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How the Pandemic Changed How People Use Social Media

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The story about social media has been about cutting down on usage, especially in recent years. Spending less time on social media platforms, putting less personal information in the public domain, and being more mindful of one’s behaviour on social media.

Under lockdown, however, there has been quite a dramatic change. At the start of April 2020, just under 50 per cent of consumers reported spending more time on social media. Levels then started to stabilise from the initial spike, but 43 per cent still admit logging in for longer periods due to the outbreak, and 19 per cent today say that they plan to keep spending more time on social media.

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Due to this, previous assumptions made about social media have to be re-examined. The role played by social media in the lives of users has evolved and diversified during the COVID-19 pandemic, and here are some of the ways:

Social Media for News

News consumption on social media platforms has been steadily growing, but the outbreak has made it more popular.

Social Media for Purely “Social” Activities

Prior to the outbreak, the role of social media in encouraging connecting, sharing, and socialising was being gradually replaced by more purposeful and passive activities such as the consumption of content and researching brands.

To put that into perspective, back in 2014, people were using social media primarily for staying in touch with what their friends were up to and sharing details about their personal lives along with their opinions.

Today, all those purely “social” activities have experienced a drop in engagement of about 40 percent. However, in the absence of social interaction elsewhere, users have once again started to seek community connection through social media.

The pandemic has somewhat brought back the “social” aspects of social media. Available data outlines the recent surge in video calling and messaging, which are increasingly used for connecting with others as well as maintaining a sense of community.

It is estimated that up to 40 per cent of internet users in the UK share more personal news and updates on social media, which is a behaviour most common among millennials. Still, this has not been limited o messaging platforms or even one-on-one conversations.

In fact, people have opened up about their struggles during the pandemic on both public and private channels. 33 per cent say that they have opened up more on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp while 31 per cent say that they have done the same on public platforms such as Facebook.

It is a pattern witnessed across all major demographic groups. The UK is one exception where internet users are still likely to use messaging platforms. The pandemic encouraged consumers to look for support in their wider communities as people have felt more comfortable sharing their experiences in public as they have with immediate family and friends.

It is also evident when you ask consumers of content what they found most inspiration in the last 2 months with local community content being the second-most popular answer after that of family and friends.

As collectivist approaches towards the tackling of different environmental and social movements become increasingly prevalent, it is expected that this community-oriented shift in behaviour will be long-lasting.

With marketing ramping up again, marketing with a more personal and local touch can be the best way to reach a receptive and engaged audience.

What Does This Mean for Brands?

24 per cent of consumers across 18 markets currently discover brands on social media, and 55 percent approve of brands running “normal” advertising. It is now time for marketers to take advantage of the changing social media habits of consumers and make appropriate adjustments to their messaging.