2020: the year in social

by Amber Robinson December 16, 2020

We’re now counting down the final days of 2020. While most will be happy to see the back of what’s been an extremely challenging year, it’s also fair to say that it’s changed how we interact with the world. Here are the trends that shaped 2020 in social media.

Online, all the time
Marooned at home, we turned to online networks for information, comfort and distraction. Some in-house comms staff became “accidental community managers” as workplace community tools like Slack, Yammer and Facebook Workplace became integral to work. Workplace engagement markers actually improved early in the pandemic in many organisations.

All forms of online communities increased visitation. New data released by Australian Community Managers (ACM) found 33% of community professionals saw significant increases in use of their communities across all sectors.

With more local newspapers and publications closures, people increasingly turned to Facebook Groups and other digital platforms for news on local happenings.

All this online activity came at a price, with 30% of community managers telling ACM the pandemic negatively impacted their health and wellbeing, as they helped more people with fewer resources.

Free speech versus hate speech and misinformation
A viciously-fought US election paired with a pandemic (or plandemic, for the Qanon folk) caused a social media firestorm. Platforms grappled with how to deal with hate speech and misinformation. Twitter introduced warnings on content. Facebook’s more hands off approach saw brands boycott the platform in protest.

Social pressure on brands intensified. Brands reacted faster to bad behaviour on social media, possibly to avoid social media pile-ons, but also reflecting a trend for brands to care about social causes and publicly articulate their values. Pete Evans was quickly ditched by Big W, Channel 10, Baccarat and Coles, amongst others, after sharing a neo-Nazi meme on Facebook. He vowed to leave the platform in favour of less-regulated networks like Parler and Telegram, but his 1.2 million Facebook followers was irresistible – Paleo Pete is back.

Online protest communities gained traction, with Sleeping Giants Australia and MFW (Mad Witches) boasting more than 30,000 followers and causing headaches for the likes of 2GB and Sky News. Social media’s political power came to the fore with anti-Trump republicans launching The Lincoln Project to fundraise and produce anti-Trump campaign materials, becoming one of the year’s most successful marketers (in ad spend and performance).

The increased targeting opportunities of social media advertising cemented it as a must for election campaigns. US Senator Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez criticised fellow Democrats for not spending enough on social, and engaged with fans on Nintendo game Animal Crossing and gaming platform Twitch.

The power of storytelling
Storytelling has always been powerful, but this year audiences had more time for deeper engagement, particularly content tapping nostalgia and hope. A highlight was Ocean Spray’s win after a video of Nathan Apodaca skateboarding with a bottle of the brand’s cranberry juice while lip-synching to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, went viral on TikTok.

The story behind the video was compelling: Apodaca had jumped on his longboard to get to work in a potato factory after his car broke down. Ocean Spray teamed with a local dealership to deliver Apodaca a new truck laden with cranberry juice. It was the feel-good moment the world needed, and an extremely effective ad spot for the cost of a Nissan Titan.

We all became so used to Zoom’s low-fi video quality that high production values went out the window. Some of the best storytelling was technically basic, like TikTok comedian Caitlin Reilly playing different characters from her bedroom, or Humans of New York’s (HONY) 32-part photographic series featuring charismatic New Yorker Stephanie Johnson, best known as Tanqueray. HONY’s online community raised $2.6 million for Tanqueray’s medical needs, showcasing the power of Facebook to move people to action.

The proof we can’t get enough stories? The ephemeral video feature was added to Twitter, LinkedIn and Spotify, with shareable video gaining more traction on TikTok and Instagram Reels. TikTok increased downloads in Australia by 50% in 2020 and reaching 2.5 million users.

Make it unique
Technology finally caught up with personalisation. Users want a payoff for giving up their data, and that is increasingly being packaged in creative and engaging ways. Spotify’s Unwrapped feature now comes with shareable social tiles featuring personal listening facts. Facebook Messenger bots use customers’ first names. Ideally, social media should be a conversation, not a one-way broadcast.

A low-fi approach can be just as successful. To encourage home workouts during lockdown, Reebok asked fans on Twitter which exercise equipment they had at home and provided personalised workouts. This personal touch, whether delivered algorithmically or manually, strengthens bonds between users, brands and platforms.

The trends that shaped 2020 will continue into 2021 as we reconsider how to stay connected to people we love and work with. Organisations that create safe, moderated spaces for users to interact in, provide personal, value-led experiences and embrace the primal tenets of storytelling are likely to thrive.