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Social media trends can change as often as our beloved British weather. One minute, the coolest thing on the internet is a wholesome cat meme, and then the next hot thing is a dance challenge: keeping up to date can seem like an impossible task. 

Back in 2005, when Myspace and Bebo were the kingpins of socials, few could have imagined the ways in which the media landscape would have changed just sixteen years later. New platforms have emerged, algorithms have evolved, and trends continue to grow out of these networks in the viral age. 

From TikTok to Twitter, these continual shifts keep brands, agencies and influencers alike on their toes, with strategies needing to be revised and adapted to react to the ever-changing nature of the social sphere. 

The future of social media hinges on users keeping their eyes open for the next big thing, monitoring any changes or developments, and staying aware of the impact that popular culture, politics and the public mood have on the ways we communicate with each other online. 

But what does 2021 have in store when it comes to social media? 

We’ve put together this helpful round up of trends and channels that we’ve been keeping our eye on, with some ideas of how these will continue to grow and develop through this year and beyond. 

If you need to dash, here are the key things to take away: 

  • Stories are still a popular way of sharing content as user attention spans dwindle 
  • Short form video content is king, with TikTok setting the trend for others to follow
  • Livestreaming is a great way for consumers to feel connected to brands and businesses 
  • Longer captions are useful for communicating a brand’s story and values 
  • Platforms are doing more to curate helpful and convenient in-app experiences 

Ephemeral content

You might be thinking, what is ephemeral content? 

Well, put simply, it’s content that is available on social platforms for a short period of time – usually 24 hours – before disappearing. Over the last decade, we’ve seen this kind of content infiltrating all social channels, beginning with Snapchat stories and filtering through to Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the recently launched (but not particularly well-received) Twitter Fleets. 

With the average social media user’s attention span steadily decreasing, the ways in which most people consume content has been undoubtedly altered. While most people do still view (and create) feed and grid posts, the shorter and snappier format of stories has become increasingly popular, with around 500 million people using Instagram stories every day. 

One of the strategic benefits of producing ephemeral content through stories is that it keeps you, your brand or your business front and centre in people’s minds, without having to constantly share content that sticks around for too long. And regularly posting on stories can, in fact, lead to better engagement when you do get around to dropping something on to the feed or grid. 

So, as we move through 2021, individuals and brands should be looking to utilise story content wherever possible. It’s the perfect way to interact with your audience in a passive yet effective way. 

Short-form video content 

Thanks to platforms like TikTok, which took the world by storm during the 2020 lockdown, short-form video content is on the rise across social media. 

Much like stories, short-form video content grabs people’s attention for a brief part of their social journey and because of this, it needs to be immediately engaging, capturing users in a matter of seconds. Now, with TikTok’s concept adopted by platforms like Instagram, who have introduced Reels, many users are turning to short-form content trends like dance crazes, lip syncs or viral challenges. 

With millions of social media accounts sharing content day in, day out, there’s certainly a level of fatigue taking hold on every platform, with users looking to invest the least time possible to access the most engaging content. It’s becoming easier to scroll past endless static content that says and does the same thing. 

And there’s a real art to creating truly engaging short-form content. To gain your audience’s attention and pique their interest in a relatively short space of time is challenging – but get it right and you’re on to a winner. 

As we continue to see users’ attention spans take a dive, bitesize, memorable and – above all else – shareable content is the way forward for brands and individuals.

Livestreaming is here to stay 

Although livestreaming was primarily used by individuals who wanted to speak directly to other platform users in real time, over the past year it’s also become a popular way for brands and businesses to communicate with consumers. 

Brands like Clarins, Nike and Maybelline (to name just a few) utilised livestreaming on Facebook and Instagram to reach consumers in real time while stores were closed due to the pandemic. Music festivals like Glastonbury then followed suit, streaming behind-the-scenes music sessions and other performances to keep people entertained and engaged. 

But its effectiveness as a marketing tool has given livestreaming life beyond lockdown, with many integrating it into their social media strategy moving forwards. 

Livestreaming content turns a simple video into a conversation starter, allowing users to share their thoughts and comments in real time, meaningfully engaging with brands and businesses, and connect through a shared experience with other users. 

It lets users get closer than they’ve ever been able to; breaking down walls and bridging gaps between people, products and brands. And, most importantly, this proximity builds trust and engagement, ensuring users will come back. 

Long-form social posts

How long should a social media caption be? Well, how long is a piece of string? 

While there are no set rules for this kind of thing, most people tend to think that shorter, snappier copy is always preferable to long, winding captions. 

And that’s still true… to a point. But longer posts are making a comeback, with many brands using them as an opportunity to share more information with their followers and break through the noise of companies whose content is all style and no substance. 

The merit of writing longer captions for social media is that it allows individuals and brands to build more meaningful relationships with their audiences. It’s their chance to tell their story, communicate their values and ethos, share interesting perspectives or initiatives, and allow users to familiarise themselves with their tone of voice – all of which can impact on trust between companies and consumers. 

This isn’t to say that every caption should be longer. It depends entirely on the content you’re crafting and the message you’re sharing. But sometimes, giving users a little more to play with will have a positive impact on the outcomes you’re striving to achieve.

Curated user experiences 

One of the newest additions to its platform, Instagram Guides allows individuals, brands and businesses to share curated, scrollable content with their followers. 

From mental health and wellbeing tips to product-related content that allows users to click through to point of sale, Instagram Guides sits somewhere between a blog post and a carousel: a convenient and user-friendly way of creating a thread of content with additional commentary. 

Introduced to the app in 2020, and originally designed to allow fitness and wellbeing influencers to share helpful resources during the Covid-19 pandemic, Instagram Guides has since evolved into a framework where brands can curate step-by-step user experiences, shaping the customer journey, and bring together content and commerce in an engaging, digestible way. 

While it’s something that brands themselves can do organically, it’s becoming an increasingly useful tool for influencers at all levels… 

Rather than simply monetising a single grid post or story, Instagram Guides allow influencers to include multiple posts in one place, adding value to brand partnerships, providing scope for cross-promotional content, and facilitating more considered, lengthy recommendations of products through this unique user experience.

So, what does this mean for both marketers and users of social media? 

As social trends continue to emerge and spread across platforms, there are broader changes taking place in the background. 

While users are generally becoming overwhelmed by the merry-go-round of content and leaning towards bite-size, digestible ways of receiving information (such as stories and short-form video) they are also asking more from individuals and brands who use social channels for commercial gains. 

Social media users want to hear about brands’ stories, values and ethos; feel connected to them through more personalised customer journeys; and engage with them in real time and in meaningful ways. 

We’re moving into an age defined by a growing demand for transparency, and social media platforms and their users need to adapt to continued changes if they want to stay relevant, stay cool and stay afloat. 

The future of social media hinges on users keeping their eyes open for the next big thing, monitoring any changes or developments, and staying aware of the impact that popular culture, politics and the public mood have on the ways we communicate with each other online.