No-one could have predicted the events of this year, not to mention the far-reaching effects across television, news media and social. And while many things remain unpredictable, recent months have shown us a thing or two about what we might expect from viral content and social platforms in 2021.
Earlier this year The Tiger King landed on Netflix, and during lockdown – partly due to the increased TV viewing – the show took off. Figures show that 34 million people watched the show in the first 10 days, and according to Synthesio data, conversations on Twitter increased 13,324% from 2 weeks prior to 2 weeks after the show’s release.
The craze of Twitter shows just how powerful social media conversation and memes can be, elevating a pretty ordinary documentary into a cultural classic. What is particularly interesting about Tiger King is the role social played in the show’s continued growth and popularity.
For example, one month after launch Joe Exotic had 47k followers. As of December 2020 he has 432k, showing other brands just how critical on-going marketing plans have become. Tiger King was able to sustain growth by capitalising on the conversation through memes (21.7m returns via Google search).
One of the more surprising events to play out in the world of social media is the widespread use of TikTok. The social media platform has been around for a few years, but since Covid it’s entered another stratosphere, growing from 680 million active users in November 2018 to 850 monthly active users as of September 2020, according to data from Wallaroo Media. That’s a 20% growth in just 22 months. To put that into context, in the same timeframe, Facebook grew by just 8.9%. In fact, in Q1 this year, TikTok reported 315 million downloads – breaking the quarterly record for app downloads.
For one thing, Gen Zs yearn for unique content and self-expression – two traits that are at the heart of what TikTok stands for. Add to the mix all that time away from the playground and friends, and suddenly TikTok was handed a recipe for success.
But even more interesting is the new, older audience that is now using TikTok. Adults aged 40-50+ now make up 19.4% of TikTok’s user base (according to AARP). It seems kids being home has nudged parents into this new phenomenon.
After months of using Zoom and the countless times we’ve all heard the phrase “You’re on mute!”, it’s hard to imagine a time when Zoom wasn’t such a big part of our lives. Within just one month in March, Zoom meetings increased by a staggering 100 million and in just 9 months we’ve changed from a nation that was reluctant to even switch on cameras during a meeting to one that does it as second nature.
But more than that, just as TikTok has broken free of its preconceived audience type by enticing older generations, so too has Zoom – outgrowing its original purpose, moving from a business meeting tool to one that’s also used for socialising and entertainment. Zoom quiz, anyone?
With the breakout of Zoom, a whole new audience – including grandparents and previous techno-phobes – have been exposed to social/relaxed time in front of a screen. One example of this is the social hangout app Houseparty, which saw 17.2m downloads in March 2020 (compared to their 650,000 monthly average).
As we enter 2021, we may see brands getting more involved in submersive content and renewed popularity in the likes of Facebook Watch Party. In fact, Twitter has already shown us their hand with the launch of Fleets.
When Captain Tom decided to raise money for charity in the run-up to his 100th birthday during Covid, the story quickly grabbed national attention. In the end he raised millions, helped in part by the wild spread of his story on social. He generated 325k follows on Twitter and #WalkWithTom was shared thousands of times. Even brands got involved, with Stagecoach naming a bus after him and Cadbury and Age UK creating a podcast hosted by the man himself.
Captain Tom proved to be a personality with a cause we could all get behind. And for brands, his story provided the perfect opportunity to showcase their human side at a time when it’s more important than ever for brands to be seen as ethical. Ethical consumer spending in the UK is at a record high and the likes of Gen Z audiences actually align themselves with brands whose purpose aligns with their own.
Misinformation has been a problem on social platforms for some time, but the US election really brought this to a head, with Facebook and Twitter announcing that tweets containing false information will be flagged with a warning. Since then Twitter has labelled 300,000 tweets with this warning – a move they say has contributed to a 29% reduction in "quote tweeting" misleading information.
On the flipside, in June 2020 big brands boycotted Facebook in the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign because the social media platform failed to censor Trump’s “when the Looting Starts, the Shooting Starts” statement. Big brands such as Adidas, Lego, Levi’s and Coca-Cola and others all joined in the boycott. And since then the knock-on effect for brands has been huge.
Brands now have to constantly monitor the public’s feeling to the mediums they’re advertising on. They must also have contingency plans if organisations like these call for an Instagram ‘freeze’ – which is exactly what they did in September. The bottom line is, whatever the content, you must have the capacity to change your plans quickly to avoid being caught in a backlash.
If TikTok’s engagement levels are anything to go by, then this trend is likely to continue for some time. Even giants such as McDonald’s are beginning to test the waters of raw TikTok style content in a recent post on Twitter.
And tonally, we’re starting to see brands move away from the their traditional brand image.
KFC, for example, has operated a more down-to-earth tone of voice for some time, highlighted by this infamous response to political point scoring. However, whether quick lo-fi content replaces more polished animated content and high-brow videos altogether remains to be seen.
Consumers are more vigilant to “fake news” than ever before. As a result, brands must be extra careful with the news and information they share online, or face the backlash from their consumers. This also carries with it the need to be flexible with marketing efforts.
The backlash to fake news inspired Twitter and Facebook to take action. But with the Facebook boycott of July, over 1,000 brands had to re-adjust their 2020 plans. If the problem doesn’t get resolved, there could easily be another boycott in 2021 – something that will likely affect any plans you’ve already started to put in place.
With consumer expectations pretty high, brands will likely be looking for more ways to demonstrate that they are ethical and philanthropic.
For example, just recently Asda, Sainsbury’s, and the other big supermarkets gave back all their government relief money to the tune of £1.9bn.
Using technology to keep in touch with friends and loved ones may well instigate a rise of instant messaging services in a B2C space like WhatsApp.
KLM was the first airline to be verified on WhatsApp and has been using the app for their customer service, sending hyper-personalised and important flight information directly to passengers.