In the final Marketing Bee call of 2020, we had a spirited discussion about social media, and how it might look in 2021. We all anticipate a palpable shift in its character – possibly taking lessons from B2C, and looking at those little moments when the humanity behind the keyboard has won the day. Social media is the world’s echo chamber, not its driver, so what on Earth will it make of the year that will live long in everyone’s memory – of 2020? 

2020, change a-plenty 

Last year changed everything: business models, marketing strategies, and, noticeably, the line between the workplace and home. Even a few years ago, it may have been unthinkable to see your boss doing anything other than looking smart in a conference room, but now, we talk budgets in our hoodies, and sympathise with the colleagues whose childcare strategy is clearly based on bribery. We compliment people’s decor, and make sure our own bookcases are impressive and drinks cabinets tidy, if it’s to be in view at all.  We might even alter our visible background as we would our email tone of voice. The workplace and real life not only became firmly acquainted in 2020 – they became inseparable. 

The topics that we marketeers are so well-versed in – responding dynamically, planning proactively – have, courtesy of the global pandemic, jumped to the fore and been put to the test in the most unexpected way. Many companies have boasted about successful flexible working, but have not had it subjected to this particular litmus test. Companies that held on to old, office-based, 9-to-5 working patterns have more work to do to catch up. Businesses who gain the flexi- jewel in their crown will be the ones who survive. 

How does this change things for marketing? 

It changes how we identify our audience, for one. 

The merging of home, work, business, and social can be thought of as the circles of a Venn diagram – we see where they overlap, where they do not, and target our efforts to where they have a good chance of being seen. In the past, a bit of business analysis may have done the trick. But we are now living in an age where the devices from which we earn our living – to write reports, compile spreadsheets, host meetings – are now the same as the devices in which we order our shopping, make notes, and speak to our loved ones. 

The Tweet that did the rounds only a few years ago – LinkedIn is your office, Twitter is the bar after work, and Facebook is your living room – now sounds almost historical. 

And how we target our audience, for two.

It’s not how it used to be. Gone are the days where we can catch the eye of the CXO at a conference, and present our offerings in a word-perfect handout. Do we catch them off-guard on Twitter, and make a short and funny business-like joke to get some attention? Do we envisage they are in an office block, or their own living room? And, most pertinently: how do we stand out, exactly?

A good morsel for thought is noticing when we tune out of something we have seen. It could be a regurgitated banner, a repetitive message, or something that worked well in nuanced circumstances but you since sense is being shoehorned in somewhere, as if to maximise its shelf life. We become accustomed to what we see, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Effect wears off, and boredom sets in quicker than most people would care to admit. What starts off brilliantly can lose its originality if carelessly reiterated. Well-crafted messaging can and will become white noise, if heard too often. 

Social media platforms themselves are subject to their own cut-throat world. The filters of Instagram were once seemingly ‘cool-kid’ alternative, but since being acquired by the Facebook giant, ‘Insta’ is now massive in its own right. MySpace has found that its own space has shrunk, and TikTok’s very name might well be a tongue-in-cheek nod to its unknowable staying power. And now we have Clubhouse, too – an invite-only platform that, rather than purporting to be futuristic, sounds like somewhere one might find Bertie Wooster and chums. Social media is here to stay, and the only certainty is change. 

Social media’s lightspeed evolution 

Twitter has gone from offering its users 140 characters – including the @handle – to the more involved, vista-evoking Fleets, in which users can post their own little narrative for just 24 hours (internet permanence now being firmly out of fashion). Others follow: Facebook has Stories, as does LinkedIn. 

Events moving online has provided an opportunity to reconsider the way we word our invitations. Gone are the days of ‘Dear Colleagues, Please join me for this fantastic event by entering your details below and registering for this event’, to an enticing image and button of the much cooler-sounding Join Me. It is OK to shamelessly tap into the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those who weren’t born in a year starting with a 2) endemic.

And finally… etiquette in 2021 

There was a time not so long ago when businesses were firmly each to their own, almost stage-managing any human interaction in the fear that it could damage their perceived competitiveness or brand. But it turns out that consumers prefer a more humane or authentic interaction. In a world of #bekind, we welcome warm humour, gentle ribbing, good sportsmanship, and reciprocal goodwill.

As the old adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and when well-intentioned and responsibly done. Even what would have once been legal ‘spats’ around passing-off laws have taken on a new character, and firms are witnessing first-hand how meeting these with the right level of humour will garner far more popularity than old-school litigious threats. 

And in a world where we’re all ‘in this together’, businesses may well find that a genuine human touch is worth 50 board meetings. It could indeed be the difference between business nosediving, surviving, or thriving. Time will tell, so watch this space.