How 2020 Changed Social Media: A Check-In Our Trends Predictions

As we enter the final stretch of this unforgettable year, it’s a good time to check in on the trends impacting the social media landscape.

2020 changed everything: the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we greet one another. It also changed how we use social media. This blog post summarizes:

  • Our 2020 social trends predictions that came to pass
  • What social networks are doing
  • Trends our researchers are tracking for the rest of the year

Bonus: Watch the full webinar, How to Finish Strong on Social in 2020: An Update from Hootsuite’s Social Trends Team, for a lively discussion on the topics in this blog post, including a Q&A with the live webinar attendees.

2020 social trends predictions that came to pass

Our research team painstakingly compiled our social trends predictions for 2020. The trends were informed by a global survey of over 3,100 marketers, more than 30 expert interviews, and stacks of research from the leading industry analysts.

Even with the incredible brains working on the project, we didn’t predict the global pandemic (our bad!). However, we did manage to hit the mark on several of our top social trends predictions for 2020:

  1. Brand purpose and employee activism: why taking a stand has worked for some brands—but not others.
  2. The changing face of TikTok: new audiences, new use cases, new ad tools—is it time to jump on board?
  3. New digital divides in key demographics, a shift towards performance marketing tactics.

1. Brand purpose and employee activism: why taking a stand has worked for some brands—but not others.

Were we right in our prediction? Very right.

As we entered 2020, the world was incredibly divided, and trust was at an all-time low. Employers were a beacon of hope, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, with 75% of people saying they trust their employers to do what is right—more than they trust government, media, or business in general.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this trend came to the forefront as employees expected their companies to do more. The companies that took decisive action—like donating to frontline workers or pivoting production lines to make hand sanitizer or perusal protective equipment (PPE)—were commended for serving their communities, not just their shareholders. The companies that put their brand purpose to action were rewarded with positive customer sentiment also.

Is brand purpose a buzzword?

Brands that demonstrate a positive impact on people’s lives grow 2.5 times more than brands with a low impact, have happier employees (9 in 10 employees would take a pay cut to have more meaningful work), and outperform the stock market by 134%.

However, Ryan Ginsberg, Global Director, Paid Social at Hootsuite and trends webinar panelist said, “Brand purpose cannot be treated like a marketing campaign. Consumers will see right through a brand that tries to jump on the bandwagon of a popular cause. Authenticity is key. And organizations that perform the best have brand purpose engrained throughout their organization.”

Ben & Jerry’s is an excellent example of a brand that was born purposeful. The company has a history of being politically active. They were publishing social content about reforming the criminal justice system back in January.

Ben and Jerrys campaign
Source: Ben and Jerry’s Instagram

Finish strong in 2020

Be mindful of how you approach your brand purpose. Don’t just take a stand for the sake of taking a stand. Start by listening to your audience on social media and identify the causes they care about. From there, you can align your brand with what matters most to your customers and employees.

Morgan Zerr, Principal Business Value Analyst at Hootsuite, advised brands to encourage employee advocacy to amplify brand purpose. “Employees are looking to share information on their professional channels anyway,” said Morgan. “By providing a selection of content for them to choose from, brands can offer an authentic perspective on brand purpose and engage their employees in meaningful ways.”

2. The changing face of TikTok: new audiences, new use cases, new ad tools—is it time to jump on board?

Were we right in our prediction? So right.

When we made this prediction, we weren’t sure if TikTok’s meteoric rise would continue (it has). The Guardian named TikTok “the social media sensation of lockdown” as TikTok’s content was the perfect antidote to boredom for people stuck inside and in desperate need of some light-hearted fun.

We predicted that TikTok would be an incredibly useful source of insights for marketers to prepare for the next generation of social media users.

Brands like Hollister and American Eagle are already experimenting with advertising on TikTok in what can only be described as a beautiful demonstration of marketing 101. Sarah Dawley, Manager of Content at Hootsuite and the lead analyst of our trends report explained, “These ads are a prime example of the right brand, reaching the right audience, with the right message, on the right platform. They’re very contextual, featuring THE most popular TikTok creator, Charli D’Amelio, performing custom choreography to a custom song. This is TikTok’s bread and butter—these are not just ads, they’re TikToks.”

Both brands cater to younger generations. Their campaigns are interactive and already have enormous traction with Hollister’s #MoreHappyDenimDance at 4.1 BILLION views and American Eagle’s #InMyAEJeans at 3 BILLION views on TikTok alone.

What makes both of these examples interesting is that they’re not just ads on TikTok. They are full-blown digital marketing campaigns being rolled out across ALL their channels.

Hollister American Eagle Tik Tok
Sources: Hollister TikTok and #InMyAEJeans TikTok

Finish strong in 2020

TikTok is bringing back the fun elements that made social media so addictive in the first place. However, if Generation Z isn’t your target audience, TikTok may not be relevant to your brand right now—69% of TikTok users are 16-24 years old, and 60% reside in China.

Our Digital in 2020 Q3 Update found most social media users use multiple platforms. Brands don’t have to be everywhere. Choose the platforms where your audiences are most likely to be.

User overlaps between social platforms
Source: Digital in 2020 Q3 Update

3. New digital divides in key demographics, a shift towards performance marketing tactics.

Were we right in our prediction? Yep.

Last year we predicted that social marketers would face increasing pressure to expand the scope of their skill sets. We found that 44% more marketers look to performance tactics to prove social’s worth in concrete terms. Increasingly, these champions of brand awareness and community-building needed to become fluent in performance marketing.

The challenge will be finding balance and building skill sets that can drive short-term conversions and long-term strategies to build brand equity, customer happiness, and differentiation.

Increasingly, social media is being relied on to deliver a full-funnel buying experience.

KitchenAid offers a great example of this. When the pandemic began, KitchenAid relied on social listening to spot consumer trends as more people were cooking and baking at home.

Some were doing it for the first time, some were professionals, and many were looking for new tools and techniques to make home cooking easy and fun.

The brand used these social listening insights to build ads around the topics with the greatest demand. Mining search data from Google and social data from Pinterest, KitchenAid integrated its marketing tactics, including Pinterest ads, Instagram ads, organic and paid media, influencer outreach, and public relations. Using Hootsuite Insights (our social listening solution), we pulled conversations around KitchenAid. With a bit of social listening, it’s easy to see how the team built their ads campaign and to find content ideas to engage customers.

Kitchen Aid Hootsuite Insights
Source: Hootsuite webinar

This example demonstrates how social media’s role is more significant than just running direct response ads to drive conversions. It provides incredible insights into an audience’s collective psyche so brands can craft messages that result in meaningful connections.

KitchenAid Social Media
Source: KitchenAid social qtd. in Hootsuite webinar

Finish strong in 2020

James Mulvey, Head of Content at Hootsuite, explained that expertise in social marketing and performance marketing is critical for showing the strategic value of social to CMOs.

However, James warned that, “Social marketers should avoid becoming an arm of performance marketing. Optimizing content for lower-funnel objectives will not create long-term growth. Instead, create content for the entire customer lifecycle, and work with other teams to embed social through all activities, especially search.”

Bonus: Watch our webinar, How to Measure the ROI of Social Marketing, and learn what metrics to track on organic and what to track on paid campaigns and how an integrated view of organic and paid campaigns can help you prove—and improve—ROI.

What social networks are doing

Our researchers discussed some of the hottest trends we’re seeing from the social networks themselves this year. This is not an exhaustive list, but it offers a taste of what’s to come.


Despite the staggering user growth, TikTok had challenges in 2020. Competition is heating up as Instagram launches Reels. More worryingly, the U.S. President signed an executive order that TikTok sells or spins off its TikTok business in the U.S.

Despite the challenges, the platform is still one to watch. TikTok can teach marketers a lot about audience behavior. If our prediction last year was that TikTok shakes up the status quo, our advice for next year is that you can’t stop the music.

Instagram Reels

Reels allows users to record and edit 15-second multi-clip videos with audio, effects, and new creative tools. It’s the perfect way for Instagram to ensure no market share is lost to TikTok.

“We’ve seen Instagram do this before—and succeed,” said Sarah. “They took the Stories format from Snapchat and turned it into one of Instagram’s most popular features.”

Like Stories, Reels is a format that marketers will need to become comfortable with—and good at using. Advertising is not currently available in Reels, but brands that are on the ball when Reels ads launch will secure excellent ad pricing for their experimentation.

Facebook Shops

Shops make it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access on both Facebook and Instagram. Since they’re embedded in the platforms, users don’t have to leave to make a purchase. In eCommerce, this seamless user experience is a massive coup as it reduces friction for buyers. With Shops embedded directly within Facebook, retailers will likely see increased conversion rates compared to their native eCommerce sites.

Hidden Value of Pinterest

Pinterest presents an excellent opportunity for certain brands to try out a new channel. “Pinterest is a well-established social network, but it is often underestimated,” said Morgan. “During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Pinterest saw an uptick in different demographics using the platform for health and wellness, financial planning, home improvements, future vacation planning, and so on.”

With fewer privacy restrictions and lower ad costs than some of the other platforms, Pinterest is worth considering for brands in industries like healthcare, lifestyle, DIY, and even financial asset management.

Trends our researchers are tracking for the rest of the year

What’s on the radar for the rest of 2020 and into 2021? Our diligent researchers have noted three areas of interest that they will continue to monitor over the next few months:

  1. Accelerating growth of social media usage
  2. The use of social for brand research
  3. Increasing executive interest in social media

1. Accelerating growth of social media usage

In July, we passed the milestone where over half the world’s population is now using social media. In fact, social media usage growth is accelerating faster than at the start of January.

Baby boomers are an interesting part of this growth. Once reluctant to dive into social, baby boomers are now embracing messaging, spending more time on social media, and generally consuming more digital content. Most importantly, they maintained new digital habits formed during the pandemic, which has large implications for marketers trying to reach these valuable audiences.

Baby boomers social habits
Source: GlobalWebIndex

2. The use of social for brand research

In the past, search engines dominated the research stage of the buyer journey. In many demographics today, search engines are actually behind social media when it comes to brand research.

Use of social for brand research
Source: Digital in 2020 Q3 Update

Brands with high-involvement, utilitarian products should pay close attention. Their consumers are more cautious and will use social media to research the brand, see how existing customers are treated, and look for video content that explains the products prior to purchase.

3. Increased executive interest in social media

With more focus turning to digital communications to replace in-person interactions, social media budgets reached historic highs in 2020. Traditionally, social media earned around 10-12% of the marketing budget. This year, it jumped to 23%. CMO visibility is higher than ever before as a result.

Social media spending graph
Source: CMO Survey, June 2020

CMO confidence that social is having a quantitative impact on company performance also increased from 25% to 30%. Overall, these are good signs for marketers as they build their 2021 budgets.

In 1785, Robert Burns wrote a poem that led to the expression, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 235 years later, COVID-19 showed us how true that is.

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that, no matter how carefully we plot our predictions, there will always be surprises in store. However, our proven research methods and expert data mean your business will never be completely blindsided. Even with all of the tumult of 2020, many of our predictions rang true.

Stay tuned for our 2021 Social Media Trends report, where we will break down the most important changes your brand should prepare for next year (pandemics, civil rights movements, and other global tectonic shifts notwithstanding). In the meantime, watch our mid-year check-in webinar, How to Finish Strong on Social in 2020: An Update from Hootsuite’s Social Trends Team, for up-to-the-minute trends forecasts and guidance on finishing 2020 on a high (social media) note!

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