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Year in Review: The Biggest Social Media Moments of 2020


By Jillian Warren

Published December 4, 2020

11 minute read

There’s no doubt about it, 2020 has been a year like no other. And while many of us will be thankful to see it come to a close, this year has been a game changer for digital-first experiences. From the Tiger King phenomenon to a Gen Z-fronted Ratatousical on TikTok, it’s been full of surprising,

There’s no doubt about it, 2020 has been a year like no other.

And while many of us will be thankful to see it come to a close, this year has been a game changer for digital-first experiences.

From the Tiger King phenomenon to a Gen Z-fronted Ratatousical on TikTok, it’s been full of surprising, delightful, and downright bamboozling moments.

Ready to recap the best of them? Buckle up, it’s about to be a wild ride:

The Top 10 Social Media Moments of 2020:

  1. TikTok Went Viral

  2. Brands Became Broadcasters

  3. Global Politics Took Center Stage

  4. Instagram Launched…Pretty Much Everything You Could Think Of

  5. So. Many. Meme. Moments

  6. Every Platform Released a Stories Feature

  7. Tiger King Broke the Internet

  8. E-commerce Entered the Building

  9. TikTok Gave Rise to New Wave of Entertainers

  10. Ruper Grint Stole David Attenburgh’s Crown

Social Media Moment #1: TikTok Went Viral

2020 will forever be the year that TikTok took the world by storm.

App Store and Google Play customers around the world downloaded TikTok almost 115M times in March 2020, breaking the record for the most app downloads in a quarter ever.

The app has given us some of the most surprising and entertaining trends of 2020, from a guy on skateboard drinking cranberry juice to Bella Poarch’s M to the B (with over 529M views and counting).

But what made TikTok so successful, and why now?

#1: TikTok Trends Infiltrated Popular Culture

Despite initially seeing huge traction with a Gen Z audience, the app has successfully infiltrated all demographics — with popular TikTok trends transcending almost every social platform, as well as traditional broadcast channels.

16-year-old Charli D’Amelio joined Jimmy Fallon for a dance off on The Tonight Show, starred in a Super Bowl commercial, and became the first TikTok star to hit 100M followers.

TikTok has also been embraced by mainstream celebrities. The Flip the Switch Challenge was recreated by A-listers ranging from Emily Ratajkowski and the Fat Jewish, comedian Kate McKinnon and Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez.

Jason Derulo, Kylie Jenner, Lizzo, Charlie Puth, and Tyga made up the top 5 celebrities on TikTok in 2020, while Will Smith’s Wipe it Down Challenge was amongst the most viral TikTok videos of the year.

#2: Collaboration Over Competition

The app’s emphasis on collaboration has given rise to some of the internet’s most creative content, from viral dance trends to comedy sketches and transformations.

And just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any more surreal, thousands of TikTok users came together to create a virtual Ratatouille Musical — or a Ratatousical, for short.

Actors, producers and prop designers turned to TikTok to put on a show unlike any on Broadway.

The result? Well, it’s pretty amazing — and goes to show just how creative, collaborative and far-reaching the viral video platform can be.

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2020 Social Media Moments #2: Brands Became Broadcasters

Millions of businesses closed their physical doors to reduce the spread of COVID-19 this year.

But as the saying goes: when one door closes, another one opens. And forward-thinking brands and businesses took to social media to bring their community together during challenging times.

The unforeseen hero of this shift? Instagram Live.

Despite once being a relatively underused feature, Instagram Live had a huge resurgence this year. In April, Facebook and Instagram saw a 40% increase in usage, with views for Instagram Live and Facebook Live doubling in one week.

As a result, brands became so much more than the products they sell in 2020.

Founders and employees alike showed up to provide valuable content for their audiences, from virtual yoga to home baking — and everything in between.

Ever quick off the mark, Instagram has since introduced ways to monetize the Live experience.

Businesses can now use Instagram Live Shopping to add a shoppable product link to their broadcast, and viewers can pay for Instagram Live Badges to tip their favorite creators.

TikTok also launched a new Live feature for creators to engage with their communities, while LinkedIn introduced a Live stream functionality for pre-approved brands on the network.

Ready to take your brand Live? Find out how in our Step-by-step Guide to Going Live on Social Media!

**2020 Social Media Moments #3: Global Politics Took Center Stage

**

Once upon a time, social media was mainly used for sharing picture-perfect snapshots from beautiful, far flung locations.

But not any more.

In 2020, activism took center stage — with more users sharing their political beliefs, educating others, and supporting social causes than ever before.

Social media is increasingly ingrained in our everyday lives and culture, and is arguably the most instrumental channel for increasing public awareness and advocating for change. So this shift towards activism is not only important, but overdue.

In June this year, over 21M #BlackoutTuesday posts were shared on Instagram in support of the The Black Lives Matter movement.

Activists, brands, celebrities, and businesses took to social media to speak out against racial injustice in a way that has never been seen before — prompting new dialogues and a sense of solidarity.

Similarly, we’ve seen social media become a huge part of voter mobilization in 2020.

On TikTok, creators came together to Tok the Vote, a campaign designed to encourage more young people to vote and make a difference in the 2020 election.

16-year old Aidan Kohn-Murphy started the account “TikTok for Biden” (now known as @gen.zforchange) which has over 1.2M followers. Some videos have over 8.8M views.

And it doesn’t end there. From eco-activism to LGBTQ+-rights, social media has become a welcome home for socio-political activism on every front.

Looking for inspiration on how to support a cause on social? Check out these 9 Brands Driving Meaningful Change on Instagram.

2020 Social Media Moments #4: Instagram Launched… Pretty Much Everything You Could Think Of

Instagram has always been a pioneer when it comes to launching new features, but this year has been a real bumper pack.

To name just a few, the social media juggernaut launched:

In fact, the tech giant has been so busy that housing all of these new features has been a challenge in its own right.

The result? A Homepage redesign — but not everyone was pleased to see it.

Despite being met with mixed reviews, Instagram’s focus on Reels and Shopping is likely here to stay — and something that we can expect to gain even more traction in 2021.

Ready to get to grips with Reels? Discover everything you need to know in our Ultimate Guide to Instagram Reels!

2020 Social Media Moments #5: So. Many. Meme. Moments

In a year that gave us a global pandemic, a swarm of muder hornets, and the death of Mr Peanut, you’d be forgiven for wanting some light comic relief.

Ask, and the internet shall deliver.

Memes dominated almost every social platform this year, with many offering a humorous and relatable take on current events.

Popular trends included the “how it started, how it’s going” meme:

The Reese Witherspoon January-September meme:

And the Dolly Parton Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tinder pictures meme:

Alongside these trends, several pop-culture moments triggered meme superstorms in 2020.

From that Mike Pence fly moment to Elon Musk and Grime’s unconventional baby naming and Billie Eilish at the Oscars, memes captured the zeitgeist and reigned supreme this year.

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**2020 Social Media Moments #6: Every Platform Released a Stories Feature

**

For most people, stories are now an integral part of the social media landscape: the easiest way to share and consume bitesize snippets of content on mobile.

In 2020, we saw stories roll out to every major social media platform, with Twitter Fleets, LinkedIn Stories, and Pinterest Story Pins all making their debut.

Stories are already the staple diet for Millennials and Gen Z users, and the shift in how people feel comfortable sharing and consuming content is hard to ignore.

“There’s an entire generation growing up with stories as a way of speaking,” explained LinkedIn’s Senior Director of Product Management, Pete Davies.

“They’re more comfortable starting conversations with a full-screen ephemeral format than posting updates,” he shared.

With this in mind, we can expect to see stories continue to grow in popularity and prominence across all platforms in 2021.

2020 Social Media Moments #7: Tiger King Broke the Internet

Hey all you cool cats and kittens!

No 2020 list would be complete without mention of one internet phenomenon: Tiger King.

The Netflix documentary had just about everyone talking online, generating over 1.8M organic interactions in 10 days on Twitter alone.

The show’s flamboyant characters and twisting plot line was the stuff of internet gold, a meme paradise for all to enjoy.

to my friends who haven’t watched it pic.twitter.com/Lrn2DyVKSP

From Instagram AR filters to BuzzFeed “Which Character Are You?” quizzes, no corner of the internet was untouched by Tiger King fever.

Undoubtedly, the viral buzz about the show, paired with COVID-19 restrictions, contributed to its huge success.

pic.twitter.com/CHJbslducv

The takeaway? The power of meme culture is not to be underestimated, and neither is Carole Baskin.

2020 Social Media Moments #8: E-commerce Entered the Building

In case you missed it, 2020 was the year that social shopping went mainstream.

With COVID-19 forcing many businesses to temporarily close their doors, many platforms pushed out new ways to shop on social.

Instagram introduced a new Shop tab to the app’s Homepage, launched Instagram Live, IGTV Shopping, and shoppable Instagram Guides, as well as rolling out Instagram Checkout to all eligible businesses in the US.

And it doesn’t stop there.

According to Instagram’s Adam Mosseri, shopping on Instagram Reels could soon be a thing too — making almost every part of the app shoppable.

TikTok Shopping has also gained real momentum this year, with a first-of-its-kind partnership with the e-commerce platform, Shopify.

Merchants who get access to the program will now be able to connect their TikTok for Business account with their Shopify account and sell products on TikTok via in-feed shoppable video ads.

Meanwhile, Pinterest also levelled-up its shopping features, introducing a new Shop tab for users to discover and shop in-stock products.

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2020 Social Media Moments #9: TikTok Gave Rise to New Wave of Entertainers

The greatest fallout from 2020’s TikTok frenzy has been the rise of the TikTok comedian.

From Jeff Right Now to Jordan Firstman, new and alternative talents have shot to global success through TikTok’s For You Page, and we are here for it.

Perhaps the best part of this? We’ve seen new comedic talent rising up from all over the world. Kenyan based comic Elsa Majimbo now has over 1.3M followers on Instagram and over 1.9M likes on TikTok.

From pop culture parodies to spectacularly good Keira Knightly impressions, TikTok really delivered the goods in 2020.

2020 Social Media Moments #10: Rupert Grint Stole David Attenburgh’s Crown

All records are made to be broken, and this year saw a double-win for the Brits on Instagram.

Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint set the record for the fastest time to reach 1M followers on Instagram, clinching the title from fellow Brit and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

He took the crown after hitting the 1M mark in just 4 hours and 1 minute, shaving 43 minutes off of Attenborough’s record. Quite magical, some may say.

In his first post, Grint introduced Wednesday, his new baby daughter, to the world.

He wrote: “Hey Instagram….only 10 years late, but here I am. Grint on the Gram! Here to introduce you all to Wednesday G. Grint. Stay safe, Rupert.”

And that’s it!

From viral TikTok trends to game-changing e-commerce features, 2020 has been a year unlike any other — and one that will likely change how we use social media for years to come.

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