists 5 ideas for live content which will boost your live offering and delight your audience.

  1. Office hours / Q&A sessions
  2. Launches and announcements
  3. Take people behind-the-scenes
  4. Interviews, collaborations and takeovers
  5. Experimental content

Many marketers who previously relied on events marketing have gone back to the drawing board this year. Embracing live social media innovation has enabled them to achieve their goals in a completely different way!

Social media expert:

"I work with aesthetic clinics both in the UK and US who carry out procedures such as Botox, laser hair removal, and body sculpting. A major way in which these clinics generate revenue is through open days where patients get to see live demos of new treatment and are able to book the treatment there and then, often at a discounted price. With COVID however, such events are no longer feasible and are unlikely to be for the foreseeable future.

However, the industry has been fast to adapt and has gone virtual. Instagram live has proven to be the ideal platform, enabling housebound audiences to attend virtual demos whilst giving them the functionality to interact through asking questions and posting comments.

An unintended consequence of COVID is that live social media has attracted audiences who otherwise struggled to find the time to attend live events that can take place at lunchtime or just after work. Live social media is not a new concept, but it has taken until now for many businesses to realize its potential."

Danny Bermant, Director, Brainstorm Digital

With two decades’ experience in digital marketing, Danny is one of the UK’s top social media experts. He speaks frequently at conferences, trade events and seminars on how to utilise social media for customer acquisition.


Danny Bermant


Learn different options to support your continuous professional development and give your business an edge with the Learn the latest social media developments module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Advanced Module
Learn the latest social media developments

Learn the latest social media developments

Part of the Social media marketing Toolkit

Learn different options to support your continuous professional development and give your business an edge by keeping up-to-date with social media developments

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Social media trend: Social content for good

A growing focus on political, environmental, and social issues throughout the year means increased social media conversations about the issues close to your customers' hearts.

Reaching the tipping point, Merkle's Q4 2020 Media Insights Report found that 56% of consumers say they have no respect for businesses that remain silent on important issues. So now's the time to leverage your social platform to inform and reassure your customers.

Social media expert:

"In 2021, consumers will be looking for more meaningful content that they can share to educate others. Brands that have a defined opinion on equality or feminism, but don’t do anything about it, will be criticized for their lack of action. Consumers will be expecting a more human approach from brands.

Brand giants such as Nike, Disney and Ben & Jerry’s have already shared educational content around the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the Covid-19 pandemic. Many brands are actively talking about sustainability and how we can do our bit.

Brands are using their incredible reach to inform and educate users, spreading positive messages whilst welcoming interaction and engagement with customers."

Maisie Tomlinson, Digital Marketing Coordinator, Penguins Events and Incentives

Social media strategist Maisie is a Digital Marketing Coordinator at Penguins Events and Incentives and the Founder of Plug, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.


Learn how to leverage social listening for reputation management and market research with the Social listening module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Core Module
Social listening

Social listening

Part of the Social media marketing Toolkit

Learn what’s involved with social listening including techniques and recommended tools

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Social media trend: Social commerce

87% of e-commerce shoppers believe social media helps them make a shopping decision and with half the world’s population on social media, social commerce is the next logical step for online shopping.

Data from the US Department of Commerce, shared by Sprout Social, demonstrates social media's share of total US retail sales rocketing up in 2020, and this trend is set to continue.

Ecommerce social sales

Since publishing our trends in January, eMarketer has forecast steep growth for US social commerce buyers in 2021 - 2023. This forecast is a new addition to the trends blog, and, importantly, it shows that it's not too late for e-commerce marketers to step up their social commerce strategy. You can find our recommended Learning Path below.

Social commerce growth

Social media expert:

"Social commerce is not a new concept, but with the development of Pinterest catalogues, Facebook and Instagram shops alongside increasing online shopping behaviour during the Pandemic, 2021 is the perfect time for social e-commerce to flourish. It’s easy, functional and streamlined.

Infiltrating social media, where consumers spend a large chunk of their day, improves the shopping experience, and shortens the process. As humans we’re always looking for simpler ways to get what we want.

Brands want to convert customers as soon as possible, therefore why waste time sending
them to your website, for them potentially leave because of user experience issues. Reduce drop-offs by selling directly from your social media post. Marketers will want to focus more on their social media reach, engagement and the effectiveness; evolution is necessary if you want to survive in 2021."

Maisie Tomlinson, Digital Marketing Coordinator for Penguins Events and Incentives

Learn how to structure your social media marketing to gain increased impact for your marketing campaigns with the Using social media to support marketing campaigns module in our Social Media Marketing Learning Path.

Core Module
Use social media to support a marketing campaign

Use social media to support a marketing campaign

Part of the Social media marketing Toolkit

Learn how different email types and targeting can be used to maximize the impact of a campaign

Learn More

Social media trends 2021

These SMM trends have kindly been contributed by our social media experts. I've found it fascinating being able to delve into each trend to see the numerous opportunities they present for social media marketers globally. You can find out more about how to create a winning digital marketing strategy for 2021 using our brand new Business Member Learning Paths below.

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Author's avatar

By Gabrielle Wright

Gabrielle Wright is the Smart Insights blog editor, managing the company's SEO and social media strategies. With specialisms in marketing for the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry, financial services, manufacturing, IT/high tech, brands and e-commerce, Gabrielle can generally be found in her home office in Sandiacre, with a cup of tea, reading and writing about marketing theory and its practical application in the global economy! You can connect with Gabrielle on LinkedIn.

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