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Social Media Belfast: Key Trends in Social Media in 2021


The Europa Hotel in Belfast set the scene for the return of Social Media Belfast, and indeed the very welcome return of in-person business events to Northern Ireland!

The event featured a fantastic panel of over 12 speakers from across Ireland and UK representing  organisations including the Public Health Agency and Visit Scotland. As part of my presentation, I explored the very latest trends in Social – from the key developments in how Social Media use is changing in UK according to OFCOM, through to the power of Influencers in marketing.


If you missed the event, or need a recap of my presentation, in the article below – you’ll learn about the following areas:

– Key Stats and Developments in Social Media use in the UK – OFCOM Online Nation Report

– Best Practice Example: Profile of McSport – a Irish business excelling at social media and marketing

– The rising power of influencers on social media and what organisations can do to capitalise on this.

So let’s look at the latest social media use in the UK:



As the UK emerged from the latest Lockdown in June 2021, OFCOM published its ‘Online Nation Report’, examining what UK people do online.

The report is especially interesting and valuable on the rapidly changing social media environment in the UK. The past two years have witnessed huge changes across the social media environment, during which people spent significantly more time using social media to engage with friends and access news.

The key findings on social media within the report are:

  • Huge reach of You Tube in UK
  • Facebook and Instagram still very much dominate as the most popular social media platforms.
  • Massive increase in TikTok use since 2018
  • Widening gap in generational usage of social media usage

Download the full OFCOM report here:


Most Popular Social Media platforms in the UK

If you count You Tube as a social media network (yes, it technically is – as well as a hugely popular search engine), then it’s the most popular with the largest reach, in the UK.

This has big implications for brands that want to be found in search – as so many fail to realise the huge potential of You Tube in promoting their brand to people with much higher research and purchase intent than typical Facebook users.

Despite the sensational headlines about Facebook becoming less popular with younger people (which is undeniable, but creates a false impression of its overall huge scale and power), There’s no doubt Facebook is still one of the very dominant social media platforms in the UK with Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) as having the second highest volume of reach.

Instagram has been experiencing high year-on-year growth since 2018 (although there is strong evidence to who that rate of growth is slowing in 2021). And OFCOM report shows it’s now the third most popular with a reach of over 60%.

The huge rise in TikTok in the UK occurred in tandem with Lockdowns and fuelled by a need for  young people to socialise more online. The increase has been massive , with UK TikTok users rising from 3M in 2019 to 14 million visitors . And more than half of 16 to 24-year-olds saying that they have an active profile


Two other key points from the Report stand out:

Time on Site: it’s not just the volume of users that’s important, another really essential element that you need to look at is Time Spent on Site. For YouTube it’s 34 minutes per day with Facebook and TikTok performing very significantly. Conversely platforms such as Twitter perform relatively poorly in this area.

Generational Split:  Ofcom also highlight the split in generational usage. Below the –  Social media users aged between 16 and early 20s veer mostly to Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok. For nearly 80% of 16 to 24-year-olds, Instagram is the main or only social media service.

And for older people aged 65+ , YouTube is the only platform along with Facebook that they are likely to use on a significant level.


The last 18 months have witnessed huge changes in how Social Media platforms are innovating and changing. One of the really big impacts of rising TikTok usage is the impact it’s had on Instagram, and the Facebook-owned networks faces a major challenge amid fierce competition.

For an excellent overview of how the Instagram platform is adapting considerably, Instagram Head of Development Adam Mosseri sets out the key points:



If you’re trying to communicate with a younger audience (teens and early 20s),  then mastering TikTok or Instagram really is essential. As outlined at Social Media Belfast, here are some key pointers on the benefits of using TikTok for business.

Reach: In addition to it’s huge and growing popularity (nearly quarter of people in the UK using it), the organic reach on Tik Tok is really high! In fact, you would really struggle to get this organic content reach on any other platform.

Tone: Also it’s also got a more fun, theatrical and laid-back tone – and for some brands and small businesses that’s big plus if they can reflect that in their content.

Finally, I would caution of anybody who wants to be active as a business on TikTok – you really do need to know how it operates, understand the culture and the type of content that performs well!



One of the points I reinforce in my social media strategy training,  is that people are not on social media to consume branded content from businesses.

So many brands now position their content as an endless stream of mini advertisements. It’s like they are behaving as if they’re in the predominantly broadcast media environment of the 1970s and 80s still exists.

In 2021 people using the internet have become blind to promotional activity that’s seen as intrusive and corporate. The vast majority of social media users are there to actively socialise with family and friends and discover new content. So essentially you’re operating in an environment where you’re not a core part of the focus.

To get back to basics on social media strategy, businesses need to focus on actively building relationships with relevant social media users and influencers, their own customer base and encourage positive word-of-mouth content.

And when you look at some of the really most effective brands on social media that’s essentially what they’re doing. Here’s a great example of that in practice.


McSport: Brand Ambassadors with Great Content Helping an Irish Sports Business Stand out on Social



A business that really performs well on social media is McSport, a leading Ireland based sports & Fitness specialists covering B2B and a B2C markets.

The family-owned sports equipment business really punches above its weight in social media content, incorporating a lot of very engaging trends in video content and profiling influencers

According to McSport’s Karl Wolahan, their main aims on social media area to “To educate and  entertain, and to sell.”

“We do this through combining helpful and engaging content with the most up-to-date best practices and content formats.

We want to be engaged with our customers. We want to listen and communicate with them in the way they want. Ultimately, we want to be top of mind when the customer thinks about sport or fitness equipment.”

For me, two areas of their social media really stand out :

‘Real and Relevant’ Influencers: The business has built up a very strong relationships with a leading Irish fitness and sports personalities and feature them regularly and their content. As Karl say “We select influencers that turn heads in the market. We ensure that anyone we work with can be identified with by our audience. We want real people who care about the industry and the people that we communicate to.”

Valuable Video content: they also give a lot away in terms of very helpful, best practice guides and exercises, again from leading fitness experts!

Check out how they perform on Instagram:


Rise of influencers on how to deal with them!

Finally, another really big development over the last two years has been the increased importance of influencers.

Businesses that are serious about social media do need to weigh up the pros and cons of dealing with influencers and how to work with them.

Influencers now play a very significant impact on commercial trends and product sales and collectively they cover every conceivable niche area cross fashion, cooking, travel, cosmetics and fitness.



Working with Influencers

Some of the important advice on Influencers I outlined at Social Media Belfast ’21 included:

– Understand that a lot of the respective professional Instagramers want to work with companies that reinforce their own brand values.

– Absolutely make sure that you are getting value for money when you work with influencers , as many influences are charging fees that bear little reality to the market value that they claim to have.

I’ve just had some example of a brand engaging with influencers really well is KFC – Who are absolute masters at marketing and getting attention form their audiences.

A few weeks ago they teamed up with big dirty fry Irish comedian – Who produced this to launch their chicken fillets in a roll !

And if you want to find out more about influencer marketing for a business that check out my recent guide to influencers and how to work with them:


Paul McGarrity

Director, Octave Digital