Looking ahead: 9 predictions for social media marketers in 2021 and beyond

In a socially distanced year, businesses witnessed firsthand what a crucial role social media plays in connecting brands with their customers. For some brands, 2020 was all about trying new things on social, while others prioritized engaging the communities they’d already built.

This year also confirmed just how important social media marketers are—and the many hats they’re expected to wear. When they aren’t creating content or managing communities, social marketers serve as a brand’s first-line of defense against trolls and critics when brands make a misstep.

For many social marketers, 2020 was filled with burnout and stress. But it was also filled with valuable learnings marketers can apply toward their future strategies. Above all, 2020 reinforced how vital social media marketers are to an organization’s success. From becoming an integral part of marketing teams to getting the recognition they deserve from their peers, here are nine predictions for what 2021 has in store for social marketers.

1. You’ll embrace a more strategic role

Without social media, brands would have struggled to stay connected with its audience in 2020. Jenn Crim, the Acquisition Marketing Manager of social media at Opry Entertainment Group, is confident that social media and those responsible for it will become definite must-haves for brands.

“I see the role of the social media manager becoming absolutely essential in 2021. Our work has always been on public display, but in a year where social has become many companies’ main line of communication with their customers and audiences, social media managers have moved from being in the room to being the ones leading the room. If you’re not empowering your social media manager, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to best communicate with your audience and trusting them, you’re in for a rude awakening”

2. You’ll find new opportunities for growth

As leaders continue to learn about social media, social marketers can spend less time explaining what they do and more time on growing their strategies and careers. Jayde Powell, Head of Social and Community at Sunwink, believes this will result in greater role clarity and an expansion of the social media marketer’s career path.

“The role of the social media manager is very ambiguous and, in my experience, has been defined differently at every company. Marketing leaders are still learning about the skills and requirements necessary to hire social media marketing talent. Brands are now seeing the value of both organic and paid social media marketing, which means more talent is being hired. The hope for the future is that there will be a more clearly defined career path for social media marketers.”

3. You’ll experiment with your brand voice

Gone are the days of stiff marketing speak. As brands continue to adopt a more human approach to social, expect that casualness to carry over into their voice on social too. Lindsay Bruce, the Marketing Manager of SMB at Twitter, anticipates the future of social media marketing will involve more experimentation around how brands connect with their audience.

“In the past 18 months, I’ve seen more and more brands leaning into a more casual, human brand voice on social—especially on Twitter. I think this will continue and, in doing so, make brand voice development an even more important part of a social media manager’s role. As brands leave behind the familiar roadmap of traditional ‘marketing speak,’ they’ll need help experimenting and developing new ways of connecting.”

4. You’ll get the recognition you deserve

A brand’s social presence is nothing without the brains and creativity of the people working behind the scenes. Calum Shanlin, a Senior Producer at CBC, is confident the future of social media will involve recognizing the folks behind the keyboard.

“My hope for 2021 is that social media managers start getting the respect they deserve from within the workplace. We all know it’s a huge amount of work and that the SMM plays so many different roles, but I feel like we’re getting to know the managers themselves better and in turn people are understanding how much goes into it. I realize how lucky I am in my current position to feel properly valued and completely trusted by my bosses, and I just hope more and more social media managers will soon feel the same.”

5. You’ll prioritize approachability in every customer interaction

Every customer interaction is valuable—even the ones that may feel one-sided. Adrian Molina, the Brand Marketing Manager of Aviation Gin, shares how even small engagements with fans go a long way in building a loyal community.

“I wholly believe the trend of ‘approachable parasocial relationships’ (which I just made up) is going to continue on into 2021 and beyond. Parasocial relationships refer to the one-sided admiration that people may have for a celebrity or media personality based on their vertical like TV, podcasts or YouTube. Brands and social marketers are not necessarily big celebs and we thrive off engagement to ultimately lead to our product and service. So ‘approachable parasocial relationships’ are where the opportunity is.”

6. You’ll keep brands and customers on the same page

Sometimes, it can feel like brands and their consumers are operating on two totally separate planes. Brianna Foster, the Social Media Manager at Pinterest, predicts the future of social media marketing will involve bringing brands even closer to their audience.

“The role of the social media manager will always be to represent a brand’s digital personality. In 2021, that role will have a stronger emphasis. We saw brands struggle with accountability when they took to social to react to the events happening in the world and we saw that it wasn’t enough to just ‘say’ something. You needed action to back up your statements. Social media managers can help bridge the gap between brand and audience on a personal level. They’re going to have to listen to their audiences and stay on top of the social climate around current events.”

7. You’ll be involved in conversations from the get-go

A common frustration for social marketers is being left out of the planning stages of marketing campaigns or company decisions, then asked to create a social plan at the last minute. Christina Garnett, Senior Insights Strategist at VIZIT, believes this is going to change in the new year.

“There have been a lot of frank conversations this year about the work of social media managers and the stress associated. I hope that in 2021 we see more respect and appreciation for these roles and social media in general. With such an increased emphasis on social this year, I hope more brands include the social media manager in larger marketing conversations as well as integrating them into a part of more campaigns, instead of just having it as an afterthought.”

8. You’ll earn the buy-in you need to succeed

In the past, brands may have had some hesitation about pouring money and resources into social media marketing. Now, armed with a greater understanding of the impact social can have on a business, don’t be surprised if brands invest more in social and those who manage it. Brianne Fleming, Marketing Instructor at the University of Florida, explains her prediction further.

“In the pandemic, social media bridged the socially-distanced gap between companies and their customers. It was the glue that held that connection together, which highlighted the importance of social media as a field. I see more brands investing in social media managers and understanding their impact on brand loyalty.”

9. You’ll build a brand that customers love

Few people really understand your customers like the social media manager. Often the first point of contact with consumers, social marketers hear firsthand what customers love and hate about your brand. Pat Timmons, the Social Media Associate at Drift, anticipates social media marketers will continue to play up this role in 2021.

“The value of the social media role is tangible on so many levels across the company. We interact with customers daily, we hear what they say about us and other brands, we are present throughout the entire customer journey. In 2021, our goal should be to tell that story to our teams and our leadership.”

Get ready for the future of social media

It’s hard to deny how much 2020 solidified the importance of social media marketers and the value of brand social media. And many social marketers are finally getting the respect and recognition they deserve from the rest of their organization.

As 2021 continues to unfold, don’t be surprised to see the role of social marketers and the field of social marketing continue to evolve. Whether that’s bringing brands closer to their customers or developing new ways to engage with your audience, the opportunities for the future of social media marketing are endless.

If you’re ready to elevate your social strategy in the new year, download this worksheet and get started on connecting with your audience today.


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