December 9, 2020

2020 Social Media Recap: What Happened and What We Learned

Christina Sirabella

Alright, everyone. We (basically) did it. We survived 2020, a year that felt like both a week and a decade at the same time. A year with more change, uncertainty, unrest, and ups and downs than any before. A year no one could have planned for. At Likeable, we did shoots in the galley kitchens of 400 square foot apartments, set social strategies from our dining room tables, and navigated some of the most challenging questions for social media to date. We figured out how to work remotely, how to master the “empathetic” tone of voice, and how to shift every strategy we had set all at once.

Much earlier this year, before the pandemic, we talked about everything that had happened on social media so far in 2020. We went over a few predictions and trends for the rest of the year—but little did we know how much everything would change in just a few weeks. So, consider this the “post-pandemic” version of everything that happened on social media in 2020. Buckle your seatbelts, ‘cause this one’s a wild ride.


The COVID-19 Pandemic

Back in March, when the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. became clear, networks like Pinterest and LinkedIn immediately took steps to combat misinformation. Both platforms developed curated feeds of informational content from the WHO and CDC in order to provide users with a source for reliable and up-to-date information.

Because of the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, many small businesses were badly impacted by the pandemic—so Facebook rolled out tools to help SMBs. The main addition was a gift cards listing where people could find digital gift cards for their favorite local restaurants and businesses, and the platform also added a personal fundraiser option and new Page options that enabled impacted businesses to list temporary changes to their operations.

The social networks also encouraged people to stay home, and provided resources for them to do so safely. LinkedIn’s provided resources and best practices for companies adjusting the ways they work. YouTube incorporated its #WithMe initiative into its #StayHome efforts to encourage folks to learn, connect, and thrive while social distancing—and it also launched #CampYouTube, an online portal that housed over 1,200 videos for parents looking for virtual summer camp alternatives for their kids. Facebook introduced Quiet Mode to help people balance their time and focus as they adjust to their new working from home routines. And Snapchat partnered with the National Network to End Domestic Violence to add in-app resources for users dealing with domestic violence.

Additionally, many brands quickly pivoted to provide resources and virtual versions of their products to help consumers relieve stress, prioritize health, and stay home. Here were a few of our favorites:

  • Planet Fitness hosted free “work-ins,” a series of virtual fitness classes for everyone with the goal of relieving stress and staying healthy.
  • Great Jones, a premium cookware company, extended the hours for Potline, its free text service for real-time recipe inspiration and cooking advice.
  • The MOMA offered its Coursera course catalog of online art classes for free.
  • Chipotle began hosting virtual Zoom video meetings called “Chipotle Together” sessions, which hosted up to 3,000 viewers and sometimes featured celebrity guests.
  • Movie and TV studios released content early for streaming, including Frozen 2 and Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker on Disney+, the first 3 episodes of “Little Fires Everywhere” on Hulu, and The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma through Universal Studios.


THE BIG TAKEAWAY: Fact-checking and combating misinformation on social media have always been important, but between the pandemic and the election, this is the year that it became very dangerous not to. Also, we learned that all of us (people, brands, etc.) are more adaptable than we thought. Having to abandon social strategies that took months to develop—and doing so while quarantining at home—wasn’t easy, but we got it done. And the results of that work allowed brands to bring people together virtually in ways we hadn’t considered before.


#BlackLivesMatter and Racial Injustice

Social media plays many roles in today’s world—it’s a source of news, a tool for learning, a space to share stories, and a vehicle for connecting and organizing with other people. And throughout the summer, it played all of those roles in the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Millions spoke out against the injustices inflicted on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. People also began to challenge themselves, their behaviors, and the behaviors of those around them. They started to educate themselves further on anti-racism, their own privilege, and the issues that Black people have been facing for hundreds of years.

Here’s how each of the platforms responded to the movement:

  • Pinterest elevated content with information about systemic racism, donated $750K in paid media and 25,000 shares of stock to organizations committed to racial justice, and committed to increasing diversity on their internal team, among other things.
  • TikTok expressed solidarity with the Black community, announced its creator diversity council, and committed a total of $4M toward nonprofits that aid the Black community and organizations fighting racial injustice.
  • Reddit diversified its company board after founder Alexis Ohanian resigned and asked that his space on the board be filled by a Black candidate.
  • Instagram’s CEO committed to examining how the platform’s policies affect Black users—especially policies concerning harassment, verification, and content recommendation.
  • YouTube announced a $100M fund to amplify the voices of Black creators on the platform.
  • Twitter, which was a major hub for debate and activism online during this time, broadcast a handpicked selection of BLM-related tweets on billboards across eight U.S. cities.
  • LinkedIn, for its part, took aim at removing “systemic barriers to economic opportunity,” both within the company and on the platform itself.


You might notice that one network in particular is missing: Facebook. As the movement to end systemic racism continued to build momentum across the nation, six civil rights groups including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League publicly called on businesses to pause ad spending on Facebook in July. The goal, part of a campaign called #StopHateForProfit, was to get the social network (which, by the way, made $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019) to do more to combat hate speech, misinformation, and racism across its platforms. Thousands of brands joined, the first of which were historically progressive brands such as Patagonia, REI, and Ben & Jerry’s. Want to know more? We wrote a blog about it. 😉

THE BIG TAKEAWAY: Consumers—especially younger consumers—care more than ever about the brands they’re buying from, with 62 percent of Black Lives Matter supporters ages 18-35 saying they will be “doing more research on brands and their inclusivity practices before purchasing, in light of recent events.” And social media proved to be the perfect place for brands to speak up about what matters to them. For brands in 2020, silence was complicity.


The TikTok Saga

What would a recap of 2020 be without TikTok?! The short-form video app, which had a meteoric rise in 2019, had another absolutely crazy year—starting with being the most downloaded app in Q1.

In response to a rising interest in the platform as a marketing tool, it added tons of new analytics tools and reporting features. Plus, because of people’s increased time at home due to social distancing, there was also a seemingly never-ending supply of new trends on the platform. While people were bored in the house, they hopped on to dance challenges like “Savage,” viral recipes like dalgona coffee, and even pulled some pretty creative pranks. TikTok won everyone’s hearts—not just Gen Z’s—during quarantine and provided a much-needed respite from the news and the “real world.”


You ever be bored at the house bored?🔥🔥 #checkthisout #bored #fyp #foryou #xycba #rap #viral

♬ BORED IN THE HOUSE – Curtis Roach

Oh, and you know how they say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? Well, the other apps copied TikTok. A lot. YouTube announced Shorts, a new feature that would allow users to share short videos via the mobile app, as well as its own YouTube Music library to provide licensed tracks. Instagram launched its TikTok competitor, Reels, which lets people create short-form videos set to music directly in the app. And Snapchat announced Spotlight, a new tab on the app dedicated entirely to short, entertaining vertical videos, as well as its Sounds functionality, which allows users to add music to their Snaps either before or after recording. (Yeah, all of that “sounds” familiar.)

As its global popularity soared this summer, the app came under growing scrutiny from overseas governments—and eventually, from the U.S. government as well. To make this somewhat easier to digest, here’s a timeline:

  • June/July: TikTok is banned by India’s government, citing security concerns, and is also criticized by countries including Australia and Japan. TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer promises more transparency around how the app works, and pledges to make its algorithm available to experts. President Trump tells reporters he plans to ban TikTok in the U.S. within 24 hours.
  • August: Microsoft announces it is exploring a purchase of TikTok’s U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand services. President Trump signs an executive order that effectively bans the use of TikTok in the U.S. TikTok announces it is suing the Trump administration, claiming “the executive order violates the due process protections of the Fifth Amendment.” TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer announces his resignation.
  • September: Oracle reportedly wins the TikTok bid and plans to serve as TikTok’s technology partner with a partial ownership stake. The Department of Commerce announces that app stores have to remove TikTok (and Tencent-owned WeChat) by September 20 under a new executive order. The White House stated it would not approve a TikTok/Oracle deal if TikTok’s Chinese ownership did not fully sell its interest in the product.
  • October/November: The TikTok ban is on hold. After weeks of radio silence from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, the company still isn’t sure whether it still needs to sell U.S. operations—and whether the potential of a ban still exists.
  • Today: Nobody really knows what’s going on. Including TikTok. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

THE BIG TAKEAWAY: TikTok—or at least the genre of content it has inspired—is not going anywhere. Nor do we want it to! With the app projected to have over 1 billion users by the end of next year, brands who don’t include TikTok in their 2021 strategies could very well fall behind.


Shopping, Shopping, and More Shopping

Even before the pandemic, e-commerce was majorly on the rise. Since 2010, the share of e-commerce sales rose from 4.2 percent to 11.8 percent. But once lockdowns and stay-at-home orders went into effect in March of this year, e-commerce growth for brands skyrocketed. In Q2 of this year alone, the share of e-commerce sales skyrocketed up to 16.1 percent—and is only continuing to grow.

So, how did the platforms respond?

  • Instagram truly did the most. After expanding access to its Shopping feature to more users, the platform added a dedicated (and personalized) Shop section of its Explore tab, expanded access to its Checkout feature, launched live shopping through Instagram Live, rolled out a shopping feature on IGTV, and even published a set of guides for businesses on its new ‘The Season for Shops’ mini-site.
  • Facebook released a virtual storefront functionality called Facebook Shop, as well as new features like shopping lookalike audiences and engaged shopping customers.
  • Pinterest created new ways for customers to shop, including a “Shop” tab and curated style guides. Additionally, the platform celebrated National Black Business Month with a curated shop including 600+ products from 20+ Black-owned brands.
  • TikTok tested a “shop now” button, and also rolled out e-commerce video and bio links to its top users. Influencers will split the ad revenue with TikTok. Just in time for the holiday season, the platform also announced a global partnership with Shopify.
  • Snapchat announced its first-ever “shoppable” original show: “The Drop,” focused on exclusive streetwear collabs from celebrities and designers.
  • YouTube expanded shopping services by asking creators to tag and track shoppable products shown in their videos, with plans to link that data to shopping and analytics tools.


Instagram Shopping guides

THE BIG TAKEAWAY: People shopped online by necessity this year, but e-commerce is here to stay—in fact, 53 percent of buyers said that the pandemic has changed the way they will shop going forward. Shopping on social media has never been so easy. (RIP to all of our budgets.)


Whew! Reading about a year’s worth of social media happenings in one blog post was pretty intense, right? If only you could get the latest social media news and updates sent to you each week—oh, wait. You can!

Tags: COVID-19, Facebook, Instagram, Niche Networks, Pinterest, Snapchat, Trends, Twitter

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