The biggest social media changes of 2021
It’s been a busy year…and the social media world was no exception. From name changes to new features, we round up the biggest social media changes of 2021.
For space reasons, we couldn’t cover ALL the changes that happened over the past year, so we are just sharing the roll-outs that have had the biggest impact. Rumoured releases that haven’t happened yet, as well as advice given on how to use features, will not be discussed in this blog.
Parent company renames to Meta
In October, Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement we knew was coming: the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc renamed. The company said the reason for the move came as it wanted to broaden its reach beyond social media into other areas, such as virtual reality. This had been hinted at for a while, with Zuckerberg discussing how the company was ‘building a metaverse’ – an advanced hint of what the name would be.
Some have suggested that another, unofficial, reason for the name change could be due to negative attention around Facebook (such as the leaked documents), and that calling the company Meta adds a layer of separation.
Either way, it is unclear if the name Meta will be used by the public – in 2015, Google rebranded its parent company under the name Alphabet, and yet most people still refer to the internet giant as Google.
iOS updates meant ad changes
Those using Facebook ads will have seen a change in the functionality for both targeting and reporting from April, off the back of changes in the iPhone iOS update.
Apple's iOS 14.5 'App Tracking Transparency' (ATT) release saw it become harder for social media platforms to receive and process conversion events from iOS devices, as people will need to 'opt in' to tracking. As more people opt out of tracking on iOS 14 devices (in the US, 96% of users are said to have opted out), ads personalisation and performance reporting will be limited for both app and web conversion events. This makes it harder to see results as well as retarget people, across all social platforms.
Increased focus on Facebook Shops
In 2020, Facebook put a focus on the roll-out of Facebook Shops, to give small businesses affected by COVID-19 a place to sell, and this focus continued in 2021.
In June, Facebook began to roll out Shops for WhatsApp and Marketplace in selected countries, and in November they began testing Shops within Groups.
This is part of the growth of social shopping that is happening across multiple platforms (including TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest).
Launch of live audio rooms
On the back of the success of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, Facebook launches its own live audio room and podcast functionality in June.
Live audio rooms allow users to listen to and join conversations with experts and public figures around areas they are interested in. Conversations can include up to 50 speakers, but there is no limit to the number of users who can listen in.
Instagram Story links for all
Once a coveted item only received when you hit 10,000 followers, in October Instagram rolled out the ability for all users to add a link to their Instagram Story.
While before, this was known as the ‘swipe up’ feature since users had to swipe from the bottom of the screen up to access the linked webpage, the feature has now been changed to a link button that users tap to visit the website.
Ability to turn off like count
Having been in testing for over a year, in May Instagram (and Facebook) rolled out the option for people to hide the like count for posts.
This gives users the opportunity to turn off a like count on their own posts, and they can also choose to not see the like count on other people’s posts.
If you choose to turn off the like count, it will not show you the exact number of likes received, and instead it will just say ‘liked by @WeAreHydrogen and others’.
Building on Instagram Live, 2021 saw Instagram introduce the ability for multiple users to go live together at the same time. An account can invite up to three others to join them for a live video, giving a lot more opportunities for conversations, debates and Q&As.
The feature has been used by businesses and influencers to show off more about products and services and have discussions about set areas. A host could ask questions of their ‘guest speaker’, or it could be a general chat, or testing something new.
Another update to Live came in October, when Instagram began to let users schedule their live videos up to 90 days in advance. This meant that users could set a date in the diary, allowing followers to sign up ahead of time and receive a reminder before the event.
This allows for advanced promotion and can be used to hype up for a product launch or announcement, or for a special guest.
A long-awaited feature for some, in October Instagram rolled out the ability for users to be able to post image, video and carousel posts live from desktop, instead of just from the app.
This is a great move for businesses and anyone who uses designed images.
You cannot schedule on desktop…but users are also not able to schedule directly in the app either, just through third party tools.
Jack Dorsey stands down as CEO
At the tail end of 2021, Jack Dorsey – CEO and co-founder of Twitter – announced he was stepping down from his role.
Hs is being replaced by Parag Agawal, previously CTO. Agawal has been in charge of various projects and has been responsible for Twitter’s machine learning and AI strategy, to help make tweets more relevant to users.
It will be interesting to see the potential changes that come about from the role change as Agawal takes over.
Image size change
Previously on Twitter, if you posted an image that was square or longer, it would automatically crop on the feed – meaning that people couldn’t see the whole image without clicking to expand, and important points may be missed.
In May, Twitter released an update which meant that images would no longer be cropped on mobile, allowing people to see images in their full glory without clicking and giving the option to take up more ‘real estate’ on the feed.
In November, this rolled out to Twitter on desktop too.
Testing product shop
Twitter is becoming more shoppable! In July, Twitter began a test to allow brands to upload a carousel of products for users to scroll through and buy, in-app.
The Shop Module is a dedicated space at the top of a profile where businesses can showcase their products, and will allow users to scroll through a carousel of products and tap through on a single product to learn more and purchase, directly in Twitter.
This is currently being tested in the US, but if successful will roll out further.
Twitter for professionals
In October, Twitter launched Professional Accounts: a way to give businesses and professional users more control.
With professional accounts, users can choose a category that matches their business type, and can access additional tools such as quick promote.
Professional accounts will also be able to add a ‘module’ to the top of their page, choosing between the About Module, the Shop Module and the Newsletter Module. At the moment, this is only available in the US, but is set to expand.
The introduction of Professional Accounts is an interesting move: platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok already have different back-end system and functionality for professional users and it will be exciting to see how this develops and the future opportunities for professionals on Twitter.
Blog posts for companies
In May, LinkedIn rolled out the ability for businesses to publish articles (the LinkedIn term for ‘blogs’) from their page.
Prior to this, only individuals could post articles: which was great for personal profiles but not if you wanted to associate the blog with a company in general. The only solution was to link to a blog on your website.
Allowing businesses to publish articles could help that company grow as a thought leader in the industry.
Removal of Stories
At the end of September, LinkedIn discontinued its Stories feature. Similar to Instagram Stories, these were vertical images or videos that appeared at the top of the page and were live for 24 hours before disappearing.
Live for all
LinkedIn increased access to LinkedIn Live to a lot more users this year. Previously users had to request to get access to LinkedIn Live, but this opened up, with members and pages with over 150 followers/connections able to create broadcasts.
In May, TikTok began to make it easier for brands and creators to promote their videos, by giving everyone the ability to boost posts.
This allowed those with professional TikTok to ‘boost’ the videos they had already made, by sharing them on the For You page as sponsored content. Rolling out the ability to do this in a simple, fairly cheap, way was a big step for TikTok as they moved into advertising.
2021 is the year when TikTok increased video length to up to 3 minutes long – up from the previous limit of 60 seconds.
This was designed to allow creators to share longer segments, so full recipes, songs or more could be shared in one go.
For the most part, creators have continued to keep videos under the 1 minute mark, to keep users watching the whole video and stopping drop-offs.
New livestream tools
Another platform to embrace livestreaming, in July TikTok lowered the requirements to open up features to more users.
While you can only live stream if you have over 1,000 followers, TikTok now allows users with 1,000+ followers to also stream with a guest. The limit for this was previously 5,000 followers.
At the same time, TikTok introduced the ability for livestreamers to create an event card, so that they could share news about their upcoming stream on TikTok and other platforms.
Creation of My Places
Snapchat introduced a new way to share recommendations for businesses, with the launch of My Places on the Snap Map.
This new feature allows users to save their favourite places, and discover popular and recommended nearby locations.
My Places can help show off small businesses, as well as give new recommendations to users.
Food Scan helps recipe ideas
Building on its use of AR, Snapchat has added several new features, one of which being the Food Scan. This feature allows users to scan an image of an ingredient (e.g. an egg), to receive recipe inspiration from Allrecipes as well as information about the food.
While this in itself may not be hugely useful for businesses, it shows the magnitude of possibilities available through the scan feature.
Global launch of idea pins
Pinterest’s version of Stories rolled out globally this year, after months of testing.
Similar to Stories on other platforms, it sits at the top of the feed and is ‘vertical’…but UNLIKE Stories, they don’t disappear after 24 hours.
Users are able to add multiple images or videos to each idea pin, making it perfect to show off how to use or style a product, or showcase features of a service.
New ad formats
In October 2021, Pinterest began to roll out several new ad types, including paid partnership idea pins and the creation of slideshow collections.
Idea pins with paid partnerships allows influencers and creators to share an idea pin and tag a brand partner e.g. a beauty or lifestyle brand. The advertising brand can then sponsor the pin. This is currently being tested in 15 countries, and set to roll out further.
Slideshow collections were rolled out at the same time. These pull products from a brand’s Pinterest catalog of products into one video-style slideshow. These collections are dynamically created, so that they are more tailored to each shopper. This helps brands to show (and potentially sell) multiple items at the same.
Pinterest has been putting more of an emphasis on shopping, so it was little surprise that in November the platform launched it’s first in a series of shoppable episodes of ‘Pinterest TV’.
Each ‘episode’ on Pinterest TV shows a creator using or showcasing a product, with viewers able to receive discounts on selected brands mentioned.
This is part of the growth into social shopping that many social platforms are jumping into.
‘New to you’
In July 2021, YouTube rolled out a feature to help users discover fresh content from channels they have not previously viewed, but are aligned with their interests.
The section was designed to help viewers find new and interesting accounts…but it could prove useful to creators and brands.
It is essentially like the Explore section, but more personalised for each user and with the potential to include smaller accounts.
Removal of public dislikes
An update from YouTube while led to mild backlash was the removal of the ‘dislike’ counts on videos.
The move, which came in November, means that while users can still click to dislike a video, the number of times a video has been disliked is no longer available for the public to see (although creators will be able to see the number of dislikes each video has received). The number of videos likes does still appear to the public.
Some users have complained that they used the number of dislikes to tell if the video was worth watching or not.
With so many changes to the social media world in 2021, it is clear that 2022 is set to see even more new developments. Check out our 2022 social media predictions.