Sara Nettesheim
Sara is a Consumer Insights Analyst at Mintel, with a focus on producing social media research and infographics for reports.

Mintel is taking a look back at social media in 2020, with a focus on platform overview, noteworthy campaigns and brand initiatives, and platforms to watch in a three-part series.

During a year with minimal in-person shopping, social media eCommerce became crucial for brands and platforms alike. Here, we provide an overview of the top platforms in 2020.

TikTok

TikTok continues its rise to mainstream popularity

TikTok was the newest platform of choice for consumers of all ages during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, Gen Zers were the most avid fans of TikTok, though Millennials also significantly increased their daily use of the platform in 2020.

Source: TikTok

Catering to creators, users, and brands

TikTok was connected and responsive to its user community during the onset of COVID-19. By dedicating significant resources toward live-streamed content for its #HappyAtHome series, TikTok uplifted consumers while sustaining its creator community. Meanwhile, features like Small Gestures gave brands an opportunity to partner with the app and saw enormous success overall during quarantine.

Looking ahead: Shoppable content

TikTok recently ventured into the social commerce space with a Shopify partnership. Though eCommerce capabilities on the app are currently limited to paid campaigns, it is likely that organic shopping content will follow in 2021. Brands with established TikTok followings, especially those already using Shopify as a vendor, should be prepared to move quickly.

Three in 10 Gen-Z and Millenials are interested in TikTok shoppable posts, according to Mintel research on evolving eCommerce.

Pinterest

Pinterest keeps consumers clicking during the pandemic

Aside from Generation Z, Pinterest saw increases in daily use from all age groups in 2020. The discovery-based platform also made multiple updates to keep users engaged during lockdown, hitting peak usage in the months leading up to the holidays.

Focusing on storytelling

When interacting with social media accounts or personalities, consumers are most likely to view posts with pictures (as opposed to reading posts without pictures, watching a video, or watching a live stream), making Pinterest’s new Story Pins for content creators a perfect fit. Consisting of up to 20 images with text, Story Pins are available to those with Business accounts.

Looking ahead: Personalized curation

The prevalence of eCommerce during COVID-19 has left consumers craving shopping inspiration and direction. Because users are curating their ideas on Pinterest more than ever, the platform recently debuted multiple features aimed at content personalization and organization. Now that users can add their own notes to Pins, brands with loyal audiences on Pinterest should look for insights on how consumers personally curate branded content.

Instagram

Instagram gains ground with older users

Over the last year, Instagram saw an increase in daily use from all age groups except those aged 18-24, likely due to the rise of Gen Z favorite TikTok. The visual platform did, however, make strides with more mature consumers.

Change in daily use in 2020, by age:

45-54: +25%
55+: +86%

Integrating eCommerce and IGTV

With users already able to shop within posts and Stories, Instagram took its eCommerce capabilities a step further by adding shopping to IGTV videos. Because IGTV is centered around long-form videos, brands can utilize the feature to provide potential customers with a more in-depth look at their products and services that users can then buy without ever leaving the Instagram app. Appropriate, given that three in five of Gen Zers and nearly half of Millennials learn about products they are interested in buying on Instagram. While shopping on Instagram has centered primarily around self-explanatory products like clothes and cosmetics, the addition of IGTV videos could bring brands with more complicated offerings into the fold.

Looking ahead: User reviews

Instagram users can browse brand catalogs, view product photos and videos, and complete purchases all within the app. However, the visual platform’s eCommerce capabilities lack consumer testimonials, which are the key to gaining the trust of skeptical shoppers. Brands eager to expand their sales via social shopping should express a desire for the ability to add reviews to their Instagram storefronts.

Linkedin

LinkedIn sees boost from non-traditional workforce

Consumers across employment groups upped their daily use of LinkedIn in 2020. In addition, since COVID-19 began threatening the jobs of many in March, those who were self-employed or looking for work began using the networking platform much more regularly.

Virtual events in an all-digital world

In addition to helping consumers prepare for virtual interviews, LinkedIn revamped its events feature to be completely virtual. Through the combination of LinkedIn Live and LinkedIn Events, the platform added virtual events solutions for businesses of all types. Companies looking to stay connected with clients, prospective hires, and consumers overall should consider showcasing their capabilities with a virtual event via LinkedIn.

Looking ahead: Bite-sized content

While LinkedIn users typically share longer-form pieces such as articles and in-depth videos, younger social media users tend to gravitate toward more fast-paced content. LinkedIn took its first step toward more digestible content with the advent of LinkedIn Stories in October, and companies—especially those hoping to attract entry-level employees—should prepare for additional new types of micro-content in the coming year.

Twitter

Twitter fosters digital connections during COVID-19

After traffic on Twitter slowed at the beginning of 2020, users aged 18-54 all increased their daily use of the platform. By releasing updates dedicated to connection and discovery, Twitter was able to recapture the interest of consumers during quarantine.

Commitment-free content

First came Snapchat, then Instagram Stories. Now, after acquiring startup Chroma Stories, Twitter has debuted Fleets, its own version of ephemeral content.

With younger users particularly averse to permanent content, Fleets could be the simplest way of motivating young users to spend more time on the platform. And because Twitter’s survival depends on its youngest users, the platform’s copycat feature could be a wise move. And because users are familiar with the format, brands looking to diversify their content on Twitter can do so with ease.

Looking ahead: Community discovery

Many consumers found a sense of community on Twitter during the pandemic, and the platform has become a gathering place for like-minded groups of users with niche interests. To retain the momentum of these online communities in 2021, Twitter will likely develop new features that encourage repeat conversations among similar users.

Nearly half of Millennials like having conversations with people they don’t know on social media, according to Mintel research on connection and communication in a digital age.

Facebook

Facebook use stalls among younger consumers

All users below age 55 decreased their daily use of Facebook in 2020, causing the social network to focus on new initiatives aimed at younger users, like Facebook Campus.

Change in daily use in 2020, by age:

18-24: -28%
25-34: -7%
35-44: -4%
45-54: -6%

Streamlining virtual events

According to Mintel research on the eCommerce behaviors of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, over a third of consumers aged 18-43 want brands to reach out to them online, and one way brands followed through during the pandemic was through virtual events. Facebook’s paid online events became a valuable resource for brands big and small. By consolidating the process of promoting and hosting an event onto the same platform, Facebook set itself up to help businesses carry on during and after COVID-19.

Looking ahead: secure shopping

Though Facebook built the foundation for social eCommerce, data breaches have left users wary of shopping on the social network. And because Facebook allows a wide variety of sellers to monetize their businesses on its platform, consumers are unsure of who they can trust to complete a valid transaction. Going forward, Facebook and retailers will need to work together to prove that users’ shopping data is secure.

According to Mintel research on social media eCommerce, more than two in five online shoppers who haven’t made a purchase from a social media site don’t trust social platforms with their payment information.

Snapchat

Gen Z interest in Snapchat falters

Despite being Snapchat’s primary age demographic, Gen Zers decreased their daily use of the ephemeral platform over the last year. To reclaim the attention of its target audience, Snapchat supplemented its platform with new initiatives and partnerships.

Providing users support with Here For You

According to Mintel research on health management trends, three in 10 consumers feel social media has a positive effect on their health, and one in five of Millennials/Gen Zers feel it affects them negatively. It is also widely accepted that social media can cause damage to mental health specifically. Thus, social networks have begun adding tools to their platforms that identify and support users struggling with their mental health, starting with Pinterest’s emotional well-being activities launched in 2019.

In 2020, Snapchat joined in with Here For You, which shows mental health safety resources from users’ local experts. Similar to Pinterest, the feature is triggered when a user searches for topics related to mental health like depression or bullying. As more social platforms prioritize users’ mental health, brands must do the same.

Looking ahead: Video chatting

According to Mintel research on connection and communication in a digital age, only one in five users have a preferred video chat service, leaving room for new competitors. Snapchat has always placed a heavy emphasis on encouraging conversations within users’ personal social circles, giving it the potential to serve its users as the go-to video chat platform for close friends. As consumers continue to experience Zoom fatigue, brands should watch Snapchat as an area of opportunity for video conversations.

Check out ‘Noteworthy campaigns and brand initiatives’ in part two of this three-part series.