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Top social media trends in the UK for 2021

Top social media trends in the UK for 2021

For six years, Talkwalker has been talking to marketing experts from across the globe and predicting the top social media trends for the year ahead. No one could have imagined 2020 and, let’s face it, 2021 is likely to be just as unpredictable. But with that, we can say one thing for sure: brands need to prepare for the unexpected. In this article, I’m going to touch on three of the top social media trends in the UK, and look at how brands are already incorporating them. 

Download the full Social Media Trends 2021 report

When we put together this year’s Social Media Trends report, we didn’t just ask marketing experts and influencers. We also reached out to hundreds of frontline marketing practitioners, to understand which trends they see impacting their day-to-day work. Coupling this with social listening and analysis of newsworthy trends, we were able to create a much fuller picture of the trends that will be important over the next 12 months.

Diagram showing the 4 data sources making up the Social Media Trends Report 2021

Of course, we don’t have a crystal ball - these are only predictions. But I feel it’s pretty safe to say that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on consumers’ relationship with social media, and how they interact with brands online. We can see this in many of the top 10 trends we identified.

Infographic showing top ten social media trends for 2021

The impact of socially conscious audiences was the trend voted for as most likely to have an impact in 2021 by marketing practitioners. I’m going to look into this trend, and two others, to understand the impact these top social media trends will have on UK brands.

Download the report to read about all 10 trends

The impact of socially conscious audiences

Alongside the pandemic, the other major issue that has shaped the way brands interact with their customers is the rise of socially conscious audiences. From social justice to climate change, people all over the UK, and the world, are demanding change. They’re educating themselves about some of the challenges society faces, and are increasingly expecting that companies and brands who want their business should be part of the solution, not the problem. This is particularly true of younger generations - Gen Z and Alpha - who are more socially and politically aware than previous generations.

Tile with quote from Jillian Ney

Conversation clusters show Gen Z are increasingly socially aware

Conversation Clusters show Gen Z are very socially aware.

However, for brands to be successful in speaking to these audiences, and gaining their trust, they need to adopt this trend in an authentic way. It’s not enough for a brand to make a one-off donation to charity, or to make a statement about their sustainable credentials. Instead, it needs to be integrated within a brand, visible in all messaging and actions, in order for younger generations to believe their motives. And given that Gen Z purchasing power is predicted to reach £35.5m by the end of 2020, it’s a demographic worth talking to.

In the UK, there’s been increased interest in sustainability, particularly in sustainable retail. Over the last 13 months, there have been over 400K mentions of phrases such as ‘second-hand’, ‘thrift’ or ‘upcycle’, with a largely positive sentiment (28% net positive sentiment). With this, we’re seeing a number of online second-hand clothes stores thriving. For them, the pandemic has actually provided an opportunity, as more people were forced online to shop when the traditional highstreet fashion stores were forced into lockdown.

Trend in action: Thrift+

One new UK brand tapping into this trend is Thift+, a clothing donation service and online retailer. CEO, Joe Metcalfe, set up Thrift+ as an online alternative to charity shops, making it easy for people to donate and buy second-hand clothes, with the money being split equally between Thrift+, the donor and their chosen charity. In doing this, they are able to support over 150K UK charities that don’t have a presence on the high street.

During the pandemic, they saw a surge in demand for their home collection service, as people weren’t able to donate their old clothes in the normal way. Between April 2019 and April 2020, Thrift+ raised over £150,000 for registered UK charities and diverted tens of thousands of items from landfill.

Download the full Social Media Trends 2021 report

The four Cs of COVID-19 content

As mentioned, the impact of COVID-19 is likely to have a long-lasting impact, well into 2021, and with that we’re already seeing the four Cs of coronavirus content - contactless, community, cleanliness and compassion - in action. In particular, around ‘contactless’. As we’ve seen above, the pandemic led to a boom in online shopping. A Kantar study conducted across the UK, France and Germany showed the share of consumers purchasing more than half of their shopping online increased between 25% and 80% within the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak. 60% of those consumers said they would continue shopping online even after the lockdown ended.

The lockdown accelerated an existing trend towards e-commerce, and brands have been forced to adapt and innovate to compete with the competition online. This is adding a new dimension, with a shift towards social commerce. That is, brands and retailers selling their products directly through social channels. The social platforms are reacting to the demand by enabling more opportunities for direct commerce within their formats and content. For example, Instagram users can now buy a product that they see scrolling through their feed, without ever leaving the app, and TikTok recently announced something similar, with an integration with shopify. Innovations in payment methods - such as payment via QR codes or other mobile payment tools, are making it even easier for brands to sell directly to their social media audiences, and again, this is something that is being driven by younger consumers.

This trend has been developing in China and other parts of Asia for a while now, but according to Ian Shepherd, CEO The Social Store, social commerce will explode in western markets.

Tile with quote from Ian Shepherd

Andy Lambert, Director of Growth at ContentCal, agrees; “2021 will be the dawn of social commerce. Already the UK is leading the way for ecommerce penetration and now new opportunities are emerging to link content with commerce. These opportunities, like the ability to purchase products directly on an Instagram Live, will be key to unlocking the potential of social commerce.”

Trend in action: Not on the High Street

Not on the High Street (NOTHS), the online marketplace for small, creative businesses has always been dependent on e-commerce in order to compete with major retailers and as such has had a strong social presence. In some ways, the pandemic created an opportunity for them to build their social following even more, and promote the small businesses that make up the marketplace.

During the months of lockdown, they shared the stories of the brands via social media. NOTHS use their Instagram channel predominantly as a platform for engagement, and a place for customers to learn more about the small businesses that sell their products, and also to gain inspiration. But, it’s also a commercial platform for them, as it provides an alternative online catalogue of products they have on offer. They’ve incorporated direct social selling into their Instagram channel incredibly well by using Instagram’s ‘like2buy’ feature, enabling customers to buy the products they like in Instagram posts without having to navigate through to the NOTHS website.

Screenshot of NOTHS Instagram bio showing Like2buy link

NOTHS Like2Buy page

We can see that mentions of NOTHS over the last year have remained consistently high - matching, or exceeding, the pre-Christmas period in 2019 - with a net positive sentiment of over 50%. This shows they’ve been able to adapt to the situation created by COVD-19, and actually benefit from it.

Graph showing mentions of NOTHS over the last 13 months

Mentions of Not on the High Street and ‘NOTHS’ have remained consistently high throughout the pandemic.

Download the report to read all 10 trends

Old school marketing for a new generation

Whilst innovation is often at the forefront of marketers’ minds, sometimes looking to the past can provide new inspiration. This is what we’ve seen with the trend towards podcasts. Whilst video content has taken off in recent years - particularly during the pandemic - audio-only is seeing a revival. According to OfCom, by the end of 2019, around 7.1 million people in the UK listened to podcasts on a weekly basis. That’s more than double the amount in 2014.

Whilst podcast listening globally took a hit during the lockdown period - perhaps because listening usually happens during peoples’ commutes - mentions of podcasts in the UK increased, and have remained high.

Graph showing mentions of podcasts in the UK over the last 13 months

Mentions of podcasts in the UK over the last 13 months.

And, according to Spotify, its podcast business is continuing to grow. Whilst the number of active monthly users listening to podcasts saw only a small increase from 19% to 21% in the second quarter of 2020, the amount of podcast content these users consumed more than doubled.

It’s no wonder that this sort of content is growing in popularity. Like radio, it provides a human connection through spoken word, interviews, etc., in a way that music doesn’t. Unlike radio, it’s more convenient as you can listen to your favourite show whenever and wherever you like. It can be informative, entertaining, thought-provoking...whatever you choose at that moment in time. As of October 2020, there were 34 million podcasts episodes available, from 1.5m podcasts. So as a listener, you’ll really never run out of content!

Graph showing most popular genres of podcasts

Because making a podcast is pretty accessible, we see a wide range of types of show, from the broad chat show to a niche hobby area. According to Ofcom, the most popular genre of podcasts is entertainment, followed closely by comedy and talk shows.

The wide range of genres and formats, also make it perfect for brands to incorporate into their marketing strategies, as they can adopt whichever one fits their product and brand messaging best.

Trend in action: Penguin

Publishing house, Penguin, launched their bi-weekly podcast in 2015. Each episode features an interview with an author about their latest book, and invites them to bring along some of the objects that have inspired them as a writer. From a brand perspective, it’s a great piece of content marketing as it promotes Penguin authors and books in a way that is informative, rather than salesy. It gives an insight, not just into the book itself, but the story behind it’s writing.

We can also see that the number of mentions of Penguin’s podcasts peaked during the pandemic, perhaps because people were forced to spend more time inside, and were looking for hobbies to fit this new lifestyle.

graph showing mentions of Penguin podcast over the last 13 months

Mentions of Penguin podcast over the last 13 months

Dig deeper into all the top social media trends in the UK

I’ve covered just three of the top social media trends in the UK for 2021, and highlighted a few brands that are already doing this well, but of course you can see examples of all these trends in action across many UK brands. To get more details on the top ten social media trends mentioned above, and to see how brands globally are incorporating them, download the full report.

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