The Social First Approach: A Guide To Engaging Global Audiences On Social Media

Social media is the key to building loyal brand communities and enriching customers’ lives. So in 2021, taking a social first approach to your global marketing is a must.

But how can you master your social first marketing strategy when the channels, formats and audiences all keep changing so fast? That’s where this blog comes in handy. We’ve put together the social media marketing trends you need to know for 2021, with tips and tricks on how to use them.

Make yourself useful

Your first priority in the coming months should be using social to support your customers at a time when anxieties are running high. Right now, a brand’s social content needs to help their customers navigate our strange new world. According to a report by Talkwalker and Hubspot, 78% of consumers right now want brands to help them in their daily lives as the global pandemic continues.

Take inspiration from L’Oréal. With social distancing likely to be a part of everyday life in 2021, video calls are going to take up more and more of our time. In response, L’Oréal have released their first digital make-up line allowing users to apply make-up filters on live video across Snapchat, Instagram and Google Duo. By providing users with the opportunity to try out new looks with ease, ‘Signature Faces’ puts the fun back into video calling, helping to combat video call fatigue. Useful, innovative and engaging – it’s a great example of social first thinking.

And it’s not just your social media marketing efforts that matter. Using community management to provide on-hand support for your customers will play a vital role in 2021. A recent Sprout Social survey revealed that 79% of consumers think brands should react to messages on social media within 24 hours. Add to that the 49% of consumers who will unfollow a brand if their concerns go unheard. The lesson here? Always be present for your customers and provide them with helpful responses.

When you’re responding to customers on a global level, it’s vital that you have the capabilities to talk to your customer not only in their own language, but also in a way that resonates with them culturally. A poorly translated, tone deaf response looks lazy and risks offending your customers. Seek out in-market experts who can provide your social media team with local insight and language expertise.

Get ready to react

In 2021, social media advertising will continue to be about showcasing the human side of your brand. To do this, you need to follow your consumers’ conversations on social media and get involved. But how can you do that?

Reactive content for Gen Z audiences

For Gen Z audiences, it’s less about talking and more about creating. You should produce reactive video content that entertains audiences while emphasising your brand’s personality. According to a recent report by McKinsey, Gen Z in APAC opt for brands who show off their personality through video content. While a Think with Google report reveals that 71% of surveyed Gen Zs mainly use mobile devices to watch videos.

When it comes to finding the latest video trends, TikTok is the obvious place to start. After all, it’s arguably the most popular social channel for Gen Zs. In 2020 the number of Gen Zs using TikTok daily increased by 250%+ across Europe – a figure that’s set to keep on rising (source: Global Web Index). By staying up to date with the latest TikTok trends, brands can quickly generate reactive content, become part of the craze and engage Gen Z audiences.

Louis Vuitton did just that. In a bid to win over younger customers, they took on the TikTok “slow motion phone drop transition trend” (apologies for that mouthful) where users use slow motion to showcase their best outfits. Instead of sharing their videos on TikTok, Louis Vuitton took the trend to Instagram Reels. A clever move since Gen Z audiences are more likely to follow and engage with a brand on Instagram than any other platform (source: Wibbitz). Louis Vuitton’s phone drop Reel achieved an impressive 8.6M views proving that TikTok trends are not to be underestimated.

Reactive content for wider demographics

Of course it’s not just about getting creative on TikTok and Reels. If you want to engage a wider net of consumers, there are so many channels at your disposal, and so many formats to try. For example:

Make it a meme

In 2020, the world went under lockdown together, and sending memes became a way of sharing a long-distance laugh with friends. 55% of 13-35 year olds were sharing memes with each other every week during lockdown (source: Talkwalker). Meme culture isn’t going anywhere fast, and the brands who can create funny, relevant memes are set to win in 2021.

But be wary – it’s all too easy to get memes wrong. Even the biggest global brands, including McDonald’s and Gucci, have fallen into the cringe-trap, jumping onto the latest meme trend without understanding what it means.

As well as being slated for producing cringe-worthy memes, brands often discover that they’ve become the unwanted punchline of a meme. So, when it comes to memes – whether you’re creating them or desperately trying to avoid featuring in them – carrying out social listening and staying on top of trends will be essential in the coming year.

Unleash your live-tweets

If memes are not your thing, getting involved in a global event by live-tweeting along is a powerful way to create instant connections with audiences. For example, Pantone provided ‘Color Commentary’ to 2020’s Super Bowl on Twitter after spotting that the competing teams playing were both sporting the colour red. Their quirky take on the events brightened up Twitter and certainly got people talking.

Play the game

Gaming has well and truly taken over in the last year, with the number of gamers rising from around 31M in August 2019 to 41M in July 2020. The lockdown months saw a particular spike in the adoption of gaming, with many looking for much-needed escapism and the chance to connect with friends. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the unexpected new hit of the season, selling 13M+ copies in its first 6 weeks. Lots of brands – including Glossier, Hellmann’s, Chanel and Gucci – have leveraged Animal Crossing’s popularity, creating branded avatar skins for players to wear.

Of course, Animal Crossing isn’t a social channel in itself. So how can brands use more traditional social platforms – TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. – to connect with their playful audiences? Burberry set a great example by creating their own Ratberry game to help launch their Lunar New Year 2020 capsule collection. Burberry produced accompanying Ratberry stickers for WeChat (a hugely popular Chinese social media platform with 1B+ daily active daily users) helping them to win over local audiences during the year of the rat (source: Business of Apps).

Brands can also think about featuring their ads on Snapchat’s game platform, Snap Games. On Snap Games, players can choose whether or not to view ads. But opting-in often leads to in-game prizes, so gamers watching ads on Snap Games have something to gain. As a result, Span gamers are more willing to engage with the ad’s content. Something to think about for your 2021 social media marketing plans.

Steer clear of fake news

While social gaming provided much-needed distraction from the chaos of 2020, many people actually chose to use social media to keep up with the year’s troubling news developments. Indeed, social media is fast becoming a main source of news for many – a trend that’s predicted to continue in 2021.

According to Statista, 51% of 18-34 year olds worldwide are choosing to use social media over major news organisations to get their news updates. On top of that, a recent Global Web Index survey showed that 51% of respondents in Latin America, 41% in Europe and 34% in North America all claim that their main reason for using social media is to know what’s happening in the world.

But, with this thirst for news also comes a fear of fake news. Both misinformation (theories that lack real scientific evidence) and disinformation (intentionally false information intended to disrupt) has taken over social feeds. So, if it’s relevant for you to discuss current affairs with your audiences, make sure you’re presenting them with trustworthy, thoroughly-researched information.

For example, during the height of lockdown, Monzo (the fast-growing online bank) only shared Covid-19 news when it directly affected their customers’ finances. Rather than confuse their customers with frightening news, Monzo distilled the latest news developments into informative posts that helped their customers adapt to the situation. 

Be true to your purpose

Carrying on from current affairs, consumers expect brands to take a stance on the important social issues of today. Diversity, for example, continues to be a pressing topic, with many brands using social media to advocate the need for more acceptance in society, and greater representation in ads.

Take Starbucks’ #WhatsYourName campaign. Through careful social listening, Starbucks discovered that the transgender community were using their new names in Starbucks stores, and then sharing the experience on YouTube. As a result, Starbucks created a TV ad telling the story of a young transgender male who finds acceptance when ordering a coffee using his trans name. Starbucks also partnered with Mermaids, a transgender youth charity, and launched a social campaign encouraging users to share their selfies with the Starbucks mermaid cookie using the campaign hashtag. This campaign showcases true social first thinking, using the best of TV and the best of social media to create a conversation-starting campaign.

By listening to what wider communities were saying about their brand on social, Starbucks were able to support an important, relevant cause without falling into the trap of woke-washing. Indeed, brands must approach wokeness with caution. Jumping on a movement that has no relevance to your brand will seem fake and opportunistic. For more on how to create successful woke campaigns on a global scale, read our blog here.

Embrace UGC 2.0

We’ve said it a million times and we’ll say it again… user generated content is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build strong brand communities on social media. But in 2021, there’s a new kind of UGC – UGC remixing.

Rather than sit back and let the customers do all the work, the onus is now on brands to provide customers with the tools needed to create great UGC. Stickers, templates, formats, TikTok challenges – whatever the medium, brands should encourage more than just a product selfie in 2021. It’s about treating your customers like influencers.

A brand who does this really well is Peloton. Peloton’s #MyPelotonReason campaign provides Peloton fans with an Instagram Story template to screenshot, fill in and share on their own channels. The purpose behind the campaign is to build connections between Peloton users, giving the users a branded space to share their leaderboard details so others can follow them on their fitness journey. As a result, Peloton comes across as a brand dedicated to building a strong and supportive community.

Upgrade your influencers to brand ambassadors

So if your customers are now influencers, where does that leave actual influencers? Well, in 2021, they aren’t just influencers, they’re brand ambassadors. Face it, consumers don’t want to follow fickle influencers who flit between brands faster than can you say #SponCon. Today, it’s all about building genuine, long-term relationships with influencers. You should regularly integrate a few key influencers into your annual social media content plan. Over the course of the year, work closely with your influencers to fully understand what resonates with their audience and what doesn’t. Take their learnings and apply them to your influencer strategy.

We hope this quick guide to the 2021 trends social media marketing trends will come in handy when planning your upcoming social content. Just remember, this is an entirely new era of global marketing. Trends move fast and audiences move even faster… but the rewards are worth the race. Keep talking, keep listening and keep reacting. Your audiences will thank you for it.

If you need any help talking to your local customers in a way that resonates, get in touch.