Over the past few years, social media has seen the emphasis shift from the social to the media. For users, it’s become a place of passive scrolling, whilst marketers have started to understand the platforms as, first and foremost, a place to drive reach – rather than a place to build community.
But a crisis like the one we’re currently living in changes everything. And over the last few weeks, it’s been fascinating to watch user behavior completely flip.
In the time of social distancing, our craving for connection is being satisfied on social media. We’ve reverted to its original and pure purpose: to bring people together. Social media is getting social again.
It feels very much like all the features that platforms have been innovating on over the last few years have finally found a true purpose. Three things stand out:
Once dormant neighborhood Facebook groups are now buzzing with activity – sharing food, organizing lessons for kids and sharing updates about neighbors in need. In times of crisis, communities tend to come together and this time, it’s happening in groups. The Guardian reported that in the UK alone, one million people are now members of Coronavirus Support groups on Facebook. Two things are happening here: Groups give people the tools to organize. But they also satisfy an inner craving for connection with likeminded people.
Houseparty has actually been on the scene since 2017, but it’s always been a niche player – up until the last few weeks where it’s become one of the most downloaded apps worldwide. Why? Because it lets groups of friends connect in a casual and fun way without the formality associated with other chat apps. It feels closest to the spontaneity of meeting up with your mates in the pub.
Joe Wicks’ morning workout live streams are achieving organic viewing figures that any broadcaster would kill for. We’re seeing chefs organizing nightly cook-a-longs on Instagram Live. I’ve even seen virtual wine tastings happening. Instagram Live is being used to replicate real-life experiences that we’re missing out on whilst we’re all in isolation. Crucially, they involve active participation – not just mindless viewing.
Social – on the whole – feels like quite a nice place to be at the moment. Let’s hope it carries through once we’re out on the other side.