We’re all aware by now that the COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on social media usage around the globe. Whether it was sharing information about the pandemic, connecting with friends and family that we couldn’t see in person due to social distancing, or finding humor and distraction from the heaviness of it all, social media usage and consumption spiked in 2020 like it had never before.
Compared to July 2019, July 2020 saw a rise of 10.5 percent in social media usage, and all social platforms grew much more than expected in 2020. It’s clear that people spent the pandemic on social media—but what were they doing exactly? And will those habits and trends stick around once the pandemic ends? Keep reading to see our predictions.
WILL STICK: TikTok
TikTok wasn’t created during the pandemic, but the pandemic is really when TikTok had its big moment. In Q1 2020, the app was downloaded more than 2 billion times globally, which was the most downloads for any app ever in a single quarter. No one was really sure whether TikTok would be just a fleeting trend or if people would get tired of it (not to mention it almost got banned in the U.S.), but nearly a year and a half later, the short-form video platform is stronger than ever. In fact, adult users of TikTok now spend more time on TikTok than adult Facebook users spend on Facebook. TikTok also will have more Gen Z users than Instagram this year and, in 2023, more U.S. users than Snapchat—so, it’s safe to say the app isn’t going anywhere.
WON’T STICK: Audio-Only Apps & Features
Clubhouse is another app that became popular during the pandemic, with a monthly download high of 9.6 million back in February. It got so big that Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Reddit, Slack, and even Spotify created their own “Clubhouse clones” and audio-first features. But unlike what we saw with TikTok, Clubhouse’s moment was just that—a moment. As vaccination numbers started to go up, the opposite happened with Clubhouse’s numbers. The app does still have some loyal users, but in April, there were only 922,000 downloads and far less traction than in the prior months. The bottom line is that Clubhouse was a great temporary solution to being stuck inside during a pandemic, when there was a lack of in-person conferences and human connection. But, with things opening back up again—and especially with folks returning to work in offices—there will be far less mindless scrolling with sound on. We could be wrong, but all signs point to the fact that the glory days of Clubhouse are in the past.
WILL STICK: Awareness/Discourse Around Misinformation
We haven’t just been fighting a pandemic for the past year and a half; we’ve also been fighting an infodemic (which, by definition, is “an overload of information, often false or unverified, about a problem, especially a major crisis”). Misinformation about all kinds of topics has been an issue on social media since day one, but the social platforms started putting more resources into flagging it—and teaching consumers how to fact check—during the pandemic (and the 2020 election which was happening at the same time). YouTube, for example, has added labels on videos from authoritative health sources and is prioritizing links to these clips in searches related to health concerns. TikTok, for its part, launched the #FactCheckYourFeed campaign to teach users how to think critically through media literacy. Certainly, the social platforms have not been perfect at this and there has been quite a bit of criticism around how some of them have handled misinformation—but the positive side of it is that there is much more awareness now about the fact that misinformation is an issue than there ever was, and our guess is that media literacy and tactics to combat misinformation will only improve with time.
WON’T STICK: Live Streaming
As the U.S. began to adopt various quarantine measures between February and March of 2020, streaming consumption increased by 73 percent. Facebook even saw a 50 percent increase in the number of users watching a variety of live content, from cooking tutorials to work from home tips to fitness classes to storytimes for toddlers, during this time period. Don’t get us wrong—live streaming was big before the pandemic and it will continue to be big afterwards, but the popularity level of live streaming during the pandemic is not something that’s going to stick around. Similar to the situation with the audio-only apps like Clubhouse, live streaming was something that worked really well during a time when people were stuck at home and could just hop into a live stream whenever they wanted to. However, it blew up simply out of necessity due to the situation, not because people really preferred it. With people returning to their busy lives and working in offices and going to in-person events, our prediction is that live streaming will return to its pre-pandemic popularity.
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