How the coronavirus crisis brought a new meaning to social media for brands

People have embraced social media during the pandemic but the message for marketers is that consumers are looking to brands for positive messages

The average time spent on social media has grown by 30 per cent during the COVID-19 crisis, according to an L&A Social census.This increase in social media usage, coupled with the shift towards ecommerce, has created a commercial imperative for brands and businesses to understand consumer behaviour across social platforms, according to the agency.

In collaboration with data and insights company, Pureprofile, L&A Social recently surveyed more than 1600 Australians on their social media consumption patterns pre- and during COVID-19 and found 60 per cent report feeling connected to friends, families and groups thanks to social media.

L & A Social founder and CEO, Gina Lednyak, told CMO the new kid on the social block – TikTok – has had the most significant increase in usage. While time spent across the key three social channels (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram) increased by 20 per cent overall, the time spent on TikTok, increased by a whopping 57 per cent, Lednyak said.

"Our reasons for using social media have increasingly grown in the areas of connecting with friends and family, watching more videos, seeking customer service and following celebrities and influencers. Meanwhile. our use of social media to share photos and research holidays and travel have gone down,” she noted.

Mediasmiths’ digital media manager, Michael Tibbles, told CMO early in the pandemic, moving consumers through consideration to conversion was challenging. “But over time, the pandemic has driven growth in Australia’s ecommerce world and this has implications on how brands promote their products and services online. And user-generated content and content creation has become far more popular, supporting the rise of TikTok across Gen Zs,” Tibbles said.

“People have turned to social media in their downtime, as a source of social connection and news and TikTok has certainly benefitted from the rise in content creation as people have more downtime."

But while there's no doubt the pandemic has triggered a strong uptick in ecommerce, the question is whether the trend will turn into a long-term engagement. Tibbles predicts ecommerce trends are unlikely to reverse as people become accustomed to a more effortless shopping experience that is always just one click away.

“Over time, we can expect content creation and social usage to return to normal levels as our daily lives return to some level of pre-COVID normality,” he said.

Opr Agency chief digital officer, Dan Young, agreed we are likely to see the time that people spend with social media return to the already high pre-COVID level once things settle down, although the pandemic has accelerated three key trends gaining traction prior to the pandemic.

“While this period has given rise to new behaviours that are likely to stick around including engagement with live social experiences, social shopping and social self-care,” Young said.

“More Australians engaged with live social content during the COVID lockdown and for many this was their first experience. Restrictions forced people to shop online and once again this was a first for many Australians. We’ve seen 10 years of ecommerce growth in just three months of 2020 and while the peaks of lockdown are unlikely to be sustained, we do expect to see more growth in online retail versus pre-COVID levels. The last six months has accelerated this trend with social playing a key role in terms of discovery and increasingly conversion." 

Young also noted social media has provided a welcome distraction for many from the realities of the pandemic and a place to find support. “Social media users purposefully sought self-care via in the form of amusing, entertaining and informative social content during the last six months,” he said.  

“This spike in guided content, tutorials and how to video content, particularly via YouTube, reflects a desire among Australians to make use of their time, learn new skills and stay connected during a period of isolation. The key content trends reported by YouTube include yoga, guided meditation, nature sounds, home workouts and home cooking."

Changing brand relationships


While ecommerce has been enlivened during the pandemic, consumers have been shopping around when it comes to brand loyalty, and looking to brands for relevant messaging on the big issues of the day. According to Lednyak, what people want from brands on social media has also significantly changed, with discounts and promotions taking the lead (pre-COVID, brand and product information and updates were in the lead).

“The desire from consumers for brands to showcase entertaining content also grew significantly, as did the desire for topical commentary and social or political stance,” Lednyak said.  

“This shows we are increasingly looking to brands for entertainment and to show consumers where a brand stands and how it aligns to their values. To back that up, 66 per cent of people follow brands that have values they align with, and 62 per cent of people said they follow brands who entertain them."

Lednyak also noted the importance of a brand having a social presence to consumers has grown risen with more respondents to L&A Social's survey saying it is important to have a strong presence, even if a brand is only available for purchase in-store. “The percentage of people who said following a brand on social media helps me trust them more grew from 39 per cent to 43 per cent,” she said.

Consumers over the last few months have also been switching brands, with people who have discovered new brands during this time planning to stick with them. In addition, Young said Australians have committed to buying more local brands to help the economy rebound and that brand values now matter more to consumers.

 “It’s never been more important for a brand to stand for something and add positive value within the content trends and social behaviours that are relevant right now,” Young said. “Brands need to develop social strategies that enable them to meet the needs of their audience and establish a pathway to brand engagement and, ultimately, conversion. With pressure on every marketing dollar to deliver value, we’re seeing increased focus on integrated strategies that connect social engagement with conversion." 

Young also noted that with the right approach, organisations can activate social strategies in a way that build their brand and drives sales.

“Interestingly, most of the major platforms have reported an increased audience for advertising, and while user engagement is up, ad spend has actually gone down, which represents an opportunity for those companies that are fully operational and/or are seeing increased demand for their services or products,” he added.  

Looking towards 2021, Tibbles isn’t expecting huge changes in social media usage across older generations. “However, it is the younger generations – increasingly difficult for marketers to reach on social channels – who will see more rapid changes around platform usage, content consumption and brand affinity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Young expected an increased awareness of the ill effects of social media, including mental health issues, societal polarisation and political extremism, which may well impact general usage of the major platforms. He points to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s digital platform inquiry, along with US government legal action against Google, as akin to the industry’s ‘big tobacco’ moment.

"It’s possible we could see more self-regulation by Australian users and tighter regulations on the types of content that audiences are exposed to,” he said.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.


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