What you need to know

A desire for connection and entertainment propelled social media through the COVID-19 pandemic. Brands offered new ways to bring users together by invigorating online communities and encouraging positive communication. The role of social media companies will change, as users expect platforms to take a more active role in monitoring and responding to user posts. Brands will need to navigate a sea of new features and updates to reach users by experimenting with content and how it’s delivered.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • How social media platforms cultivate their user base to grow influence.

  • What brands can do to turn passing interest into purchase through social media.

  • What role users expect social media companies to have in the free exchange of ideas, along with the pitfalls of that promise.

  • How influencer culture is shifting in light of the pandemic.


Mintel defines social media networks as any digital network focused on facilitating person-to-person interactions or sharing media with other users.

Market context

The research for this Report was conducted in February 2021 and the Report was written in April 2021. Most major social media platforms posted strong gains in active users following a tumultuous 2020. Protests and demonstrations promoting racial justice in the summer of 2020 led social media platforms to take a more active role in helping activists and quelling hate speech. Social media interactions surrounding the January 2021 Capitol insurrection led to the permanent banning of a series of prominent figures on some social media platforms. A surge in GameStop stock was attributed to a group on Reddit which led to market volatility in the early months of 2021. Clubhouse became the latest social media sensation, passing an estimated 10 million users in February 2021.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on CBO estimates released on February 1, 2021. The CBO’s previous forecast for US GDP to fall by 5.8% in 2020 was revised after a stronger second half of the year, and the updated estimate indicates negative 3.5% GDP for the year. The CBO forecast for GDP to grow by 4.6% in 2021 and unemployment to continue to fall to average 5.7% for the year does not take into consideration the impact of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package, which is expected to further boost growth.

COVID-19: US context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. It was declared a global health pandemic and national emergency in early March 2020. Across the US, various stay-at-home orders were put in place in spring 2020, and nonessential businesses and school districts closed or shifted to remote operations. The remainder of 2020 saw rolling orders, as states and local governments relaxed and reinforced guidelines according to the spread of the virus in each region.

Vaccine rollout began in December 2020. Based on current estimates of vaccine production and distribution, the US could reach herd immunity, with 70-85% of the population vaccinated, by late summer to early fall 2021. Mintel anticipates business operations in the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021 as the vaccine is widely administered.

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