The State of Social Media Before, During, and After COVID-19: What To Expect
Why We’re Here
First came a global pandemic. Immediately after came a very apparent shift in the use of social media. In the span of a week, social media proved its role as the trinity of modern day life: immediate news source, instant line of communication, and most importantly, an escape. In the days and weeks after a widespread shutdown, news feeds were filled with brand statements, live content found its unexpected renaissance, TikTok exploded, and then, people got bored.
As we explore the shift from pre-pandemic social media behaviors to mid-quarantine ones, one looming question remains — what can we expect from social media after the pandemic?
Pre-Pandemic Behaviors and How Social Media Adapted
Before COVID-19, statements and massive social movements took center stage on social platforms. Content creators at our digital marketing agency were focused on optimizing content for engagement, combating content overload (we’ll talk about this more later), and adapting quickly to the ever-changing ways consumers interact with their favorite brands. Our State of Social Media in 2020 Report, published pre-pandemic, analyzed each critical piece of the social media puzzle — that we could see coming.
More Time Than Ever On Social
With the uncertainty that the initial shutdown brought to many people and businesses around the world — and let’s face it, complete boredom — social media became the first-stop for news, entertainment, information, and human interaction. With bars closed, concerts postponed, and businesses shut down, social users quickly turned to social media networks to make up for that lost human touch.
TikTok went from 343 million downloads in the first half of 2019 to 615 million downloads in the first half of 2020. Facebook and Instagram Lives were being scheduled on a daily basis. In mid-April, Rival IQ reported that engagement rates had reached all-time highs for the year across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Simply put, people were spending more time on their phones. If you don’t believe it, riddle us this:
According to AdWeek, eMarketer predicted that social media usage would increase just six seconds in 2020. That was pre-pandemic. In May of 2020, they updated that number up to seven minutes, totaling an average of one hour and 22 minutes per day.
Amidst this radical shift to a completely digital social landscape for nearly every industry, content creators faced a new hurdle: creating a safe space for users during a massive social movement.
Similar to the initial reaction of a nationwide shutdown, users turned to social media for news, updates, and information more than ever. Users became content creators themselves, sharing petitions, information, images, videos and more from Black Lives Matter protests around the country, using a variety of social media platforms to inform, educate, and inspire conversation over the course of several weeks. According to Forbes, user-started social media campaigns like #blackouttuesday garnered engagement from over 28 million users who posted a black square to their feed, speaking out against racial injustice. In a short time, social media again proved itself as a platform and voice of and for the people.
And while the engagement, creativity, and progress were all positive, this above-average level of activity ultimately brought us to hurdle number two: social media fatigue.
Social Media Fatigue
As time passed and stay-at-home orders stretched longer, content creators faced another challenge: social media fatigue. The peak in usage and surge in results that we saw in March and April shifted come summer. As beaches, restaurants, and stores slowly reopened, social media results subsequently saw a downward trend. Rival IQ’s June Social Media update found that by June 5, engagement rates were “the lowest they’ve been in 2020 on Instagram and Facebook, and nearly there on Twitter.”
Our team also found that users began to have less patience for Instagram or Facebook Live performances or chats, interactive content like GIF challenges or crossword puzzles were not receiving the same results as they were in March and April, and ultimately, the content that we were working so hard to push out was no longer resonating.
Back To the Drawing Board
With any social media management strategy, content fatigue or overload should be taken into account. Too much of one message may exhaust active users over time. We saw apps like Twitter, Vine, and Snapchat take this on years ago, with short-form content driving all consumer engagement.
In 2020’s case, it wasn’t the content strategy or platform itself that stopped working, but rather the initial (and rapid) increase in mobile-phone and social media usage that was no longer sustainable for an extended period of time. People were choosing to hit the beach, go on roadtrips, go camping, and dine outdoors with their loved ones. Subsequently, keeping users inspired and engaged has become harder than ever.
So how should digital marketers and social media strategists combat this when looking towards the “new normal”?
- Keep your audience on their toes with short-form content. Think Instagram Stories, TikTok, and Reels. A feed of endless, short, and eye-catching content will keep your target audience engaged for longer as opposed to static feed posts.
- Keep it positive, but real. People miss human interaction. As users turn to social channels for that communication and information, it’s important that brands create a safe space by keeping things positive. Authenticity is key here — be your brand, not something else.
- Take action! Show that your brand cares. Posts that speak to local communities, charities, and causes show widespread support from followers across content verticals.
- Think outside of the box. You can throw old social strategies out the window. Think outside the box when it comes to promotional, engagement-based, or inspirational content. It’s more important than ever to provide value to your target audience. What’s going to stop them from scrolling?
So… What’s Ahead?
As we approach “somewhat normal”, what does social media look like? Will we just pick up where we left off? Not quite. Q2 and Q3 were unprecedented, and if we thought the landscape was competitive before — hold on tight. This social landscape will only continue to become more and more competitive, specifically as we approach a holiday season where traditional retail takes a backseat. In August 2020, Facebook announced Facebook Shop:
According to the Facebook Newsroom, “Facebook Shop makes it easy for people to find products from businesses they love, discover new ones and make purchases, all in one place.”
This announcement came alongside Instagram’s expansion of in-app purchasing with Instagram Live Shopping, giving brands more ways to reach, connect with, and convert social users. Besides e-commerce, expect to see an increase in video production (thank you, TikTok) and long-term social consciousness. Now more than ever, your brand’s messaging, diversity, and marketing strategy will be looked at — and it will matter.
More Shifts Are Coming
If there’s one thing social media strategists have done this year, it’s pivot, pivot, pivot. In times like these — crisis, uncertainty, social change — it’s on social media that brands first go to speak to their consumers. Social media behaviors and strategies have shifted, adapted, and changed, and our take is that they’ll continue to do so. Fresh content verticals will reign king, social listening will matter more than ever, and growing a community of actively engaged users — during a pandemic or not — will become the focal point of refreshed social strategies for months to come.
Does your brand need a fresh social media strategy to take 2020 head on? Contact us today for a free nova appraisal.