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January 26, 2021

Answering The Five Biggest Digital Questions of 2021

By Mike Schaffer and Carolina Ortiz

It felt like the world exhaled as the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2020. Not since 1999, with the Y2K uncertainty looming, has the entire world been so anxious for a new year.

We all know the challenges 2020 presented – a global pandemic, a reckoning of racial injustice, continued climate change, seeds of doubt sown in democracy, the list goes on. This was a year that will never be forgotten because of how transformative it was for institutions, organizations, and people.

As we face a new year – one that still presents many of the same challenges as before – there are questions that will be addressed and answered in 2021. 

Will political polarization on social channels ease? 

Our original answer to this question was that political divisiveness will ease following the inauguration of Joe Biden. But now this is more murky than ever

There are moments in time where everything changes. The insurrection of January 6, 2021 led to President Donald Trump being permanently banned from Twitter, with, as of this writing, a growing list of other social media sites that have banned or restricted his digital presence.

Furthermore, mobile app stores and hosting services have begun to question whether certain emerging platforms, like Parler, could incite further violence. Restricting those apps could lead to further resentment.

While the 2020 election became a binary referendum on Trump, the political discourse of 2021 is, at best, unsettled. We don’t know the state of play in terms of channels and platforms, but even without Trump, other firebrands, like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, are continuing to support the former President’s positions. It is likely that polarization will continue, even without Trump personally driving conversation.

What does the future of influencer marketing look like?

At the peak of the pandemic, some questioned whether influencers were going to remain relevant. Pre-COVID, influencers were a source of aspiration and inspiration. But with nowhere to go and nothing to do, for a period of time, this content didn’t feel relatable. However, with societal and technological changes and advancements, the industry evolved. Going into 2021, we’re facing an evolved influencer landscape.

  1. With stay at home orders and social distancing measures framing 2020, influencers’ attention turned to home life and showing off the beauty in the mundane. Consumer audiences became more engaged with the influencers that mattered to them and many of these influencers increased their transparency surrounding paid content. As a result, many influencers now share their brand sponsored posts behind what they are calling “ad breaks”. With consumers becoming increasingly engaged in influencers’ lives and savvier about the nature of the work, creator content transparency will likely continue.

  2. Over the last year, we’ve seen the rise of influencer activism. Younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are notorious for their desire to only support brands that align with their values and beliefs. With the nation becoming more divided by the day, social audiences are turning to people who speak up about what they believe in, and influencers are no exception.

  3. Emerging tech and Instagram Reels are re-shaping the way content is created and consumed, particularly from an influencer perspective. Gone are the days of overtly filtered still content. Snackable videos with scrappy editing and catchy sounds are growing in popularity and seeing reach numbers higher than we’ve seen from organic content in a while.   

Will customers demand a pandemic-proof future?

With the pandemic keeping us at home, companies had to get creative to get products to their customers. Groceries were delivered, haircuts performed in driveways, and e-commerce exploded.

There will be a sizable portion of society that appreciates the convenience of a delivery-based model – and businesses will have to maintain some level of service in this vein.

However, there will also be a new appreciation for experiences – sitting at a coffee shop, browsing retail locations, or seeing your favorite band perform live. Given the nature of the vaccine roll-outs and the general unknowns surrounding the long-term impacts, we won’t be freely returning to 2019 living anytime soon. That means such real-world experiences will be at a premium – supply will struggle to meet demand – and that the hosts will pull out all-stops to make it as safe and special as possible. 

How will workplaces evolve?

The workplace will be forever changed. 2020 was the year we learned about each other’s home offices/bedrooms/kitchens/living rooms. We witnessed migrations away from major cities due to remote work. 

To wit, people moved away from large cities like New York and San Francisco, with population booms hitting smaller markets, like Austin, Phoenix, and Nashville.

As different cities and businesses re-open, there are two key predictions:

  1. Not everyone will return to the office. The genie is out of the bottle – a strong percentage of workers will demand to continue their remote status and companies must pivot their models, their physical spaces, and their hiring practices accordingly.

  2. Collaboration technology has just begun. We spent most of the year staring at each other on video conferences, but that is the tip of the iceberg. 2021 will see advances in how workplaces operate. Better chat. More reliable video. Tools for real-time collaboration. While many of these certainly exist, they are not part of every organization’s tech stack. That will change.

Will our social lives ever go back to “normal?”

Shortly after March 13, the most popular word across the nation became ‘Zoom’. Our entire social lives became centralized to one digital platform. First date? Zoom. Happy Hour? Zoom. Funeral? Unfortunately, Zoom. But this wasn’t the only tool who saw a rise in its usage from a social perspective.  We also saw applications like Jackbox, Among Us, Gather and Watch Party increase their traffic and word of mouth, with Among Us alone receiving over 100MM downloads by October 2020. But the main question is, will our social lives remain digital forever, at least to a degree?

  1. Social platforms and high-speed internet have created a global society, and that’s not going anywhere. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video invested in creating their, to encourage users to stay within their platform but also identifying a long-term opportunity for users to share a video watching experience with anyone not in their vicinity. Tools like these will continue to be useful and welcome. 

  2. While most of us would rather do pretty much anything other than attend another, if there’s one thing the tool has taught us it's that being far away from someone is no excuse not to see them. While we won’t always turn to tech platforms to host our soirees, there’s bound to be more digital connection points with loved ones.

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