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Social Media Advertising Trends to Watch in 2021

More than half the world uses social media according to Smart Insights. Nearly 4 billion (3.96 billion) of the world's population are active users, and the total number of users grew at a rate of 10.5% in 2020.

Whether you’re using social media advertising, organic social reach, or other forms of social media content to engage and grow your brand, social media continues to perform. In 2019, the average social user spent 2 hours and 24 minutes on social platforms every day, and with the pandemic’s impact on society, online usage has skyrocketed.

Here are some of the social trends we’re seeing that will be worth watching – and exploiting – in 2021 for marketing your products, services, and brands.

(Psst - if you're looking for a more basic guide to social media advertising, check out our Beginner's Guide to Social Media Advertising)

Segment and Test Your Audiences

With so many people on social, it’s easy to miss the mark. You can waste a lot of money on social ads if you’re not targeting, segmenting, and testing your audiences.

One essential part of targeting today is creating buyer personas. These are representations of your ideal customer based on what you know. Think about the people who are your best prospects. List things such as:

  • Demographics
  • Occupation
  • Interests
  • Behavior Patterns
  • Motivations
  • Goals
  • Challenges

This can help you better focus content and target social audiences for placement.

Build Facebook Lookalike Audiences

Facebook Lookalike audiences let you target users that look like the users who follow or interact with your brand.

What Are Facebook Lookalike Audiences? 

Facebook analyzes user data from your business page to build target profiles. If you’re using the Facebook pixel on your website, you can also use cross-device data from your website as part of building lookalike audiences. Facebook uses activity, engagement, and offline activity to build audiences.

These audiences improve your targeting to connect with potential customers who have similar traits and habits like those you’re already engaging with. As such, they’re more likely to have an interest in your products or services, which should equate to better conversion rates, lower customer acquisition costs, and a better overall ROI.

You can also further segment these audiences using geographic boundaries or key indicators. For example, if you can segregate the most frequent visitors to your website or those with high conversion rates, use those to create your audience models.

Leverage Story Ads on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter

Between Facebook and Instagram, more than a billion people use Stories daily.

What Are Social Media Stories?

Social media stories let you create a feed of content that disappears within 24 hours of being posted on a follower's news feed. You can add overlays or captions over videos or images.

Stories let you add 10 photos or videos to your sequence, which are designed to catch – and hold – a user’s attention. Influencers and Brands are using Stories to stay connected to their most loyal followers, and businesses are as well. Instagram story ads are effective ways to nurture relationships with brand loyalists.

While Snapchat created the stories concept, Instagram revolutionized it and offered businesses and brands the ability to puts ads in those stories. More than half a billion accounts use Instagram stories daily, and because of the popularity of this feature, it’s now offered through Facebook and Snapchat. Twitter also has its version, which they call Fleets.

Take Advantage of Live Streams

Much like Instagram, Facebook now allows for ads in their live streams. They’re 5- to 15-second video ads that appear as mid-roll during videos. They won’t appear until at least 1 minute into the video, so they’re designed for people who are already engaged with your video. As non-skippable social media ads, they can be effective when used in context.

This gives brands the ability to engage and convert their audiences as they're watching and improve the ROI on their live content.

While short-form videos work better for social media posts, length matters when it comes to live videos. Live videos of 60 minutes or longer saw nearly three times the level of engagement vs. shorter videos.

With COVID-19, Test Product Ads and Online Shopping

Online use has boomed during the pandemic. You’ve probably seen product ads appear more frequently on social media. Maybe you’ve even bought a few things yourself. The increased audience size and the opportunity to showcase products led to a significant increase in e-commerce sales. In Q2, online retailers posted 44% gains over the year before. In 2020, 63% of the top 1,000 retailers grew online sales by more than 15%.

Consider testing product ads on social, whether it’s direct selling specific products or using it as a lead generator to drive customers to your website or landing page. Facebook’s catalog feature lets you promote items in various ways, including:

  • Dynamic ad targeting
    Display products that are relevant to audiences based on interests or past interactions
  • Collection ads
    Show four catalog items under a hero image or video
  • Carousel ads
    Show multiple images that users can scroll through. Each image can be pulled dynamically from the catalog and have a unique click-through to a product page.

Media consumption and user behavior will likely evolve again as COVID recedes, so it comes down to timing and relevance.

Consider Leveraging Influencer Marketing & Advertising

Leveraging Influencer marketing and advertising can be effective if it’s done properly. By collaborating with celebrities and niche influencers, advertisers have been able to expose products to new audiences – many of whom are loyal to these social media celebrities.

Influencer marketing is being used in a variety of ways, including direct product endorsements, product placements for brand awareness, and delivering targeted messages to audiences. Dunkin’ (formerly Dunkin’ Donuts) worked with eight lifestyle influencers to take over their SnapChat channel on National Donut Day for 24 hours and featured special Snapchat geofilters that could only be used in-store. They reached 3 million people and counted 40,000 engagements in one day.

It’s not just big celebrities who are effective. Often, micro-influencers who aren’t household names – but have niche followings – can be used to create great partnerships at lower costs. Companies are also creating their own influencer by focusing on brand advocates and ambassadors.

Overall, two-thirds of retailers said they were using influencer marketing and advertising, including multiple types of influencers:

  • 31% using current brand advocates
  • 30% using micro-influencers
  • 28% paid celebrity influencers

Try Contextual Ads

Contextual ads have been around for years but they’re getting a fresh look by marketers in light of evolving consumer privacy rules. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CPPA), the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) have global implications for the collection, storage, and use of consumer identifiable data.

Chrome, Safari, and Firefox have announced they’ll block third-party cookies. Apple is killing off its mobile app ID (IDFA), which is used for ad tracking. We’re headed for a cookie-less future.

In contrast, contextual ads don’t require cookies. Instead, they are delivered next to relevant content. An ad for auto parts might run on a DYI page about auto repairs. On a book review site, you might see ads for reading glasses. A site with recipes might showcase ads for online cooking classes.

Rather than having to negotiate with individual sites, advertisers can aggregate audiences in relevant niches across multiple sites with contextual ads.

Since contextual ads are more relevant, there’s less intrusion. They also “feel right” as opposed to “stalker ads” that follow you around as you go to different sites. We’ve all experienced those before. Shop for shoes once, and you’ll get shoe ads forever. Contextual ads seem natural since they’re associated with a subject you’ve chosen to engage with.

Contextual ads can be built around subjects and events that are relevant to customers and prospects.

Test Sponsored Videos on Your Branded Social Media Channels

Videos continue to grow on social media. They attract attention and improve engagement.

Tweets with video have an engagement factor that’s 10X more than other types of tweets. Facebook videos get nearly 60% more clicks than images. LinkedIn users are 20 times more likely to share videos than other types of posts.

Based on all of the targeting options on multiple platforms, this gives brands and businesses the incredible ability to target audiences and prospects at a deeper level and increase engagement.

Always focus on relevance when targeting and creating content. While video is the favorite type of content from brands for consumers on social media, sponsored videos need to deliver value that goes beyond just selling products.

One emerging social trend came in light of the success of TikTok over the past years. Instagram countered by launching Reels, letting you record 15-second multiple-clip videos and add overlays and effects.

Use Instagram Keywords

Instagram recently announced it’s about to become more search-friendly. Users can type in keywords rather than hashtags to find relevant content.

That should trigger two changes in your strategy. First, make sure to include relevant keywords in your captions for better discovery. Secondly, you need to ensure the content you post is always relevant to your brand. Unrelated content will hurt you as it may hinder Instagram’s ability to properly categorize your account.

Remember LinkedIn Advertising

We don’t always think of LinkedIn as a social channel, but it is. LinkedIn has also seen dramatic growth in 2020. The business platform has now grown to more than 722 million users.

When it comes to B2B paid ads, LinkedIn needs to be part of your social media mix. Fully 66% of B2B marketers report that LinkedIn is a more effective channel than any other social platform.

Test Your Social Media Advertising

In 2021, paid social media ads will continue to be an effective way to send marketing messages to targeted audiences. These social trends and strategies can help you optimize your campaigns for greater ROI. The important thing to remember is you should always test your efforts. Track the data on what's working and what's not, finetuning as much as possible to drive true ROI from your social media advertising efforts.

If you're having a hard time getting started, check out our Beginner's Guide to Social Media Advertising or give us a shout - we'd love to help!

  • Paid Media

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About the author

Tom Kelly

Tom has worked in digital marketing since he started his career over a decade ago, working across the project and account side of the business.