I think it’s safe to say that no one could have predicted 2020; try though we did last year. But with the last 12 months safely behind us, and 2021 underway, it’s time to once again look to the future.

Future gazing is important in the fast-moving world of marketing and, in particular, social media; consider how much consumer behaviours have changed over the past 12 months, the rise of gaming and streaming platforms as people looked to fill their days in lockdown, and the important role social media played in keeping us all connected.

Here, in the first part of a two-part series, our global leadership team shares their thoughts on the trends that will shape marketing, and social media, this year.

The streaming economy expands
Nathan McDonald, Co-Founder and Group CEO
In 2020, we saw streaming platforms boom in popularity and established content creators adapt, migrating to new platforms (for them) and opening channels and content streams to reach and engage their fan base in fresh and creative ways. As a result, we also saw platforms such as YouTube and Twitch introduce more ways for audiences to tip, subscribe to, and buy from their favourite streamers. The additional monetisation of these platforms (beyond traditional brand partnerships) enabled communities to support themselves and the content (creators) they wanted to see develop and grow. This evolution from influencer to streamer, and the move towards community-funded content creation, is something we expect to see continue to grow in 2021 and beyond. It’s the brands who do their diligence, put the time in to understand the culture of these communities, and find ways to support them, not just market to them, that will succeed.

TikTok becomes a media player
Suzie Shaw, Managing Director, Sydney
From a marketing perspective, 2020 was the year of TikTok, with downloads rising to over 2BN by the end of Q3, up from 315M in Q1 and making it the most downloaded app on Apple’s App Store. As we move into 2021, it’s possible that the rate of consumer penetration will slow, but what’s likely to rise, is the rate of monetisation. In 2020, marketers have been tentative about investing in the new platform that over indexes on under 18s, has until recently had a relatively clunky ad product and currently no ‘click to buy’ functionality. However considering the high volume of video views it delivers, time spent on app, daily average open rates and overall engagement, it over-delivers on audience, yet compared to Facebook and Instagram, features just a fraction of ad inventory - Facebook is 21.2%, Instagram is 20.6% and TikTok is just 2.4%. This is set to change in 2021, as we expect advertisers to begin to pile in.

The dope shot
Masayuki Tono, Managing Director, Tokyo
If the Coronavirus vaccine is indeed more than 90% effective, then we can expect to see an unprecedented economic upturn, starting in the US, in the second half of next year - with industries like travel, apparel, food services and hospitality being particularly positively affected. As we move into the post-Corona era, food delivery platforms, digital subscription services, and c2c money transfer and e-commerce platforms are expected to continue their growth momentum; as they provided convenience to those confined to their homes, and as a result, will become an integral part of many people's lives - even after the curfew is lifted. So expect to see new competitors emerging in these spaces. It is possible to predict - at some level at least - what the world will look like after Corona, so marketers need to start thinking now about what the new value is for brands in preparation for the opportunities to come.

Bubbling Up, Socially
Donald Wong, Executive Partner, Hong Kong
For our city, a tremulous 2019 turned out to be only a prelude to the “new normal” 2020 we’re all experiencing, globally; driving the Gen Z digital natives to value the free-flow of information even more.  In 2020, MeWe became one of the top free apps* in terms of the number of downloads on Google Play, as Gen Z and the digital-savvy embrace it as THE “unadulterated" social network of choice. MeWe started as the social app du-jour among the American conservatives circle, so it’s somewhat surprising (or not) to see it making waves on the opposite side of the global pond. Applying this to a broader global scope, digital marketers need to stay even more on top of local trends to find where their target audience is flocking to, as the segmentation/fragmentation in the broader social arena is spilling over to be reflected in the online social niches.

*Correct as of the publication date.

Disintegration
Pete Lin, North Asia Regional Managing Director
For the past few years, the China digital landscape has been dominated by WeChat and Weibo; but as we move into next year, we expect to see this landscape become increasingly fragmented, as newer platforms such as Douyin and Red begin to reach ubiquity. Consumers will be spending more time than ever before on lifestyle-specific platforms, such as Douyu and Huomao for gamers, Pinduoduo for thrifty shoppers, and even LinkedIn - which had a hard time penetrating the China market, until now - for young professionals. We can also expect to see brands opting to work with networks of micro-influencers or key opinion consumers (KOC’s) more and more, as they become increasingly wary of the high collaboration fees and questionable fan base numbers of high profile influencers; leading to the rise of thousands of multi-channel networks (MCNs). 2021 is going to be the first year that this new digital ecosystem is fully in place in China, and the brands that don’t react to it will see their influence erode very quickly.

One Avatar to rule them all
Christina Chong, Managing Director, Singapore
Last year, we were predicting the rise of the virtual self as a key trend for 2020, and indeed over the past few months, we have seen avatars taking a more prominent role in people’s lives. From video games (Travis Scott made millions selling Fortnite skins after his in-game Astronomical concert) to social media platforms (Facebook launched Avatars back in May to compete with Snapchat’s Bitmojis), it’s clear that younger generations have an appetite for creating digital twins to express themselves in ways they can’t in real life. But where we’ll see this space develop is in people’s desire to have their avatars serve multiple purposes - offering a unique and customizable virtual version of themselves which they can use in any social spaces or virtual worlds. Zepeto, a 3D avatar-based social network, has already seen many of its users sharing their avatars on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok; while companies like Genies have raised funding from Bandai Namco to work on avatar creation engines and virtual shops that are platform-agnostic.

'The rise of social gamevertising'
Akanksha Goel, Founder and Managing Director of Socialize, Dubai
Over the past thirty years, gaming has emerged from the basement and catapulted into mainstream activity; emerging as a subculture, with 4 out of 5 consumers partaking in it regularly. Added to the mix, the human race forced to stay indoors for great lengths of time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a powerful recipe for success for brands that can figure out how to ‘press play correctly’. We predict brands will really start to embrace this new space, looking at games and gaming platforms as extensions of their social ecosystems. Games like Animal Crossing have opened up a wealth of options to brands to engage with their audience, who are increasingly spending time in these spaces. To truly win here, brands will need to understand the communities and behaviours in these newly-formed online subcultures; activating in a way that enhances gaming culture instead of bombarding them with ads.

Tomorrow we’ll be sharing predictions from our offices in the UK, Europe and North America.