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2021's Most Important Social Media Trends

This report will examine the top seven social media trends projected to dominate the field in 2021 and beyond.

Social media continues to play a prominent role in people’s lives. As of 2021, there are approximately 4.2 billion social media users around the world (up from 2.5 billion users in 2017).

In the coming years, social media use is projected to continue to grow and evolve to reflect changing user preferences).

1. Social Media As A Shopping Platform

As shopping became more virtual during the pandemic, social media platforms became an increasingly popular shopping outlet.

Number of social commerce buyers in the US has increased by 25.2%, reaching over 80 million. And forecasted to exceed over 100 million by 2023. 

As many as 18% of US consumers hit a “buy” button on a social media platform in 2020, compared to 13% in 2019.

As many as 16% of US consumers purchased something from a shoppable social media story in 2020, compared to 12% in 2019.

Younger people are more likely to shop on social media platforms.

Approximately 37% of shoppers ages 15-22 used the “buy” button on social media, and 30% purchased something from a shoppable social media story.

Instagram is one of the most popular social commerce outlets. As many as 70% of consumers look to Instagram to discover a product, and approximately 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business page.

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Searches for Instagram shopping increased 110% over the past five years.

However, Facebook leads the way as a top choice for social commerce. In 2020, Facebook added Facebook Shops to its range of shopping tools, which include Facebook Marketplace and shoppable ads. Facebook Shops allows users to create a single online store that is shoppable from Facebook or Instagram.

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Online searches for Facebook Marketplace increased 295% in the past two years.

Other social media platforms are projected to enter the playing field in the future. For example, at the end of 2019, TikTok started experimenting with product links.

As the social commerce space expands, social media platforms are likely to adapt features that make shopping easier for users.

For example, in 2019, Instagram introduced Instagram Checkout, which allows users to shop from the platform without having to go to a third-party site.

Social media platforms are also likely to introduce features to allow for easier conversational marketing. For example, Facebook Messenger enables over 2 billion messages to be exchanged monthly between consumers and businesses.

Facebook Shops enables consumers to contact businesses via Messenger, WhatsApp, or Instagram Direct and to make purchases directly from these chats.

Consumers are becoming more reliant on these features. An estimated 33% of consumers prefer to have a customer service interaction on social media versus the phone or email. About 42% of users who submit a customer service request on social media expect a response within an hour.

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Searches for conversational marketing increased by 37% in the last year.

2. Social Media’s Relevance Continues to Grow

More than 72% of Americans were on social media by the end of 2020, a 4.3% increase from the year before. Social media use in Canada is even higher, with over 84% of Canadians on social media.

Not only is the number of social media users growing, the amount of time that users are spending on social media platforms is growing too.

On average, people spent about 145 minutes on social media every day. This is about one hour longer than people were spending on social media in 2012.

Overall, social media usage went up 21% globally during the pandemic.

The world’s growing dependence on social media has fueled calls to disconnect and initiatives to reduce social media reliance, like National Day of Unplugging and Digital Minimalism. However, these campaigns are unlikely to reverse social media’s upward trajectory in the near-term.

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Online searches for social media marketing have increased by 58% over the past five years.

3. Facebook Remains on Top For Now

Facebook remained the most used social media platform in the world in 2020, followed by YouTube.

Instagram and TikTok were the fifth and seventh most popular platforms in the world.

Despite some negative press coverage, Facebook’s growth is not letting up. The platform currently has about 1.845 billion daily users and had about 23 billion total visitors in January 2021. The average user spends about 58 minutes on Facebook each day.

The average YouTube user on the other hand spends about 40 minutes using the platform. YouTube has an estimated 30 million daily users and had about 33 billion total visitors in January 2021.

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Searches for YouTube have seen a slight 3% decline in the past year despite the platform’s persistent popularity.

Instagram has 500 million active daily users and had almost 6 billion total visitors in January 2021. The average user spends around 53 minutes on Instagram.

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Google searches for Instagram have remained on an upward trajectory and have grown 91% in the past five years.

The average TikTok user spends approximately 52 minutes on the app daily, while some younger users spend on average 80 minutes on the app daily.

There is no shortage of new social media platforms being launched each year. Clubhouse, an invitation-only social network based on audio chats, has received widespread attention since it launched in 2020.

Despite the success of some new platforms, like Clubhouse, the major players outlined above are expected to continue to dominate the market in the coming years.

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Online searches for the Clubhouse app increased by 9,100% since late 2020.

4. Shorter Attention Spans Demand Bite-Sized Content

While people are spending more time on social media, they are spending less time engaging with individual posts.

Studies suggest that the attention span of the average person today is 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds 20 years ago.

People who access social media content on their computer tend to spend slightly more time on each piece of content than those on mobile devices.

For instance, people who accessed Facebook from their computer spent on average 2.5 seconds on a piece of content. While those who accessed Facebook from their phones spent 1.7 seconds on the same content.

Social media sites are adjusting to this by increasingly offering bite-size content options such as short-form videos and ephemeral or disappearing content.

In 2020, Twitter introduced Fleets, a feature similar to Instagram Stories. Fleets allows users to post messages and short videos that disappear after 24 hours. Though Fleets has only been around for a few months, initial feedback seems to suggest that it boosts user engagement.

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Online searches for ephemeral content have fluctuated significantly but have seen an overall 39% increase in the past year.

5. Proliferation of Short-Form Videos

By now, it is generally recognized that video posts perform better than static photo posts on social media.

In some cases, Instagram videos received twice as much engagement as photo posts.

According to one study, as much as 82% of online content will consist of videos by 2022.

TikTok is a social media platform that is dedicated to short-form videos. In the first three months of 2020, TikTok was downloaded 315 million times around the world, setting a record for quarterly downloads by any app.

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Searches for TikTok saw a jump of 426% in the past two years.

Other social media companies are creating more options for short-form video posts.

To compete with TikTok, Instagram launched Instagram Reels in 2020. Reels allows users to record and post videos up to 30 seconds in length. This is on top of Instagram’s two other video options, IGTV and Stories.

The NBA franchise found that engagement with their Instagram Reel posts was in some cases twice as high as with their regular video posts.

Instagram stories chart.png
Although they did not keep up with TikTok search numbers, online searches for Instagram Stories still saw a 60% increase in the past two years.

YouTube also rolled out a new feature in 2020, YouTube Shorts, as a TikTok and Instagram Reels competitor. YouTube Shorts allows users to post 15-second videos. Though it is in its infancy, YouTube Shorts is already getting 3.5 billion views daily worldwide.

While short-form video options are growing, longer videos are not going anywhere just yet.

As more people shifted online during the pandemic, live streams were increasingly used to host public events and meetings. The live streaming industry grew by 99 percent in 2020, and is expected to continue growing in 2021.

The most popular live streaming platform of 2020 was Twitch, which grew 50% from March to April alone and 101% over the year. Users are spending approximately 1.645 billion hours watching videos on the platform per month.

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Online searches for Twitch increased 85% over the past two years.

6. More Augmented Reality Options

The Augmented Reality (AR) market is still in its infancy but is projected to gain momentum in the coming years.

Approximately 48% of consumers are projected to use AR in some form by the end of 2021.

AR is expected to become more mainstream as cell networks become stronger and faster. By 2023, the AR market is projected to be generating $70-$75 billion in annual revenue.

Social media platforms are getting in on the trend early. AR has been incorporated into Instagram filters since 2017. In 2019, Instagram stepped up the AR game even further with an option for users to create their own filters.

Usage statistics suggest that filters can quadruple the engagement time of videos. User engagement with filters is approximately 75 seconds, driving brands to roll out their own filters that followers can interact with on social media.

Social media platforms and businesses are sure to find other ways to incorporate AR into the mainstream. The number of apps that feature AR is likely to increase in the coming years. Pokemon Go, which has been downloaded more than one billion times, was likely just the beginning.

Facebook is also set to launch its AR glasses sometime this year, with the goal of allowing people to more easily record memories without the distraction of a phone.

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Searches for augmented reality are on an upward trajectory and have seen a 19% increase over the last two years.

7. Growing Utilization of User Generated Content

Businesses are increasingly incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into their social media marketing strategies.

Brands that incorporate UGC have a 20% increase in return visitors and a 90% increase in the time that consumers are spending on their websites. UGC images are also 81% more likely to convert.

There are several upsides to UGC for businesses, including that it is cheaper than traditional advertising, more relatable, and can help brands to be perceived as more authentic and socially conscious.

Authenticity is increasingly important to consumers. Approximately 90 percent of consumers in 2019 reported that authenticity played a factor in their shopping decisions, up from 86 percent in 2017.

Consumers are 2.4 times more likely to find UGC more authentic than traditional branding. Approximately 92% of consumers report that they trust UGC more than any other type of marketing content.

UGC is thriving on Facebook and Instagram, which may lead other social media platforms to incorporate UGC in the future. Approximately 78% of marketing companies find Facebook to be an effective marketing tool, and 70% find Instagram to be an effective marketing tool.

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Online searches of UGC peaked, despite a 36% increase over the past two years.

Conclusion

Social media usage is expected to remain on an upward trajectory in the coming years. Social media giants, like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, probably aren't going anywhere, despite emerging competition.

New features, such as ephemeral content, short-form videos, and AR, are ensuring that users stay glued to these top social media platforms for longer periods of time each day.

Growing engagement is projected to continue to fuel social commerce and generate revenue for businesses. As a result, companies are expected to look for more ways to entice consumers and make shopping on social media more convenient than ever.

Last Updated: 
February 10, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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