Seven PR & Social Media Predictions for 2021

January 6th, 2021

If you’re looking for a good laugh, type “Jan. 1, 2020 headlines” into your search engine. Some of my favorites are “the most anticipated buildings set to shape the world in 2020” from CNN, “the bull market is charging into 2020” from The Wall Street Journal, and “12 things our critics are looking forward to in 2020” in The New York Times’ Arts section.

This time last year we were all blissfully ignorant of what was to come – marketers included. Among the long list of lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic is that we can’t say for certain what tomorrow will bring. It’s in that spirit that I made this list of predictions for 2021. Based on what I’ve been reading, hearing and seeing, these are seven things I expect to come to fruition for PR and social media. But if 2021 has more surprises in store for us, I could be rewriting this list by March. So let’s just say I’d be willing to wager my lunch over these predictions, but not my kids’ college savings.

  1. PR and marketing will no longer be siloed.  
    Some companies have historically kept marketing and communications in separate corners. The concrete goals of marketing, they would say, are very different from the seemingly more amorphous benefits of public relations. It’s ROI vs. reputation. However, in a year when crisis has become the norm, this is changing. Thanks to cancel culture and the pandemic, crisis communications and proactive PR efforts are becoming more integral to success in marketing. In other words, sometimes there is no ROI with a bad reputation.
  2. Audio content will be king.
    This prediction comes from the latest episode of Danielle Bayard Jackson’s Tell Me in Ten podcast. Remote workers are experiencing extra screen fatigue these days. When 5 o’clock hits, the last thing they want is more blue light. But with little to no opportunity to interact face-to-face with anyone outside of one’s own home, they’re still looking for informational or entertaining noise. They’re podcasting, turning on the radio, and listening to – but not watching – videos. This is why, for instance, Netflix is rolling out an audio-only mode for its app.  Brands that think audio-first in terms of their content stand to benefit next year. So do those who are broadening their SEO strategy to include voice search. According to one source, 41% of Americans are now using voice search once per day.
  3. Alternative platforms will become more prominent.
    The 2020 election is over but its social media implications live on. Facebook and Twitter did something unprecedented in October when they blocked a major news story from the New York Post relating to the president-elect’s son. Combine that with the ongoing flagging of disputed political tweets and it has some on the right exploring alternatives. For example, the week after the election, four million people joined Parler. Rumble, which is like YouTube, projected major growth as well with about 90 million people watching videos in its platform.

    Facebook, Instagram and Twitter won’t be going away anytime soon, but they could start to see a decline in active users. Just like we’ve seen with cable news, a division driven by political affiliation may manifest – leaving us with the Fox News and CNN of social media. This is bad news for brands who are trying to reach their audiences in one place. Businesses and organizations need to keep a close eye on the situation and be ready to adapt.

    (Author’s Note: This blog post was written prior to the riot at the Capitol. There’s no doubt social media will change forever as a result. With Donald Trump being removed from Twitter and Facebook, and Parler being shut down, Democrats will be rewriting policy at the federal level and the right will be looking for alternative ways for their voices to be heard.)
  4. Internal communications will have a seat at the table.
    Keeping employees together while they’re socially distanced has been a challenge for some companies. To maintain company morale and collaboration, internal communications must become more of a priority. It’s also been important on an individual level with one in three Americans showing symptoms of a depressive disorder. With more brands getting their internal comms ducks in a row, they’re seeing the value of prioritizing communication to their employees.
  5. TikTok isn’t going away.
    Many brands have hesitated to jump on the TikTok bandwagon because of regulatory uncertainty. Based on national security concerns, President Trump issued an executive order last fall that set a deadline for a deal for an American company to take over U.S. operations of the Chinese app. That date has passed and a deal is still pending. However, a district judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the executive order from taking action. Meanwhile, President-elect Biden has not said what he will do with the platform, though he has said it is a concern.

    These developments, combined with how the courts are likely to continue to side with “free speech” advocates and the potential for an Oracle/Walmart deal to still come through, make it unlikely that TikTok is going to go away completely. Brands like Chipotle, which are operating on that assumption and creating TikTok videos, are reaping the rewards.
  6. LinkedIn won’t be overlooked.
    2020 was another year of growth for LinkedIn. As the result of layoffs and fewer graduates landing jobs right out of school, there are more job seekers turning to the platform. Networking in-person is not an option, which means LinkedIn is more valuable than ever when it comes to making new connections. Customizing content for LinkedIn will still be a best practice, but with people spending more time on the platform, expanding a LinkedIn strategy beyond recruitment might pay off next year.
  7. Micro over macro influencers.
    Everyone from The New York Times to BBC is saying the age of celebrity intrigue is dead. That’s good news for emerging brands with modest budgets. This year’s influencer marketing will be less about follower numbers and more about content and authenticity, which can be achieved by working with micro (10k–50k followers) or even nano (1k–10k followers) influencers who have aligned interests.

Regardless of whether these predictions hold true, don’t get comfortable. Things are going to continue to change – probably at a faster pace than they have in the past. No human being knows exactly what 2021 will bring. By embracing that truth and continuously keeping pace with technological and societal shifts, we can make the best of it.