Key Social Media Trends for Global Brands in 2021



2020 was undoubtedly the year of disruption. Thanks to COVID-19, social media adoption accelerated and shifted online consumption behavior. Due to pandemic lockdowns, we relied on social media to express ourselves and feel connected. More than ever, we turned online for alternative forms of home entertainment and shopping, leading to the inception of key social media trends for 2021.

This article will examine the key social media trends and developments that are on the upswing as we transition into 2021. From the rising tide of social commerce to ephemeral content and video formats opening new doors, these are some key trends that businesses should capitalize on when developing their upcoming short-term and long-run social media strategies.

Livestreaming continues to dominate; branches into live shopping

Videos have now become the dominant form of content across digital platforms. Nowhere is this more apparent than in livestreaming: in China, the overall size of livestreaming ecommerce is predicted to reach RMB 2 trillion (US$309 billion) this year (PanDaily).

Livestreaming is the most engaging and dynamic marketing tool currently available. A primary advantage of live video is that your community gets notified when you go live. This has been proven to lead to more engagement – for instance, Facebook Live videos get six times more engagement than pre-recorded ones.

Meanwhile, in China, livestreaming audiences reached over half a billion last year (the number accounts for 62% of the country’s total number of Internet users). The best part: if businesses are looking to connect with their customers in real-time, this video format is also one of the most cost-effective in terms of production, requiring no expensive video equipment and no post-production or editing.

That said, bear in mind that high-quality livestreaming requires planning. A social media livestream is comparable to a play, complete with staging and rehearsal, and details have to be planned out to create a seamless and high-quality experience for your audience.

This digital marketing niche has also evolved into live shopping. Livestreaming can be complemented with a social shopping experience on another platform – WhatsApp, for example. Consumer expectations from this channel are different from brick-and-mortar or ecommerce purchasing experiences. They are looking for a frictionless, one-stop click and purchase shopping experience.

Thus, brands need to deliver immediate and unique advantages through a simple purchase journey. The Livestream → WhatsApp → Payment route can be kept as simple as possible via the various mobile payment and digital wallet solutions available today, like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or PayMe in Hong Kong.

Social commerce features will continue to evolve

Since modern customers have been pushed to become predominantly digital shoppers, the growth of social commerce features on powerful platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and WhatsApp have rapidly accelerated. This is also apparent across massive Chinese platforms like WeChat, Douyin, and Red, also known as Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), which was described by EqualOcean as “An Instagram-like Social Media Platform with An Amazon-like Marketplace.”

It is also likely that we’ll see a race for swift functional upgrades, dominated by Chinese platforms, on the social commerce battlefield in 2021. This is a continuation of new features introduced in 2020 and preceding years.

WeChat mini-programs are one example of this. They gave merchants new opportunities during the pandemic. As of August 2020, the gross merchandise value (GMV) of products sold through WeChat mini programs has increased 115% year-on-year, and the GMV of branded merchants on mini programs has risen 210% year-on-year.

Owing to these changes, social commerce in China already offers much higher conversion rates than those on Western platforms, in spite of the introduction of new features like Instagram Shopping.  To put that into perspective, social commerce makes up 11.6% of retail ecommerce sales (Jing Daily), which totalled $186.04 billion (RMB 1.285 trillion) in 2019, according to eMarketer. This mind-blowing sales number is about ten times more than the number of sales in the U.S. – a paltry $19.42 billion in 2019.

Reshaping social analytics

With businesses investing even more in digital and social media, ‘social listening’ – data analysis and insight generation to refine social media strategies – is even more important. This is needed for brands to holistically picture their marketing strategy and better evaluate their brand presence, and goes beyond other notable metrics like follower numbers, mentions, and engagement.

Notably, in the future, social media data from diverse social media ecosystems will enter onto a centralized database for businesses to harness. This is because more U.S.-based analytics platforms are acquiring or forming strategic partnerships with Chinese analytics platforms. For instance, Parklu, a Chinese influencer marketing platform, is being acquired by Launchmetrics, a New York-founded cloud-based brand performance company for fashion, luxury, and beauty.

The growing Gen Z influencer market

Gen Z, the cohort born between 1996 and 2010, is unique because it was the first generation to grow up hyperconnected. In 2020, Gen Z’s influencer market share for sponsored posts increased by 9% – the only age demographic to grow in 2020, with the most significant growth happening on TikTok.

According to data from Klear (a big data search engine for influencers), Gen Z is currently the highest-earning and the most in-demand demographic across all platforms, and onTikTok in particular. For instance, Addison Rae (20-years-old) and Charli D’Amelio (16-years-old) have gained immense popularity and became the highest-earning influencers on the platform in 2020.

In 2021, it is expected that more and more brands will engage with Gen Z and create engaging and authentic content to penetrate this rising consumer segment.

Key takeaways for businesses:

  • Leveraging social media retargeting power is an effective way for businesses to protect and retain their current audience. It requires minimal advertising investment since it optimizes advertising performance by reaching a brand’s existing and look-alike audience.
  • Clear direction, strategy, and goals definition according to marketing channels and regional market are critical. Every dollar matters. It’s important to take time to review what has been achieved and which social media recovery scenario should be considered. Focus marketing efforts on one or two key channels rather than all at once.
  • In the short term, to drive quick conversion, create exclusive and exceptional pieces of content to capture eyeballs, using resources such as live videos, AR filters, or micro-influencers. Combine these with ecommerce-oriented functions for a seamless check-out experience and higher sales conversions.
  • In the long run, be prepared to develop more advanced and localized social media expertise to overcome regional barriers and navigate cultural and technological codes accurately.

About the Author

Joyce is Digital Content Manager at Digital Business Lab. She is a huge believer in loving what you do. Championing a business’ story energizes her. As a digital enthusiast, she has had opportunities to manage digital projects for some of the most amazing global corporations. There is nothing more satisfying to her than making a business shine and growing talent by playing digital cupid with its audiences. Digital Business Lab is a digital marketing agency specializing in deep insights and strategies in the APAC social media landscape.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.


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