written by Joana Fabio, Junior Marketing Consultant at WBC UK.
The internet was, undoubtedly, one of the most transformational innovations of the 20th century that continues and will most likely continue, to have repercussions in decades to come. Since its creation, the internet has altered, shaped, and reformed a plethora of aspects, from the most mundane to the most technical aspects.
Despite being still in its early stages of development, the internet has undergone significant expansion and changes. One of the most prominent ones being the rise of social media. Social media consists of a web-based type of communication that enables users to create and share content (Lisun, 2020). There are over 3.8 billion social media users worldwide with growth levels showing no signs of slowing down in the coming years.
Social media can be used in a myriad of ways, this being one of the main reasons for its exponential growth and surging importance. The ways users utilise social media networks range from leisure and social interactions to business activities (Lisun, 2020). Due to its versatility, social media platforms present an increasingly more significant business opportunity for small start-ups and large multinational corporations alike. Opportunities are so significant in the fact that an entirely new branch of marketing was created- Social Media Marketing or SMM. This is the direct result of the unique features of social networks and, consequently, their audience: a higher degree of interest, engagement and attention. This discrepancy becomes even more prominent when compared to traditional mediums of communication with target audiences (Lisun, 2020).
Despite its clear importance in 2021, this was not always the case as a lot of large companies doubted the efficacy of direct communication between brand and customers, believing it would harm brand reputation rather than aid its development. A group of companies, such as Nike and McDonalds, saw the potential of these platforms and invested heavily into learning how to leverage them (Kerns, 2014)
As a result of the pioneering work of companies, such as the ones previously mentioned, the sphere of social media marketing has evolved and changed over the years. Additionally, 2020 was an unprecedented year that, despite all of its challenges, created a unique opportunity for businesses to deepen their relationship with current customers and gain exposure to new potential customers. Furthermore, a survey conducted by Twitter highlighted that consumers are now showing an increased expectation of companies’ social contributions on social media. For instance, 82% of respondents stated brands should support frontline health staff concerning the current pandemic. As a result, Unilever donated over €100 millions of sanitary products and €500 million in cash relief.
The following are some of the most prominent social media marketing trends in 2021:
Stories are a fairly new feature in social platforms that have quickly become a must. This rise was a direct result of the success of Snapchat, the app that enabled users to determine the lifespan of their content. The surge in the use and search for platforms that offer this feature has led to the creation of a subsection within marketing research entitled “ephemeral social media” (Bmij,2020). Instagram, a primarily photo-sharing social app, with over 1 billion monthly active users, generates roughly 9.45 billion USD in advertising revenue in the United States alone. Due to the aforementioned desire for a platform that provides users with the power to customise the duration of their content.
One common way companies leverage stories is through sponsored content. Brands will send influencers (Instagram accounts with a large following, which coincides with the target market) their products or services to be reviewed. These reviews allow brand exposure to increase and, consequently, attract new customers at a fraction of the price of traditional forms of advertisement. This form of promotion has been growing in popularity, particularly in 2020, surging from 4.95 million sponsored posts to 6.12 million.
Multiple social networks provide users with the option to stream a video of themselves, their products or services in real-time. This feature has been leveraged by small to large companies as a way to expose their products and/or services to a wider audience. These live streams can be watched by all the users of the platform, not just the followers of the page. As a result, live streams have been primarily utilised in 2020 by companies that rely on large scale, face-to-face and interactive types of promotions and marketing. For instance, fashion companies have had to make their fashion shows virtual by live streaming them on Facebook and Instagram thus still ensuring the new products reach the intended audience (Wongkitrungrueng and Assarut, 2020).
This trend is supported by strong data collect by HootSuite which highlights that 80% of the audience would prefer to watch a live stream rather than read a blog post or see a social media post (HootSuite, 2021).
Social networks do not only allow users to create and consume content but, additionally, present users with the options to make purchases through the platforms. Social commerce enables companies to directly communicate with current and potential customers in an innovative manner while, simultaneously, contributing towards the creation of brand loyalty and higher engagement (Wang et al, 2019). Social commerce’s appeal is derived from the unique features of social platforms in conjunction with the ease of setting up an account, little to no regulations and, lastly, the low operating costs (Wongkitrungrueng and Assarut, 2020).
Furthermore, it would appear consumers are attracted by the quick, easy and simple form of making purchases, as 48% of U.S. internet users between the ages of 18 to 34 make regular purchases through social media (Tankovska,2021).
Technology has allowed businesses to heighten their creativity beyond any expectations as well as provide a platform for said creativity to be expressed. Social media has enabled businesses to convey their most creative, dynamic and out-of-the-box ideas to a wide audience by constructing images, videos and marketing campaigns that resonate deeply with consumers (Mele et al, 2019). With consumers spending an increasingly longer amount of time on the internet, companies now have nearly 24/7 access to their target audience. Therefore, if leveraged adequately, stories and live streams can culminate in a larger number of sales than any other form of traditional marketing. Social media and its numerous applications will, undoubtedly, continue to grow and it is up to companies to either take advantage of the opportunities created or be surpassed by other companies who will.
This article is part of an exchange series of articles started in collaboration between ConQuest Consulting and its British partner WBC UK. It has been written and produced by WBC UK.