Founder and CEO of Sway Group, an agency that specializes in influencer marketing, branded content and digital advertising.
Looking back on 2021, we can probably all agree on one thing: at least it’s not still 2020. We didn’t quite get the smooth back-to-normal pandemic recovery we were hoping for, but as we collectively brace for the next normal, it’s a smart time to review the social media marketing lessons learned from another year like no other.
It’s clear that social media now has an enormous impact on every aspect of the modern sales process — from top-of-funnel discovery and awareness to long-lasting brand loyalty. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five standout marketing lessons brands can learn from social media in 2021.
Not on TikTok yet? Sorry, but it’s time.
If you’ve been resisting TikTok for your brand, perhaps out of the misguided belief that its short-form video content only appeals to young demographics, I may be the bearer of unfortunate news: it’s time to get on this platform.
TikTok’s explosive growth has taken it far beyond a place where Gen Z teens lipsync and dance. Content verticals of all kinds have flourished on TikTok, with specialty niches that are ripe for incredibly targeted marketing opportunities.
With more than a billion active monthly users, TikTok offers a strong sense of community, with many popular niche areas of focus. For example, FinTok is where people share personal finance questions and expertise, and BookTok is a community for book lovers to share recommendations and celebrate new releases.
If you’re not yet convinced about TikTok, consider the countless viral moments it has sparked over the last year alone. The platform’s strong consumer influence has led to emptying shelves as the demand for leggings, skorts, feta cheese and more, surge in demand.
Be prepared to switch gears — and fast.
There’s obviously — and unfortunately — no accurate way to predict a viral brand moment, but you can ready your brand by staying nimble. If your processes (and budgets) are quickly adaptable, you’ll be better set up for success when your brand gets a lot of focused social media attention.
Look at the clever ways these two brands were able to extend their viral status by putting more marketing dollars into their influencer partnerships:
• Re-released cult favorite: Gap re-released a vintage brown hoodie design after the sweatshirt went viral on TikTok.
• Specialty brand merchandise: After many brand features in her videos, Dunkin’ launched a successful 2020 partnership with TikTok influencer Charli D’Amelio that centered around a specialty drink. This year, D’Amelio turned to promoting Dunkin’ merch.
Take a stand, brands!
More than ever, consumers (particularly younger demographics) are looking to support brands that reflect their personal values. Not only are you likely facing pressure to decide what your brand should take a public stand on (and when), but also increasing consumer demand for authenticity means that you need credibility behind your brand’s statements.
Look for ways to walk your talk and speak up on issues that are important to your target audience. This can become tricky territory when looking to partner with influential social media creators.
In a polarized society, potential controversy is everywhere you look. Before entering into an official partnership, you should review a creator’s content for potential red flags that may not align with your brand’s ethos.
Diversity and inclusion should also be front and center when it comes to partnerships and brand imagery portrayals. Talking about diversity without showing any synergy between your marketing and actual commitments is a huge red flag for consumers.
Go multi-channel for maximum impact.
Focusing on just one platform drastically reduces the opportunities for connecting authentically with your target audience. Different platforms allow brands to access varied audiences with a broad range of content that engages in a variety of ways.
Successful content can also be cross-promoted from one social platform to another. For example, if a TikTok post is gaining momentum, try sharing it via Instagram Stories — or share an Instagram post via Twitter (especially now that Twitter allows Instagram previews).
Another reason not to put all your social media eggs in one basket: Note that Facebook’s recent hours-long outage sent users to other platforms in droves.
Be flexible with your brand.
Flexibility and adaptability are perhaps the most important traits for a business to have right now, in order to keep up with ever-shifting consumer needs and behaviors. However, 2021’s most viral brand moments show us that flexibility should be extended to the brand itself.
Chipotle’s Lid Flip Challenge is a great example of encouraging customers to have fun with a brand and share their own creativity. Or take a look at E.L.F.’s branded #eyeslipsface hashtag on TikTok, which has over 8.2 billion views as of this writing.
If your brand isn’t ready to launch its own challenge or campaign, you might want to encourage customers to participate in an existing social media activity on your brand’s behalf. A makeup brand could ask its fans to share their makeup tips in the 2016 vs. 2021 challenge, for instance, or a food brand could encourage customers to attempt their own viral recipe.
The Final Word
Above all, 2021 has taught us that brands need to be ready to take advantage of new opportunities when they present themselves. Have a brand presence in the places where your target audience is spending their time online, be willing to stand behind your values, be authentic in your communications and your partnerships, and be ready to move on a dime.