Think Forward 2021 report reveals the six trends that will shape social media next year
Posted on 2020 Nov,05

Global socially-led creative agency, We Are Social, has launched the latest edition of its annual trends report, Think Forward 2021.

Focused on the notion of ‘The Social Reset’, the report recognises the role that social media has played in shaping people’s experiences in a highly disruptive 2020, and how relationships with these channels have undergone an irreversible transformation. The agency then highlights six trends that it expects to shape social media in the next 12 months, demonstrating how brands can use these within their marketing strategies.

The trends uncovered in Think Forward 2021 are:

The Simple Life: People are re-evaluating what’s important to them, cultivating a desire to pay more attention to life’s simple pleasures and reconsidering the role social can play in enjoying them. We’ve seen this with the rise in communities like Gardening TikTok, where people share gardening tips and tricks, and the Cottagecore movement, a Tumblr-born aesthetic defined by mostly-city based women participating in quaint, agricultural aesthetics and hobbies.

Practical Advocacy: Amid new constraints, ‘armchair activism’ has undergone a practical transformation, bolstered by global communities who’ve realized that the power they wield can translate to tangible offline change. Examples include the rising number of people educating themselves on social justice via Instagram slideshows and the #PullUpOrShutUp initiative from UOMA Beauty calling for brands to be transparent about their in-house diversity.

In-Feed Intimacy: The notion that screens and social have a negative impact on our offline relationships is falling away, as people begin to overcome the inertia attached to tools designed to humanise our digital interactions. For example, Facebook has updated its suite of reactions with the ‘care’ emoji to facilitate more intimate online interactions. In addition, people are using TikTok to discuss complex subjects with empathy and nuance.

Reliable Idols: People are being more discerning about who they follow, and why. They’re not unfollowing beautiful people, but they are putting more emphasis on the tangible value these figures can bring to the feed. Medical professionals democratising information that typically comes with a consultant’s fee are becoming hugely popular on social specialists in niche fields are gaining traction for combating misinformation. US senior public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci became the beating heart of many online fan communities during the pandemic and we’ve also seen other healthcare professionals rise to fame on social platforms, from OB/GYNs to therapists.

Unbound Platforms: In 2020, people changed the way they engage with social platforms, repurposing old tools for new purposes and expanding their already prominent role in everyday life. Games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing have transformed into social hubs, and the live content sphere has seen social feeds evolve into 24-hour events venues, from Louis Vuitton catwalk shows on TikTok to micro drag shows aired on Instagram Live.

Open-Source Creativity: Major social platforms are increasingly becoming spaces for people to co-create content, not just engage with it, helped by the meteoric rise of TikTok, a platform with features, such as duetting, that promote communal creativity. Examples include Charli XCX collaborating with her fans via Zoom to write her latest album, and on Instagram, film industry polymath Miranda July crowdsourcing entire scripts from her followers.

In 2021, according to the report, people will re-evaluate the role platforms play in their lives, rethink which sources they engage with and relearn how to use social in line with these key trends – this is the social reset.

The report was compiled in collaboration with We Are Social’s Social Spotting Network – a core group of culturally-led collaborators spanning all 15 offices across the agency’s global network. Launched in 2019, this team has spent the past year collating artefacts of digital culture on a global scale, and has been indispensable in informing this report.

Chief Strategy Officer at We Are Social, Mobbie Nazir, said: “This year’s Think Forward shows how people are re-evaluating the role social platforms should play in their lives. In 2020, everything we’ve known – from daily routines to long-term ambitions – has been disrupted beyond recognition and social has played a central role in the theatrics. As a result, our relationship with these channels has undergone an irreversible transformation. This ranges from overcoming inertia with things like live content or escaping to simplified virtual realities; but also how we can adapt the way we use social media to bridge the deeper social divides that have come to light.

“We are rethinking the sources we engage with and relearning how to use social media. The prospect of a social reset might seem scary, but it's levelled the playing field and presents a major opportunity for brands and creators.

“Like many people, marketers are grappling with very uncertain circumstances at the moment. We hope that this report helps shed some light on the cultural shifts currently taking place, and how we can understand and use these to help navigate the social landscape in 2021.”