How 2020 Shaped Digital Marketing & Our 2021 Predictions

Dec 22, 2020 Christine Montes

2020 challenged us. At home. At work. And yes….in our news feeds.

It was the year a pandemic changed our social media behavior and increased usage.

The year platforms really cracked down on the spread of misinformation.

The year communities and brands took a stand for racial justice, online and off. 

The year brands boycotted Facebook advertising.

The year Twitter was hacked!
The year TikTok rose to the top, despite almost being banned (gasp). 

And of course….the year that we all watched (and couldn’t stop posting about) Tiger King.

The importance of having a digital presence has never been more evident to brands both big and small. Separated by distance, people across the world turned to social media to stay connected with their family members, friends and favorite brands. Staying home made us get creative, ironically grew our communities and networks, and pushed us to be more curious–seeking out new hobbies and educating ourselves on new topics. 

2020 will have a ripple effect on the years to come. The changes, disruption, and eventual growth from this year will play a huge role in shaping the future of marketing (and the world) – especially in 2021. Here are a few trends and predictions to keep in mind when putting together your digital strategy for the new year.

#1: Search optimization for social media is on the rise

We’re expecting social media marketers to be more focused on growing the reach of their posts with organic search optimization. Late this year, Instagram announced that users can now search via keywords and phrases on the Explore tab. Before this update, users were only able to search via profile name, hashtags, or location. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities when it comes to crafting content for Instagram, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see similar search features come to other platforms. Our recommendation: 

  • Focus on your keyword/hashtag strategy. Think about where you want to show up, and start including those keywords in your captions. Don’t go overboard, keep it authentic to your brand voice. Otherwise, you will come off as spammy and promotional. One way to do this is to make sure the keywords/hashtags are in-line with your copy. For example, “#SocialMedia can help extend the lifetime of your content. Here are some #tips on how you can repurpose content strategically…”
  • Invest more time in your engagement strategy. Although not having a direct influence on SEO, social media engagements (shares, likes, retweets, comments/reactions) indirectly have a positive effect on search ranking. Use the keywords to identify conversations you can be a part of and get active in them (advice, support, POV, etc.) often! 

#2: Speaking out and following through are key for follower retention.

2020 was the year of humanizing brands. Successful social media marketing hinges on having a brand voice and being transparent. Brand advocates, customers, influencers, and more turned to brands as news sources around the pandemic, racial justice movement, and the election. Staying silent is no longer an option, you (brands) need to take a stand. But remember, actions speak louder than words – your audience is watching. We believe this trend will only continue to grow in importance. Your followers want to know that not only are your products and services top-notch, but the people running the show are socially conscious and supportive of movements and people beyond their brand. A few things to consider:

  • Walk the walk: Before taking a stance, be sure you have the resources and programs in place to back up what you say your brand stands for. Followers will be tracking your progress on your promises. 
  • Monitor: Create news scans using platforms such as Meltwater Explore, Cision, etc. to monitor the topics you care about most. If your brand is passionate about a cause, they will have something to say about the topic’s breaking news. 
  • Lift others up too: Don’t just make it about you and all the good you or your brand are doing. If someone in your community did something worth commemorating, share it and give them praise! It takes a village –right?

#3: Increase your investment in video, and you’ll see the ROI. 

TikTok took center stage this year and continued to prove the power of video. Instagram caught on to the frenzy quickly and created its own lookalike feature, Reels. The number of video views on Pinterest has grown more than 240 percent compared to 2019. We could keep going on about how video consumption has grown across platforms, but we think you get the point. These short, easy-to-digest pieces of content are a hit among users and actually make it easier for creators to do what they do best: create. Here are our top four tips for creating a compelling video:

  • What’s your hook? Catch your audience’s attention within the first few seconds – bright colors, interesting movement, humor, shocking updates. Your time is limited and so is your audience’s attention span.
  • Mixed Media: Consider incorporating mixed media into your video production. Illustration over film with real people, voice over with animation, etc. Switch it up, but be sure the avenues you explore don't stray too far from your brand identity. Need more design inspiration? Head over here
  • Don’t over produce it: Shoot your video using your smartphone. Show the people a behind-the-scenes look at the brand, and showcase your people as an extension of your brand. It feels more relatable, and less promotional. 
  • Repurpose the heck out of it! Post it across platforms more than once. The lifetime of a video is much longer than still imagery. Hot tip: social platform algorithms favor new features and content where people spend more time with it. Next year will likely bring on new video features, so keep an eye out.

#4: Direct messaging is coming to the forefront.

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. Well, it also increases communication. As a result of quarantine and social distancing this year, people turned to different modes of communication to keep in touch, including direct messaging. Messaging platforms like Slack and Google Hangouts became the workforce go-tos. In March of this year, the messaging application WhatsApp saw a 40 percent increase in usage as the pandemic took hold, and it became the third most used social media platform in the world in October 2020. As the world continues to communicate and collaborate from a distance, we can expect messaging apps like WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and others continue to rise in popularity. We're in an era of hyper-communication, and both businesses and individuals are taking part in it. Here are a few unique ways brands can capitalize on the intimate and personalized nature of direct messaging:

  • Invite-only special events: Who doesn’t like to feel special? Find your super users and invite them to an exclusive virtual party. Give them a first glimpse into a new product or service. 
  • Mental health support: Brands within the health and wellness space can promote that their social followers can ask questions via direct message to receive tips and advice on any personal questions they have. After the year we had, mental health is something top of mind for the majority, and help is needed for all.
  • Exclusive one-on-ones: Host a public social media contest where your prize includes a Facebook messenger video chat with a spokesperson, an executive or industry expert/influencer.

#5: The next best thing is coming….we think.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new update or idea from one of the social media giants. Stories, which seem to be the last “big” thing, have made their way to every platform. What’s next?! Here’s what we hope for think:

  • Twitch Community Expansion: Isolation from friends, family, and co-workers, creates a natural longing for community. Twitch is the perfect example. Twitch’s growth in 2020 has been substantial (don’t believe us, check it out), and it’s reach beyond the gaming industry will only continue to grow. DJs hosting virtual sets, workout classes vs. in-person studios, comedy shows, art installations, e-sports the list goes on. How the features will evolve, we’re not clear, but we know it will only continue to gain fame amongst non-gamers in 2021 so brands should consider it in their marketing strategy. 
  • Consolidation: Social giants like Twitter will close Periscope and add features to the main app, or Facebook will add Cameo-type features to its platform. 2020 was hard enough, let’s make things simple and cut down on the number of social media apps we have on our phone.
  • Ephemeral content: As mentioned, attention spans are...What were we saying? Stories are becoming more and more popular. TikTok is oddly educational and keeps you wanting to come back to learn more. At the end of the day, it’s about what your audience wants to learn, or how they want to feel walking away from your content. Make it about them, not you, and they will keep coming back to learn more. 

We’d love to hear from you about how you think social media will evolve after the year we’ve had. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at

This blog post was co-authored by Claire Nelson, Hillary Hill and Jayde Umemba - Inkhouse digital team members.

Topics: Social Media, digital marketing, InkHouse Team, 2021 predictions
Christine Montes

Christine Montes is the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy based in our San Francisco office. She has ten years of experience in building, managing and executing social media, and influencer strategies for a variety of clients.

Read more from Christine Montes

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