What 9 social media leaders are taking with them into 2021

What a year it’s been.

Over the last nine months, social media leaders have dealt with a global pandemic, natural disasters, social uprisings and a contentious general election. With people spending more time on social media because they’re stuck at home, social teams are also under pressure to be always on. Many social media marketing leaders also had to scrap their original strategies because they were no longer relevant or appeared inconsiderate. In short, 2020 was a year most of us would like to forget.

But for all the ups and downs it brought, 2020 was also a (albeit, at times, stressful) growth opportunity for social media leaders. And the social media lessons learned can be applied toward future strategies in a post-pandemic, post-election year. Read on to discover what lessons nine leaders in social media are taking with them into the new year.

1. Listen, listen, listen

Working in social media means working in a fast-paced environment. But for as quickly as social teams move, there’s value in knowing when to slow down and really look at what’s happening around you. Lindsay Bruce, the marketing manager of SMB at Twitter, shares her thoughts on why listening is going to be an important tool in 2021.

“It’s always a good idea to read the room before posting on social, but this year it became especially critical. Before every Tweet, I looked at the day’s headlines, trending conversations and looked to see if/how other brands were engaging.

I plan to continue taking those few extra minutes to get a feel for the day’s (or week’s or minute’s) climate. Not only can it save you from posting insensitive content, but it can help you identify meaningful ways to connect that day.”

2. Lean into uncertainty—but proceed with caution

When plans start to go awry, it’s our instinct to want to pump the brakes and fix the situation. But as we saw with 2020, sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow. That’s one lesson Austin Braun, social media manager at the University of Colorado College of Engineering and Applied Science, is taking with him into 2021.

“Embrace the unexpected—but more importantly, learn to love it. 2020 proved that a great social media manager is one that can think quickly and execute on a whim. Whether [that’s] halting content in times of crisis or jumping onto an ad-hoc trend, trusting your gut instinct to protect (or enhance) your brand is invaluable.

Likewise, thinking critically about the way your brand’s tone, persona and message will be perceived is [something] all social media managers should consider before publication. Think through each pitfall and always think of the end at the beginning.”

3. Take care of your people

One of the best things about social media is its ability to bring brands and people together to form a community. And this year highlighted just how powerful communities can be when we take the time to listen to and take care of each other. Brianna Foster, the social media manager at Pinterest, has this to share with her fellow social media leaders.

“2020 was the year that really emphasized community management. Listening to what your audience is saying, monitoring social trends and keeping a pulse on social movements proved to be more valuable than any other strategy. This year we really had to throw away any initial ideas of the work we had planned to do and really sit down with our audiences and see how we could better serve them in this state of the world.”

4. Lead with your brand’s values

In 2020, more brands than ever before took a stand on a variety of social issues. If speaking up is part of your strategy, you need to be ready to back it up. Jayde Powell, head of social and community at Sunwink, elaborates on what marketers need to consider before taking a stand.

“Values-led marketing matters. If there’s anything that 2020 taught us, it’s that consumers want to purchase from brands that are on the right side of history. This year, we saw several brands use their platforms to speak on social injustice; however, social injustice wasn’t just a 2020 issue. Social injustices happen every single day and have been happening for centuries.

Using social to speak out on issues facing marginalized communities, amplifying the voices of marginalized individuals and shedding a light on issues impacting our earth is the future of social media marketing. I believe that if a brand’s social media marketing strategy isn’t rooted in its values, then their community will navigate elsewhere.”

5. It’s not all about you

While consumers expect brands to promote their products and services on their social profiles, there are times when consumers get tired of seeing a brand talk only about themselves. Pushing a promotion when people are struggling to find employment, for example, comes off as insensitive. Pat Timmons, the social media associate at Drift, expands upon this observation:

“Your audience doesn’t want to hear about brand non-stop. They want you to provide them value that is relevant to how they feel in that moment. Meet your audience where they are and put them at the center of everything you do.”

6. Don’t be afraid to break the fourth wall

Despite being best practice to follow brand and style guidelines for social, there are times when it’s okay to break character and speak directly to your audience. Brands like Wendy’s and Steak-umm have distinct personalities on Twitter and Tweet like a human being would. Alexa Heinrich, the social media manager at St. Petersburg College, shares her learnings from 2020:

“Sometimes it’s okay to break the fourth wall with your social media. Your audience is actually very okay in most instances with you humanizing a brand. Personally, I’m also planning to be better about setting boundaries for myself to maintain my mental wellness in a very fast job setting.”

7. Speak from your (brand’s) heart

This year was an emotional roller coaster for many, further emphasizing the importance of being kind to one another. For brands, this can be as simple as checking in with consumers and acknowledging that times are tough. Brianne Fleming, a marketing instructor at the University of Florida, doubles down on this important reminder everyone should keep in mind as they plan for 2021.

“Marketers know empathy is important, but it was the true essence of 2020. As I head into 2021, I’ll remind myself that no matter what social media innovations are introduced, people will always respond to compassion and powerful stories that speak to the heart.”

8. Perfection is overrated

A polished social presence may be nice to look at, but how effective is it in helping your brand achieve its goals? Curating a perfect social account takes time and resources that could be spent on more impactful content that feels less sophisticated but resonates strongly with your audience. Christina Garnett, senior insights strategist at VIZIT, shares advice for brands on how to improve their social content.

“Social connection isn’t built through perfection. It’s built through relatability. Brands and personal accounts are creating the most buzz when they are starting conversations, showing what’s behind the curtain and sharing their human (flawed) side. Consumers want to connect with brands that understand them. McDonald’s has done an incredible job in harnessing the voice and emotion of their consumers.”

9. Make time for yourself

Few teams were put through the wringer like the social team was in 2020. Some feel like they haven’t been able to catch a break since March, while others are on the verge of burning out. Working in social media demands a lot out of marketers—which is why it’s important to prioritize self-care and take breaks as needed. Jenn Crim, the acquisition marketing manager for social media at Opry Entertainment Group, offers this reminder for social media leaders as they look ahead to the new year.

“Know when to unplug and turn off the computer and phone. Social media demands a lot out of social media managers, and when you’re on 24/7 (as we often are) it’s easy to get burnt out. Communicate with your leadership when you need a break, a day or some time to unplug. You can’t do your best work when you’re not at your best—and 2020 has definitely reinforced that to me.”

What lessons are you taking into 2021?

2020 is (finally) coming to an end, but there are plenty of social media lessons learned that we can take from this unpredictable and challenging year. Leading with empathy and learning to love the unexpected are just a couple of learnings social marketers can use to elevate their 2021 strategies.

So as you look forward to the new year, don’t forget to take a moment and look back on all that’s happened in 2020. There’s a lot we can learn from our wins and failures in a year that has tested many of us beyond our own limits.

If you’re searching for more inspiration to take your social strategy from good to great, check out our free toolkit for leveling up your 2021 social marketing today.


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