When the pandemic took the United States by storm and started shutting down what we traditionally knew, social media and virtual hang outs became the new normal. People flocked to sites like Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, and YouTube in an effort to remain connected to their family and friends while remaining quarantined in their own homes.
Advertisements flooded the airwaves to remind people that they could remain connected while all alone and people fell back on what social media was all about when it first started: connecting with people you couldn’t see on a regular basis.
“Social media has been helping people maintain a sense of community when real life contact is lacking,” said Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer of We Are Social, a global social media company. Content flooded timelines and streams with realistic images and stories of life: homemade meals and dinner tables filled with families and kitchen tables made into classrooms interspersed with a play by play of the battle someone had with the virus itself. There were also videos flooding the social media sites: parodies of pop songs talking about how much people hated the quarantine and COVID, how making Sourdough Bread was the next challenge, showcasing how a neighborhood joined in on a happy hour from their own driveways, even pretending to give their pets voices and complaining about how the humans have taken over their homes.
The increase on usage was global: Every age group, every nation, and every demographic increased their social media usage thanks to COVID-19. The increase didn’t stop with just the connection with loved ones and friends.
According to GlobalWebIndex, a global market research firm, the pandemic has accelerated the global trend of reading news stories on social media, even among those who typically turned to social media last. In April 2020, as many as 6 in 10 Generation Z’s reported using Social Media to keep up to date with news during the outbreak (GWI Q3 2020 Report).
Unfortunately, we have also seen how social media can be a source of misinformation. While so many users turn to social media sites for their news, only 14% deemed it the most trustworthy place to turn to (GWI Q3 2020 Report). So why do so many people turn to social media sites before more reliable sources of information?
The answer is simple: as much as people want information, they want the discussion and the drama that surrounds it. While most people know that much of what they read on the internet is likely to be inaccurate, it’s the discussion and the ‘gossip train’ that entices them to continue to go to these mock news sites to get the information they are seeking.
In addition to increased video and content, virtual events became key during the pandemic, alongside content that was streamed live for public consumption.
Livestreams of concerts, storybook readings, even Zoom calls of famous groups getting together to sing a song or read iconic movie scripts became insanely popular during quarantine and continued to grow in popularity even when states started to reopen. With concerts shutting down and playhouse curtains remaining closed, the idea of being able to livestream content for those stuck at home gave families and fans something to look forward to.
Artists such as Amy Lee, from the band Evanescence, took to Instagram and performed live acoustic sets of her music. Bands like Metallica released concerts on YouTube for fans to watch while concerts across the nation were cancelled. Famous faces such as Betty White, Samuel L. Jackson, and Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf from Frozen) read storybooks for children and posted the videos on Twitter and YouTube. The list of users and individuals goes on.
Platforms such as Facebook Rooms and Zoom have been key in making virtual gatherings happen. These virtual gatherings, much like FaceTime is for iPhone users, allow many people to join in the event, and have been essential for those dealing with the negative impacts of quarantine and social distancing. While some have broadcast special events live, others have recorded events and shared them later as videos.
New social media platforms, like TikTok, skyrocketed on the scene during the pandemic year as well. While this 15 to 60 second video sharing platform is shrouded in controversy, independent research, TikTok has the potential of being a platform that reaches a younger, more diverse audience in ways that other platforms do not. TikTok reaches its audience through fun catchy videos and its popularity hasn’t slowed down. Government agencies from all over the United States have jumped onto TikTok, and have seen great success in their efforts.
Brands can benefit from all of the lessons learned during 2020. There are many different activities through social media platforms, virtual gatherings, and video options brands can participate in that will enhance our community outreach and bring our community together in new, fun ways.
We want our community to trust us when it comes to incidents, rely on us to be forthcoming with information, and know that we will always tell them what they need to know when they need to know it. But we need to balance this transparency and trust with the fun and entertaining aspect that social media requires.
Part of building a strong, loyal audience is showing them we are humans too. To do this, we need to show them we are dealing with the pandemic and restrictions like they are, we are worried about our loved ones, and we are here to support them during this crisis as we do during other crises.
Telling stories to children, making your own music videos with a theme that you’re your brand and even doing a Facebook Room or Zoom call with fans could be a step in the right direction. Creating a TikTok account, having some fun with content, and showcasing the human side of dealing with normal things will help us join the ranks of humanizing businesses, which can go a long way in creating positive relations with your community members.
While social media is a quick way to release reliable information to our community, it is also meant to be fun. By showing the public that you and members of your brand are people just like they are, you can connect in a new way with your community. In uncertain times, as we have seen in 2020, a trusted voice can make all the difference; but when uncertain times makes traditional communication nearly impossible, we should change our efforts and get creative to meet our community where they are.