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Social media in Covid-19 – what has changed, what are the new hits, what will be popular in the future.

Before Covid-19 we were all encouraged to cut down on social media and reduce our daily screen time, with mindfulness and real-life experiences actively promoted.

But then came lockdown and social media became a refuge for all of us stuck at home unable to connect with people in any other way. Unsurprisingly, its use has increased, against our previous best intentions.

So what is social media?

Social media refers to websites, apps and other types of platforms that allow users to share content quickly, react, and see what other users are posting and creating. The ability to share content as it happens, in real time mode, has transformed our society. Different sets of digital tools, programs and algorithms allow the whole world to be interlinked. People use social media for different reasons, however best it suits their lifestyle.  There are also generational differences as illustrated by survey results below.

(Screenprint from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-week/social-media-amid-the-outbreak/)

While this data shows only a slight variation in how people of different ages use social media, it does prove that there is such a difference and  thus one platform might be suitable for one generation more than the other.

An interesting, factual report about social media statistics in 2021 you can find here.

Some social media platforms are older and more popular than. How and why? Well, they have certainly managed to suit public needs for communication and provide entertainment. Below you can see most popular social networks worldwide as of January 2021, ranked by number of active users (in millions).

(Screenprint from Statista)

Social media is used not only for social communication, it is also used for business. Social media increases brand awareness and can boost sales. It also has potential for great collaborations with influencers and other brands – social media connects and makes these processes faster and easier. Nowadays, if a brand or a business does not have social media accounts – they are losing a lot of money and potential clients and buyers. Social media is a great connecting and promoting tool for businesses. It is a marketplace on its own.

Let’s look at the leading social media platforms and how they got there.

Facebook – the world’s leading platform.

Founded – 2004

Monthly Users – 2.8 billion

Key features – news, friends, events, messages, posts, reactions

Facebook was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckenberg and became open to the public in 2006. It is now the biggest social network worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Facebook had nearly 2.8 billion global monthly active users. The largest portion of its audience,  according to statistics, is in India and the United States Its biggest revenue generator is advertising.

(Screenprint from Statista)

The graph above shows that  Facebook monthly usage has been constantly increasing from 2008, and if we look closely, there was a faster growth  towards the end of 2019, as we entered the global pandemic.

Small businesses buy the most of Facebook ads, and with the pandemic hitting them the hardest , the social media giant’s financials  also must have been hit. Its outgoing posts decreased by an average of 1.8 posts per day and there was also a decrease in comments and personal messages. More information can be found in Facebook’s report on changing interaction behaviours during Covid-19.

Instagram – impressive increase in activity during the pandemic.

Founded – 2010

Monthly Users – 1.16 billion

Key features – short videos, images, direct messaging, advertising, live videos, stories, celebrity and influencers

This is a visual heavy social media platform, which nowadays is probably most well-known and used by 25-34 year olds. Established in 2010 it was bought by Facebook in 2012. USA and India are countries with the biggest Instagram audiences. Similarly to Facebook advertising provides the biggest income for Instagram, with picture ads being the most popular type of sponsored campaigns.

Instagram during the pandemic has only shown decrease in incoming messages, in contrast to  an impressive increase of 6.4 comments per day – a sign that more people are being active on the platform. Why is that? Perhaps a big clue is its visual nature and multifunctionality as well as a younger and as a rule more involved demographic.

YouTube – is it causing a spread of misleading information about Covid-19?

Founded – 2005

Monthly Users – 2 billion

Key features – video content, reactions, subscriptions, channels, informative, entertainment

This is a video platform  founded in 2005 with 2 billion monthly users. In 2006 YouTube was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion. YouTube’s ad revenue in Q2 of 2020 was $3.81 billion, that is up from $3.60 billion from a year-ago period. YouTube is the second  most visited site in the world, coming right after Google. It is also predicted that 50% of viewers under 32 will not be using paid TV, but use YouTube services instead. More interesting facts and statistics can be found here.

Over the course of the pandemic YouTube has become a popular source of information on Covid-19, but one research concluded that over one quarter of the most viewed videos on this topic  contained misleading information. This is not surprising, as anyone can post almost anything on their channel.There is a high risk of disinformation of the public, and that could be a problem for this platform. In response to the threat of disinformation YouTube has released a list of policies related to the Covid-19 content.

Twitter – latest news and opinion about the world. 

Founded – 2006

Monthly Users – 353 million

Key features – news, opinion, reactions, pinned comments

Twitter, established in 2006, is primarily a text sharing platform, where you can read first hand news from celebrities and authorities, and share your own views and experiences. Twitter has a considerably lower number of users than the platforms above – 340 million. 80% of Twitter users are affluent millennials. For the platforms above there has been an increase in advertising revenue in Q2 of 2020, for Twitter, there was a decrease of 22%, resulting in $562 million. Twitter is the preferred social network for news consumption.

In terms of Covid-19, Twitter is a great source of understanding both public concern and awareness about the pandemic. The increase in Twitter usage during the pandemic can be explained by people wanting to find out what is going on in the world with the platform providing instant updates both from mainstream media and ordinary users.

Pinterest – helps to find inspiration during hard times.

Founded – 2010

Monthly Users – 459 million

Key features – art, ideas, pins, portfolios, advertising

Pinterest was founded in 2010 and has over 416 million monthly active users. The median age of Pinterest users is 40, however the majority of active users are below that age, 71% of users are females. In 2019 the platform generated over $1 billion in advertising. After the US, this platform is used the most in Germany. Pinterest makes money through ‘promoted pins’ which is its way of advertising. In general, this is a very positive social network. Pinterest, which allows you to make a collection of your personal mood boards, is often used for ideas, creativity, inspiration and as a platform which is closely related to art and photography.

Pinterest calls itself a unique platform ‘where people consciously come to plan their future rather than scrolling posts about the past’. In response to the pandemic it  has published ‘How to Inspire Through Uncertainty’ guide which outlines  key stages of recovery and what marketers should focus on.

(Printscreen from Pinterest’s guide)

In this way Pinterest is providing help to marketers and producers of content. After all if marketers and  creators of content do well, the platform will benefit from that itself

New social media – secret for the future success in pandemic conditions

Looking into the future I would pay special attention to two contrasting platforms that exploded in popularity during the pandemic: TikTok and Clubhouse.

TikTok – become a millionaire in 15 seconds.

Founded – 2016

Monthly Users – 732 million

Key features – short music videos, funny content, trends

Tik-Tok is a platform which allows users to create, promote and respond to short 15 second videos. It was launched in 2016 in China and published globally in 2017. By 2020 TikTok was the world’s number one downloaded non-gaming app. The content is themed around dancing, lip syncing, comedy, memes and many other physical activities. Important to note that TikTok is powered by some of the world’s most sophisticated and developed Artificial Intelligence. TikTok is loved amongst its young demographic, although some influencers and celebrities have to use it in order to stay relevant for their audience. According to the official statistics, the platform has 689 million users monthly around the world. Its 2020 revenue was estimated at $1 billion and last July investors valued the network valued at $50 billion, significantly higher than its close competitors. More statistics about users, downloads, usage and revenue can be found here.

TikTok started gaining popularity even before the Covid-19 outbreak, but nothing like once people were stuck at home and needed to entertain themselves. It has become a sensation in the social media world since then. It is a very easy-to-use app with a clear purpose, it has a supportive community with common interests. The content published is not hard to understand, easy to produce, fast to watch and has a lot of room for creativity. Key benefit, like for other social media platforms, is its safety in terms of social distance. TikTok is mostly popular with the Generation Z (18-24 y.o.), however as the platform roots itself in the digital world, we see more users from other generations emerging: Gen X, Millenials and even Baby Boomers.

Clubhouse – will a purely audio based platform have a future after the initial hype?

Founded – 2020

Monthly Users – 10 million

Key features – audio interaction, rooms, celebrities 

Clubhouse is an audio-based social media app. This online platform is the opposite of TikTok, it is kind of exclusive. At least it was that way when it started. They have chosen a very specific way of communication – voice, and for that this app is unique. It is almost like a platform with ongoing live podcasts on different topics, and the user can move from one room to the other listening to different themes. This app almost mimics real life interactions and conversations. Clubhouse is known and popular amongst celebrities, perhaps its most attractive advantage. You can interact and listen to celebrities, famous personas or influencers more than on other platforms. The problem here is however that it seemed that the app did not really have a plan on how the content is moderated, as lots of complaints were raised about forms of racism, hate speech, homophobia and more being seen on the platform. If the platform is not controlled and does not have content moderators, that will play badly on its reputation in the future.

It is very important to say that all of the new platforms are becoming popular because they all have a clear identity and a niche. Older platforms, which are well known and popular around the world did not have too much to worry about as the pandemic began, they are in a relatively stable position, not more or less popular.

So what are the key features a social media platform needs in order to be a hit?

Stories format has been and will be popular amongst users and creators of content. It is not too long, easy to look back, easy to shoot and edit, writing and transcription can be easily added too. In the pandemic especially, people long for as much interaction as possible, so lives have had a rise in popularity as well. So if a new platform has this function it is more likely to be used. Same goes for VR/AR technologies. These are being embedded everywhere, the future of technology is behind that. Examples of these are even the Instagram filters, where you can play a game with the movement of your face or change your hair colour in a tap. Video format is also extremely popular, and should be featured in the content of the platform. Inclusivity and diversity is a trend and will be a force behind all social media interactions, therefore platforms need to be accommodating for that. With this comes social activism. A platform nowadays needs to be able to provide a space to share a voice or an opinion, and the more socially active the platform is, the more interest and engagement it creates and gains. Selling and buying is also at the core of money making through social media. Platforms would not be the same without advertising, branding and selling of products and more importantly lifestyles. As we know well, there is a potential buyer for everything. So, if a platform develops a comfortable and easy-to-use service for selling and buying, it is already gaining an advantage amongst other platforms. Now that we are also moving away from cash and contactless payment is used almost everywhere, that is also key to successful selling – option of easy contactless payment.

(Printscreen from a report)

So what does the future hold for the online world?

In order to distinguish what the social media landscape will look like, there are a lot of factors that should be considered. Simplicity and authenticity are key to success here. Clubhouse, however, has chosen a very specific niche – audio – and that might be the limitation for the future. It is important to have a strong visual side to the platform. In the future, digitalisation will be developed even more, VR and AR technologies will disperse into more social media features. User-generated content is looking to become the predominant source of information and will dictate upcoming trends. The platforms need to be easy to use in order to gather more talent around them. It is important to consider that we will hopefully be leaving the pandemic behind very soon, so social media will be used to share the experience of being out of lockdown. The shift towards the digital (the ‘online’) that happened during the pandemic will remain in the post-Covid society, social media will be used by people and business and embedded into our lives even more.

Alina Yakushova

Alina Yakushova

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