by on July 13, 2023

By Karen O’Brien, Trufan CMO

To say that 2020 has been an interesting year would be an understatement. So much has happened this year it’s hard to keep track of it all. Of course, we have the global pandemic, the protests for racial equality, and the election to name a few. These events and many more have impacted marketing this year and will continue to impact us well into 2021. With this year nearing its end, I wanted to take a look at some predictions for social media marketing in 2021.

1. Diversified Social Channels and Ad Spend

In July of this year, many companies participated in a boycott of Facebook, pausing all spending on the platform in order to pressure the social media giant to better manage hate speech and misinformation on their platform. This wasn’t just small companies either, we saw many large companies stop advertising on Facebook including Verizon, Unilever, and Starbucks just to name a few. A lot of the big brands that boycotted are back on the platform but spending far less. According to Fortune, prior to July — Microsoft was one of Facebook’s largest advertisers and cut their budget to “nearly nothing” during the third quarter.

What could brands pulling ad spend from Facebook mean? We’ve already started to see marketers diversify their social media buying strategy and increase their marketing budgets on platforms like Pinterest, Snap, YouTube, Reddit, and TikTok and I predict this trend will only get stronger in 2021. As brands experiment with new strategies on these social platforms and see positive returns they will continue to reach their audiences on new platforms.

2. Paid Media Coming In House

When the coronavirus spread across the globe we saw companies around the world find ways to cut marketing costs to save money during these uncertain times. Paid media budgets were slashed, influencer marketing spending rolled back, unfortunately, layoffs in some cases, and many more ways of reducing costs. While a lot of advertising budgets have returned to where they were (if not higher for digital) — brands are still looking for ways to cut costs. An obvious one to me? Bringing media planning and strategy in-house and working with small, boutique agency partners on execution.

The days of brands working with large media agencies and having less transparency into their media spend are behind us. Over the past few years, some brands have been experimenting with building paid media in house or hybrid models. With many companies going remote, the talent pool just increased exponentially and brands can find some of the best media talent around the globe, pay them well, have a dedicated team working in-house, and work with focused smaller specialized agency partners. In the process, brands will build increased transparency of performance and have more control over making shifts in spend or allocation as needed.

3. A Focus on First-Party Data

For a long time, brands have been collecting their data from a variety of advertising and digital sources. However, I think brands will grow weary of having limited data from walled gardens and seek more transparency with the data they collect and focus on gathering their own first-party audience data.

Not only is first-party audience data the most reliable data available to you, but it is also the least expensive to collect and allows you to gain unique audience insights and it’s actionable in endless ways. On top of that, with rising privacy concerns, platforms have become increasingly strict on the data they are willing to share therefore making it harder and harder to come by second and third party data.

With access to outside data decreasing and the desire for a more holistic view of their marketing (and not from a single point of truth), marketers will start to prioritize the collection of first-party audience data more than they ever have in 2021.

Trufan’s CEO Swish Goswami wrote a great piece on the importance of first-party data, you can read it here.

4. The Rise of the Social Media Manager

I’ve been working in social media since the early 2000s, I’ve watched it change and evolve for many years and one thing that has not changed is an under-appreciation for social media managers, community managers, and social teams.

There’s a misconception that social media managers just get “paid to tweet” and I assure you that could not be farther from the truth. Social media managers have an extremely stressful job and unlike most people, they don’t really get the opportunity to log off. They are the face of your brand, the feedback loop to marketing, sales, and product, and are expected to prioritize, engage and respond to thousands of customers, publish content, monitor advertising, and report on it — often across multiple platforms and increasingly in multiple languages. Search “social media manager” on Twitter and you’ll see that Twitter is a place for group support for social media managers. No article has summarized it better than “What Your Social Media Manager/Team Wants You to Know” by Chelsea Bradley.

In 2021 I predict that brands are going to see the Social Media Managers rise up and they will need to start giving the social media team a seat at the table, the respect they deserve or deal with the rising angst and frustration from the team responsible for the most direct line of communication between your customers and your business.

5. Virtual Influencers

To some, virtual influencers may seem ridiculous. “People follow an animated person on social media? Why don’t they just follow real people instead?”

While I can understand that point of view, virtual influencers are not only here to stay but they’re going to become more and more prominent. According to a Hype Auditor report “virtual Influencers have almost three times more engagement than real influencers. That means that customers are more engaged with virtual influencers content.” On top of getting more engagement, you are in complete control of your virtual influencers. You never have to worry about them burning out or going on hiatus, they will never get into a controversy, and you can customize them perfectly to your target audience. If you can understand the interests of your targeted demographic, you can create the perfect “human” for that audience which can lend itself to the fact that virtual influencers get higher engagement, can virtual influencers create authentic yet on-brand content? That remains to be seen.

We’ve seen some people create virtual influencers independently and we’ve also seen brands themselves launch virtual influencers such as KFC launching a chic Colonel Sanders on their Instagram.

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