Reviewing the news that resonated most in 2021

December 22, 2021

Written by Haley Corzo
For the final NewsWhip Pulse of the year, we discussed the news and cultural moments that resonated in 2021 through the lens of social engagement. Although fewer individual articles received multimillion engagement status this year, there were many key events that still made an impact.

CEO Paul Quigley was joined by Head of Research Benedict Nicholson, who recently authored NewsWhip’s 2021 Year in Review report that looked back at the biggest stories that emerged during each quarter of the year.

Before diving into the report’s content, Quigley and Nicholson introduced a poll to quickly test the audience’s ability to identify a viral story, offering four headlines to choose from, one of which had over 3 million engagements in 2021.

“65% of people say that Trump [being] acquitted was the most shared,” said Quigley as he ended the poll and revealed that the audience did in fact choose the correct answer. “That says we’ve got a very educated and smart audience who know the biggest and most engaged with news story when they see it.”

Q1 Politics

By January 6th it was already looking to be a huge news year, with the Capitol riots sparking immediate media and public interest.

“You can see a bunch of articles about January 6th and the storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump protesters,” said Nicholson, referring to the number of articles identified in the NewsWhip Spike platform. “Those articles got millions and millions of engagements.”

This was an event that captured the attention of more than just publishers and their audiences, but clearly resonated with corporate America, resulting in brands speaking out and involving themselves in ways they normally wouldn’t when it comes to political situations.

“A lot of companies pledged to stop donating to the campaigns of politicians that participated in what they saw or defined as fomenting the January 6th events,” Nicholson continued. “This was much more a party political stand which I think we haven’t really seen before.”

Although politics seemed to be a dominant theme early in the year, it didn’t end up being quite that way as each quarter progressed.

Q2 Covid variants and vaccines

The second quarter saw vaccines, and specifically the Delta variant, become the leading narrative. Once the highly contagious Delta variant was identified and finally given a name, engagements soared, especially to stories about WHO urging fully vaccinated people to wear masks as the virus spread.

This brings up the importance of maintaining a consistent communications strategy as other agencies like the CDC didn’t come forward with the same advice, and there was confusion over whether vaccinated individuals needed to wear masks or change their behavior in any way.

“You look to authority with these things, and it wasn’t quite there in [that] way, and it needed some fairly clear communication on an individual basis,” said Nicholson. “I don’t think there was as much tactical cross communication as there maybe needed to be.”

Q3 Athletes and corporate sponsors

Sports were the topic of conversation in the Summer of 2021, with the Tokyo Olympics, UEFA Euro 2020, the French Open, and Wimbledon all taking place. While excitement around each sporting event brought on some expected media coverage, a much more serious discussion opened up around athletes and mental health when Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French open due to mental health issues.

A similar situation developed with US gymnast Simone Biles, who dropped out of multiple gymnastics finals in Tokyo due to struggling with her mental health. The entire summer was filled with athletes dismantling the stereotypes of what their lives are like, and in return saw huge public interest and support from sponsors.

Athletes demonstrated their power to influence in other ways too, with Cristiano Ronaldo making headlines for removing Coca-Cola bottles from his table during a Euro 2020 press conference.

“That’s a potential mini crisis for Coke, just because of something an individual athlete with a huge profile chose to say,” said Nicholson.

It was a moment that showed how much power individual voices can have when amplified by social media in this day and age.

Q4 Worker rights

The final quarter of the year served as a realignment of sorts around worker power. Striketober, which was heavily featured on the October episode of the Pulse, saw workers fighting for better wages and benefits, as strikes were taking place at companies who didn’t preempt these issues earlier in the year.

Stories that reported the initial strikes saw lots of engagement, but there was very little engagement toward the end when an agreement was reached. Quigley noted that patterns can be identified when analyzing different types of crises, such as strikes, and looking at previous issues that have happened with other brands could be key to understanding how a future situation may unfold.

Drawing the review to a close, Quigley and Nicholson briefly predicted what 2022 might hold.

“I would be very surprised if engagement doesn’t go back up in 2022,” said Nicholson. “I think we’ve all taken a collective breather [and] I think politics is going to come back to the fore.”

“We’re interested to see what kind of narratives are going to kick off for next year,” said Quigley.

“Let’s go, 2022.”

To read our full analysis on the top stories and trends of 2021, you can do that here. You can also watch past editions of our webinar series at the Pulse hub.

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Haley Corzo

Haley is a Content Strategist for NewsWhip working at the intersection of journalism and marketing. With experience working in advertising for consumer brands, she brings a fresh perspective on how NewsWhip’s technology can be used to make an impact. She is passionate about topics such as mental health, women’s issues, and travel.

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Regular updates from the NewsWhip team on the crises, trends, and stories that are resonating with the media and public around the web.

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