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Ten Must-Know Social Trends For 2022

VMLY&R's head of social identifies what big changes we can expect this year - and what they mean for brands

By Christina Miller

A look back & a look forward

Following the isolation of 2020 and slowed-down life during the pandemic, 2021 was set up to be a year of renewed creativity and living life with a "YOLO" mentality — especially after having missed so many experiences in 2020.

But as we all know, 2021 came with its own host of challenges. And the adapted ways of living and the platforms that kept us entertained and trucking along during lockdown remained part of our lives as portals for connection, entertainment, and experiences that were not always possible in real life.

The trends that began during these past two years have gradually become our standard ways of life, and platforms have innovated and progressed to fit new consumer behaviours and expectations.

As for 2022, well, the name change to Meta by what was once Facebook is a good indication of where we're headed, a glimpse of what the future of digital experiences could look like in 2022 and beyond.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial for brands and businesses to keep their fingers on the pulse of these fast-evolving trends as they look to authentically engage in cultural moments within increasingly influential digital communities.

So, what do we think is in store for the year ahead? Well, everything from digital self-care to more long-form content and sound. Have a read.

1, Re-creation

New takes on existing content and trends in social is nothing new. The creative formula has skyrocketed in popularity thanks to platforms like TikTok, but it was around long before through meme culture and content like YouTube reviews. Influencers, creators, and regular users put their spins on an idea or piece of content that someone else created.

Why does it matter for brands?

In 2022, expect to see re-creation take an even bigger form in digital content — remakes of bigger pieces of content with bigger production values — like MrBeast's remake of “Squid Game” at the end of 2021.

Creators and brands will begin to look for more ways to tap into fandoms and put new life into existing content in a more significant way this year. We'll see more focus on creating content adaptations that make it into an experience or an immersive, engaging format that allows fans to step into the world and not just watch it from the outside.

So less new content ideas, more new immersive takes on old content ideas.

2, Spiritual Self-care

Spirituality slipped into the digital space in new ways in 2018. Meditation apps were hot investments, and platforms like Co-Star, which pings users' phones with daily astrology readings and zodiac-inspired tips, hinted at exciting things to come. The pandemic further enhanced this as digital spiritual practices gave people space to find meaning during challenging times. On TikTok, videos tagged #spiritualtok now have 956 million views, and #spiritualmeaning has 7.9 billion.

These spiritual trends reflect long-term conversations and societal changes and are expected to rise in 2022.

Why does it matter for brands?

More than ever, people want to grow and contribute to society in a meaningful way. The pandemic has made us more introspective, aware of our state of being and more outward-looking. It’s clear that more people are considering the bigger picture, i.e., the broader purpose and meaning of life. As a result, the importance of spiritual self-care is becoming well-recognised on social.

Brands that can authentically create content and experiences to help their audience grow and care for themselves spiritually will see significant success in 2022.

3, Simpler Social

Following the effects of the pandemic on the collective consciousness, we have seen a yearning for simplified social, with nostalgic conventions returning, such as the creation of collages, journaling and the re-emergence of trends such as the Y2K aesthetic coming back.

Why does it matter for brands?

A simplified content and connection approach is a welcome shift in a social world where more was more for so long. It will allow brands to take a step back and rethink their content strategy to connect with this emerging trend. Simpler social can be an opportunity for brands to connect and reconnect with both young and older generations through nostalgic activations and become relevant through these bornagain, simplified trends.

4, Rising Creator Economy

Influencers are no longer just celebrities; we are now in an age of true content creators. Creators are not only faces of brands but are now launching their own products, taking over traditional media investment and selling out products overnight on platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. And with 62% of people more likely to purchase when they see photos and videos from previous buyers, this will only get bigger.

Why does it matter for brands?

With the creator economy currently valued at around $104.2 billion and as more of the next generation of consumers prefer to tune into TikTok over TV, the balance of power is shifting. Brands will see creators charging more for partnerships and being more particular about who and what they partner with to ensure it reflects their brand positively and aligns with their values.

In 2022, we expect UGC-based ads — which see 29% higher conversions and 50% more engagement on average — to be a more integral part of brand content strategies. And to get the most for their investment, brands need to explore further co-creation opportunities with creators instead of an upfront endorsement.

5, Sound Is the Future

With 40% of Gen Z and millennials trusting podcasts more than traditional media sources, the rise of the more intimate audio-focused features such as Twitter Spaces will continue into 2022. Meta (formerly Facebook) is also in the process of building an audio product to rival Clubhouse's 2021 success, and LinkedIn announced their launch of a similar product, Audio Rooms, in 2022. Podcasts continue to be a key source of entertainment, information, and advertisement.

Why does it matter for brands?

Having an audio channel embedded into a brand's strategy will be a key point of development for 2022. Brands have started creating sponsored Twitter Spaces rooms or interacting in popular audio-chat rooms such as #SingYourDialect (which attracted 300,000 listeners over two nights). But this is only the beginning.

In the UK specifically, for brands who are affected by the new HSFF regulations coming into effect later in 2022, podcasts will be one of the only mediums that are untouched by these new marketing regulations.

Consumers now spend a third of their media time with audio, according to a recent WARC LIONS Intelligence study, but most brands spend less than 10% of their media budget on it. In 2022, we expect to see brands trying to develop their audio strategy and right sizing their media investments as part of that.

6, Rise of the Digital Economy

In 2020, we saw a shift from digital content as free and accessible to digital content that's scarce and can be repurposed as a status symbol. A massive part of this was the introduction of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and a boom in purchasing online goods, virtual worlds, and iconic internet moments and memes. 8% of social media users globally have already invested in them. We can expect this to only increase in relevance even further in 2022. In early 2022, we’ve already seen Instagram test subscriptions for creators to better monetize their content and provide exclusive access to fans who are willing to pay.

Why does it matter for brands?

In the digital economy, who gets rich isn't defined by who you know but who you follow. Investments aren't just in digital assets but in the communities and content around them. There's an opportunity for brands to explore how their products and services can translate into virtual worlds.

It’s important for brands to understand the opportunities and engage in a way that feels natural to their audiences and themselves. There has always been a major rush to be first to launch; we saw this with brands trying to quickly jump on the NFT bandwagon, but often brands who wait to better understand the changing landscape, to identify the opportunity to connect and then find the moment or ongoing moments that allow for the biggest breakthroughs, will see the best and biggest impact.

7, In-feed learning

Across the globe, social media users are more likely to say they have learned practical life skills from social platforms than at university (57% versus 51%). Social media has been repurposed as a tool for learning, with carousel infographics and reels distilling complex theories. And as attention spans continue to get shorter, these bite-sized learning formats are sure to get more popular and effective. Instagram accounts like @shityoushouldcareabout and @simplepolitics set the scene for more practical ways to learn in-feed.

Why does it matter for brands?

While people have learned to be sceptical of news shared on social, life skills and textbook facts are welcomed. As people continue to increase time spent on social, they are looking for that time to be not only entertaining, but valuable. In 2022, expect to see more accounts using social media to distil information and create learning opportunities.

Rather than trying to just make an audience laugh on Twitter or jumping on every trending topic, brands should consider what value and information they can authentically give to their most important audiences; people are eager now more than ever to absorb that information versus watching every brand try to be the next Wendy’s.

8, In-app Shopping

In-person shopping took a significant hit during the pandemic as more people purchased items online. In 2022, while people might stay online, they will move away from big retailers and toward new shopping experiences via platforms such as TikTok, Instagram or Pinterest.

Why does it matter for brands?

People will shop more on, and in, video-sharing apps and through livestreams. With the platforms rolling out more ads and shopping features and the rise in the adoption of technologies like augmented reality (AR), social will be one of the fastest-growing channels for brands selling to millennials and Gen Z audiences.

Brands will have the tools to provide better shopping experiences and get more conversion as, according to The Drum, AR can boost click-through rates by as much as 33%.

One in four young people is also expected to take an interest in global sustainability and frequent digital thrift stores like Depop and Etsy, highlighting how social media can be a positive trend for the planet.

9, Long-form content retakes centre stages

2021 was the year of short-form media. The explosion of TikTok, the wide-scale adoption of Instagram Reels and the introduction of YouTube Shorts had us focusing on 15-second messages. However, there has been a subtle change happening across social platforms. TikTok has expanded to three minutes in length. Reels went to 60 seconds. . These tiny changes began a pendulum swing back towards longer-form content.

Why does it matter for brands?

While snackable content isn't going away, the opportunity to experiment with longer-form videos is coming back — all storytelling creatives, rejoice! It will require a shift in strategy and, in some cases, production budgets to create the right level of content experience to capture your audience for longer viewing times.

Still, it's likely well worth it for the additional attention. The messages we have long been forced to smash into three to six seconds will finally be able to creatively breathe in these longer 60-second-plus formats.

10, The QR Glow-up

Thanks to the pandemic, QR codes made a major comeback, appearing on everything from virtual menus and concert tickets to points of sale and Covid passes. QR codes have flourished as a contact-free, accessible and sustainable tool, with 60 to 65% of people using them daily, compared to only 26% of people using them across the same three months in 2014.

Why does it matter for brands?

QR codes will become the standard in 2022 to convert attention from the physical to the digital. Expect to see QR codes everywhere, from flyers to parking tickets, as well as portals from the physical world into augmented reality.

And while QR codes are once again becoming a norm, the big opportunity for brands this year will be to elevate that end experience and transport users to places they didn't expect a QR code could take them.


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