There’s no denying that social media is bigger than ever before as more people flock to the most popular platforms, becoming more creative with what they share and becoming more selective with what they’re engaging with. This puts us in an ideal position to predict the most important social trends of 2021.

The number of social media users has risen year on year, and this trend is forecasted to continue. In 2020, over 3.6 billion people were using social media worldwide. In 2021, we’re predicting this figure will rise to about 3.8 billion.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic caused many of us to spend more time glued to social media. With lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, the time we’ve had to scroll through socials and engage with others online has increased. Being stuck at home and unable to meet up with family and friends pushed us to our socials more in order to connect. According to Global Web Index, 43% of consumers admit to logging in to their social media channels for longer because of the pandemic.

But it’s not just the rise in users that’s changed the social media game over the past 12 months, it’s the way we’re using each of the major platforms. Users want authenticity, meaningful connection and entertaining content more than they did before. What’s more, with the continual lockdown closures of shops, restaurants, beauty salons, gyms etc. businesses have had to adapt to meet their customers where they’re able to – on social media.

So, we know that more consumers are on social, more brands are on social, and the way we’re navigating the platforms has changed. We also know that this change is here for the long haul, so businesses who fail to adapt will struggle to keep up.

“There are going to be two types of companies that come out of this: Companies that are leaning into the changes that are happening now – online marketing, inside selling. And then there are companies that are just trying to get back to 2019. I think the future, 2022, looks a lot more like today than 2019.”

Brian Halligan, Co-Founder & CEO, Hubspot

With that in mind, we’re going to take you through our thoughts on what social media marketing trends to expect in 2021. What do you need to think about in your social strategy this year to connect with your audience, build you reach and enhance your brand’s sentiment? Let’s get into it.

Social Media Marketing Trends 2021

1. Be reactive

2. Incorporate video

3. Be accessible

4. Optimise your bio

5. Stay on top of new features

6. Take advantage of social shopping

7. Prioritise content value over production value

8. Focus on user generated content


1. Be reactive

In 2020, we saw more and more brands being reactive in a bid to stay relevant and meet the new needs of consumers as the pandemic shook up the world. Going to the gym became working out at home. Going to a bar became making cocktails in your kitchen. Going to the hairdressers became forcing your housemate to trim your hair. The world shifted.

Failure to adapt to the new normal meant losing relevancy and, more importantly, losing touch with your audience.

Online fashion retailer, ASOS, started an IGTV series on Instagram with the hashtag #AtHomeWithASOS. The videos featured models and ASOS insiders showing their favourite ASOS pieces to style at home. Now, the hashtag is utilised amongst ASOS’s loyal community to share outfits and fashion inspiration. This connects the ASOS community and generates some great pieces of user-generated content for the brand.

The Botanist, the popular bar and restaurant found throughout the UK and renowned for its delicious cocktails, hosted digital cocktail making masterclasses on IGTV. Not only were their audience able to learn how to make a great cocktail to enjoy, it also provided a fun activity to fill the time at home.

A screengrab of The Botanist's Instagram IGTVs. The videos feature one of their bartenders showing followers how to make their own cocktails at the start of the first UK lockdown. This is a great example of reactive social media marketing, a social trend for 2021 and beyond.

Another great example is from fitness entrepreneur and influencer, Joe Wicks. Joe, known for his at home work out videos, healthy meals and fitness plans, adapted his social media content at the start of the first lockdown. With schools around the country closed, Joe started a ‘PE with Joe’ campaign where he became the nation’s PE teacher. He upped his at-home workout videos on YouTube to five days a week and made the workouts kid-friendly. This campaign resonated with his audience as it enabled kids to keep active when their usual sport activities would have been called off, and it helped parents manage the new home-schooling challenge.

So, one of the social media trends in 2021 is to be reactive and adapt your content in order to, you guessed it, keep on top of the social media trends in 2021!

2. Incorporate video

According to HubSpot, 86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool, 93% of marketers who use video say it’s an important part of their marketing strategy, and 87% of video marketers said that video gives them a positive ROI. 

Just by scrolling through your own social media feeds, you’ll see that video content is on the rise and will continue to be a stand-out social trend in 2021. TikTok – a video only platform – took off globally in 2020, with almost 115 million downloads in March 2020. Similarly, Instagram introduced their latest video feature, Reels, in 2020 after launching IGTVs in 2018. Facebook videos receive up to 8 billion views per day and YouTube has 2 billion users worldwide. Long story short…video is huge.

Video content is so powerful because its engaging and easy to consume. It also helps to give brands more character, making them more personable and human in a way that still images and text sometimes can’t. What’s more, there’s a lot of content that lends itself nicely to video, like tutorials.

And one of the best things about video is that, nowadays, video content is so accessible to produce. Smart phone cameras rival digital cameras, free editing apps are a plenty, and step-by-step tutorials are easy to find online. Lockdown forced many big brands to take down the production level of their video content and make it more rough and ready which, on the whole, people liked. It was more relatable, more relevant and felt more instant. (More on this later!)

“Nothing builds a brand like emotion, and nothing drives emotion like video.”

Mark Howe, Managing Director of EMEA Agencies, Google

A chef films himself baking using a smartphone and a tripod.

3. Be accessible

In 2021, there is no excuse for not making your content accessible. When it comes to being inclusive, consumers are expecting more from brands than ever before – and quite right, too.

Making your social media content accessible is something that every brand can do. From keeping your alt text updated on Instagram posts to including easy-to-read closed captions on TikTok videos, there are easy things you can do to make your content accessible for those with sight or hearing impairments.

Alt text in particular can also benefit your SEO. If you can feature relevant keywords in your social media post’s alt text, this will improve your SEO. Of course, this should only be done in a natural and helpful way that prioritises the needs of the user ahead of the search engine.

Not only is providing accessible content the right thing to do, but it will also enable you to reach a wider audience and connect with potential consumers who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access and enjoy your posts.

And, just to be clear, accessibility is by no means just a trend. Accessibility should be a requirement for brands on social, and you should dedicate the time and resources to do this in 2021 and beyond.

4. Optimise Your Bio

Social media bios are often overlooked when it comes to improving your social media strategy. Social media sites function like search engines – for example, in 2020, Instagram announced users in six countries could search the platform using keywords rather than just hashtags. Likewise, relevant keywords will appear at the top of the search results page if you need to refine your search further.

Therefore, its crucial to consider keywords when optimising your social media bios. This could be the name of your industry, like women’s wigs, or the service you provide, like personal training.

Also, think about how your bio is often the first thing people see when they come to your profile. How does your bio show off your brand and it’s personality? Personalising your social profiles can be achieved through choosing a high-quality profile picture and an engaging description. And, if relevant, don’t forget to include a link to your website and details on how people can contact you.

Top Tip: Even if your business name doesn’t explicitly state what industry you’re in or what product or services you provide, make sure your social media handles do. For example, Zelst’s Instagram handle is @zelstdigital to tell Instagram and its users that we are a digital marketing business.

5. Stay on top of new features

The social media landscape is continuously changing and evolving – trends come and go, and social media platforms bring in new features every year.

As a business, it’s a good idea to keep up with these new features and consider if and how they would work with your content. If you can be quick to jump on new features, you’re showing your audience that you’re here to provide them with the most relevant and up-to-date content.

When a new feature is launched, there is undeniably less competition in that space than there will be in the months or weeks to come. And, as it’s much easier to stand out in an uncrowded space, you should take advantage of this.

Social media companies also push their newest features in a bid to encourage usage. Social platforms want their users to become familiar with the latest updates as quickly as possible. So, if you can get involved by creating content for these new features, social media platforms are likely to organically push your content more heavily. Everybody wins.

Take Instagram as an example – Reels was launched in 2020 to directly compete with TikTok. Now, Reels take front and centre on Instagram as you can access them with the tap of one, centralised button. You can see this in the image below.

A screenshot of Zelst's Instagram profile, highlighting the centralised Reels tab.

6. Take advantage of social shopping 

Social commerce has been creeping into our social media feeds over the past few years. With paid ads on every major social platform, a rapidly growing number of social influencers and being able to tag products on Facebook and Instagram, it’s clear that the worlds of ecommerce and social media have been gradually intertwining for a while.

With the lockdown, thousands of businesses were forced to focus all of their efforts into online shopping. Businesses set up social media profiles, or started investing more time into their existing ones, to meet their audience online. This shift has cemented social shopping as a social media marketing trend for 2021.

We know that, when done properly, social media is a great way to connect with customers on their buyer journey and increase conversions. According to Sprout Social, after following a brand on social media:

  • 91% will visit the brand’s website or app
  • 89% will buy from the brand
  • 85% will recommend the brand to a family member or friend

During lockdown, we had to do our non-essential shopping online and we had more time to do it. Social media platforms noticed this, and introduced more ways for businesses to sell and consumers to shop directly through social media.

Last year, Pinterest integrated more shopping features into the platform. UK pinners can now make purchases within a home or fashion pin directly from a shop tab. Likewise, its visual search tool allows users to upload a photo of a product in order to search for similar alternatives that are available to shop directly through Pinterest. So, if you’re not yet using Pinterest for business, have a think about whether these features could benefit your business and your sales.

What’s more, with 9.9 million jobs furloughed in the UK (as of December 2020) and redundancies at record levels, a considerable number of people who were (in some capacity) out of work took to social media to set up small businesses of their own.

We’ve seen homemade candles, postal brownies, custom prints and so much more. Social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, were already well-positioned to help individuals set up new businesses and last year they made it even easier. Not only did they create a ‘Support Small Businesses’ Story sticker to help businesses connect with more people but now they’ve replaced their activity tab with a shopping tab.

YouGov also found that 64% of people wanted to support local businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic. This often means shopping small, and social media is a great tool that helps consumers find small, local businesses to support when physical stores are closed.

Top Tip: If you’re a local business, optimise your social media profiles for local SEO by including the name of the city, town or region you’re based in.

So, in 2021, as we continue to feel the affects of the pandemic, we can predict that social shopping is here to stay.

A lady purchases something on her smartphone, potentially through a social media app. This is known as social shopping, and is one of they key social media trends for 2021.

7. Prioritise content value over production value

In recent years, there has been a tussle on social between more casual, ‘authentic’ content and content that has impressive production value. Polished visuals are perhaps more eye-catching, yet casual content is perhaps more engaging. However, knowing what works best for your business and your brand is entirely dependent on your audience, industry and your social goals.

Expecting casual, off-the-cuff content from influencers has always been normal and well-received. Last year, however, what we saw was an increase in company social accounts sharing more relaxed, casual content.

Initially, this stemmed from the shut-down of non-essential business in the UK which included professional photo or video shoots for non-essential product promotion. Brands were forced into producing content filmed at the homes of their employees or their influencer / model contacts.

They quickly realised that it’s possible to create highly engaging content without fancy equipment or perfect studio set-ups. Content with lower production value tends to be more ‘human’, which is a primary goal for many businesses on social, and more relatable, especially as audiences were primarily stuck at home, too.

A great example on social media is GHD – the global business renowned for their hair styling products. Pre-pandemic, their video content on Instagram primarily featured models having their hair done in studios. Post-pandemic, their video content primarily features models, influencers and hair stylists styling their own hair in their living rooms.

A side-by-side of a selection of GHD's IGTVs from mid-2019 and mid-2020. The IGTVs pre-pandemic feature models in studios. The IGTVs post-pandemic feature influencers and stylists using GHD products at home. This type of lower-value production will continue to be a social media trend in 2021.

And this went beyond social media, too. We saw ASOS models taking mirror pictures at home to serve as product images on the website. We saw Holly Willoughby and Davina McCall dye their own hair at home for Garnier. We also saw a Voxi television advert that was a compilation of videos shot at home by the featured actors. The ad explicitly stated it was filmed ‘at home’, and the portrait framing was intentional to suggest the clips were filmed on a smartphone. 

As we still battle the pandemic in 2021, and audiences appreciate more relaxed content, we can expect this trend to carry on through the year.

8. Focus on User Generated Content

We’ve always been huge advocates for user generated content (UGC) on social media, and the data explains why. According to Stackla, 79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, compared with 13% of people saying brand content is impactful.

The colossal impact of UGC can be pinned down to a few key points:

  • It comes across as more authentic, and therefore more trustworthy
  • It comes across as unbiased
  • It is more relatable
  • It is entirely unique

Audiences love UGC, and so should your business. As we’ve discussed, the pandemic shut down high-budget production work and brands were forced to reinvent the wheel. UGC has always been a great resource for brands, but it became a real lifesaver for many businesses in 2020.

The majority of consumers also had more time on their hands in 2020, which meant more time was spent on social media. Not only did people have more time to consume social media, but they also had more time to produce content. With the growing dominance of microinfluencers, many people were inspired to turn their social channels into money-making brands of their own last year. Producing UGC for brands remains a great way for ambitious content creators to showcase their personality and personal brand to a potentially huge and new audience.

So, UGC is a win-win-win scenario:

  • Brands gain access to unique, authentic content to share and connect with their audience for free.
  • Followers enjoy consuming relatable content which helps them shape their buying journey.
  • Content creators get the opportunity to produce unique content and have it reshared by big brands, massively increasing their exposure.

On the whole, the quality of UGC has greatly improved, which brands should recognise. Content creators know that there is intense competition to get their UGC reshared by the biggest brands on social, so there’s greater effort put into creating eye-catching content that fits with the target brand’s aesthetic. We also have better everyday resources – smartphone cameras have incredible capabilities, free editing software is readily available, and detailed tutorials are everywhere on TikTok and YouTube.

So, make sure you tap into this growing trend in 2021 and establish UGC as a key content pillar in your social media strategy.

Top Tip: Create a hashtag for your brand that is purely for UGC, and feature it in your social media bios with a clear call to action (CTA).

Someone taking a creative photo on their iPhone showcasing a hot chocolate with marshmallows, cinnamon sticks and a gingerbread man. This creative and well thought-out content could be reshared by brands whose products are featured in this post, making it a great form of UGC, a top social trend for 2021.

We learnt a lot about the relationship between businesses and their audience in 2020. Brands, both big and small, showed their resilience and ability to adapt in the most unprecedent of unprecedented times. Consumers showed their power in giving added attention to small, local businesses and in demanding more transparency and accountability from brands.

As we continue to battle the pandemic, we can be sure that this list of 2021 social media trends and shifts in behaviour will remain prominent throughout the year and even post-pandemic.

Social media remains a powerhouse in the digital marketing world, and brands who can utilise it to its full potential while adapting to the ever-changing landscape will reap the rewards.

If you’re looking to strengthen your social media strategy this year and help your business grow online, we would love to help. Just get in touch with our team today.

(P.S. Don’t forget to check out our social media profiles! Find us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and follow us for up-to-date digital marketing insights).