Lockdown: How the Way We Use Social Media Will Be Changed Forever
What role is social media playing during your experience of the pandemic? Does it supply entertainment and escapism? Information and education? Community and support?
Have you found that you’re choosing to spend more time on certain platforms and neglecting others, or that the types of content you’re sharing or looking for has changed over the past few weeks?
If so, you’re not alone. While we’ve always bounced between platforms depending on what type of content we’re in the mood for, the current situation has amplified our habits. Emotions are running high: we’re bored and desperate for distraction, we’re fatigued and unable to focus, we’re heartbroken yet desperate for light relief, we’re kinder and more critical, we’re more connected yet have never felt so alone.
On top of that, we’re also facing unique divisions that cut across social, political and economic lines: we’re split into home-workers and key workers; the furloughed and the unemployed; the solo dwellers and the family units. Each new demography has their unique wants, pressures and pleasures - and are turning to social media to satisfy these needs more so than ever before.
Due to this, our social media habits are changing in ways that may very well become permanent. Read on to discover our predictions for the future, and how you can adapt your brand’s online presence in order to attract and serve your followers in the best way possible.
Tribalism Will Deepen
The individual characteristics and service offerings of each platform have been magnified - some for the better, and some for the worse. For example, the filtered and escapist images portrayed on Instagram felt too jarring against the current climate, and the advertised offerings from influencers also struck a bum note - leading to the platform seeing a 10.5% drop in engagement in the UK in March.
Yet the power of tribalism has also seen an increase in people using Stories on the platform - users of Instagram did not want to leave, they just needed to find a new way to utilise the app in a way that felt authentic to their own experience.
This looks likely to set in across all of the top platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn and even newcomer TikTok. Before the pandemic set in, users had already chosen which platforms they prefer to get their news or entertainment. It is even less likely now for any user to jump ship and try a new one as people prefer to stick to what they know.
That’s why it is vital for your business to truly discover where your audience lies - with many companies facing tighter budgets, any time or money spent on social media advertising should be channelled carefully to the right platform.
Long-Form Content Rules All
With an increase of time on their hands, plus the need for distraction and desire for information, many users are now craving substantially much longer-form content - that is to say, articles that run into their 1,000s of words and not just their 100s. Brands have at their hands a captive audience and would be foolhardy to let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
However, a warning:
Writing a 5,000-word piece of poor quality, repetitive, uninformative or simply dull content is futile. Do not do your followers a disservice for the sake of reaching an impressive word count. Boredom reduces the threshold for impatience - so only go down the long-form route if you have the substance and the skills to make it count!
Interaction Becomes the New Normal
A gap has opened up in our social schedules that yet another Netflix binge or Zoom chat with friends is failing to fulfil. With gyms, pubs, classes and playgrounds closed, we are now hungry for stimulating entertainment that gets our brains and our bodies moving. That’s why interactive content is fast becoming the new normal.
From viral challenges to webinars, competitions to cook-alongs, quizzes, gigs and workouts - the list goes on. And those brands and influencers who are delivering regular, interactive content that is easy to follow along at home are the ones that are gaining the views.
This demand and expectation from social media audiences will continue long into the future: brands will do well to cater for this. Passive engagement is out, and enthusiastic interaction is in.
For now, take care to ensure that you are providing opportunities for your followers to engage with you and build your community through shared, interactive experiences.
A few quick suggestions:
- Ask questions and set challenges
- Offer demonstrations and encourage followers to share their attempts
- Ask your staff to take part in trending challenges and share these with your followers
Free Content Will Be Expected
Following on from the previous point - a huge amount of content is now being given away for free. Content that either would have been available only to subscribers or tucked away behind a paywall - take for example Nike, which has made its subscription-only Training Club Premium service free to all. So how will we go back to charging for what has been given away for free during this period of our history? In all likelihood, we won’t be able to.
Just as many people will unsubscribe at the end of a free trial, so too will audiences drift away from brands that try to reintroduce gated content later down the line. So, once life resumes something like normality and you hope to resume charging for content, then be prepared to either dramatically increase its quality or get ready to diversify into new offerings.
Bullsh*t Won’t Be Tolerated
The impact of Covid-19 has humbled us. It has unified us. It has levelled us. While we are each experiencing the lockdown differently, the country in its entirety has been brought together in an unprecedented manner. That’s why those brands that are still spouting corporate jargon or clinical statements feel more and more out of touch, and those that have lifted the veil to reveal the human(s) operating behind the scenes to keep things going are experiencing fantastic levels of engagement.
Followers want to see and feel, the person behind any brand communication. We know that the CEO, the customer service representative or the social media manager is also going through difficulties that are akin to our own. This means customers and clients are prepared to offer understanding and allowances to any faults or errors - so long as we are spoken to on a level. So make sure to cut the bullshit for now and for the future.
Top Tips for Social Media Engagement Right Now
You’ve heard our predictions, but what about the present? How is your brand supposed to approach this momentous task of curating social media content that will please and appease such a wide variety of requirements?
Here are a few quick and simple rules:
1. Know Your Audience
There are so many demographics out there that to try and appeal to them all would be futile. In knowing your brand you will know your audience - their age, gender, location, budget, worries, needs and so on. Keep them in mind for whatever type of content you wish to create and share.
2. Know Your Platforms
Familiarise yourself with the leading platforms and their strengths - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and so on. There are many to choose from, and each offers a different opportunity for different kinds of content. Decide, first, where your audience is most likely to frequent, then produce content that aligns with these platforms.
3. Be Realistic
Ask yourself: how much time do you have to devote to social media? Some platforms are more time-consuming than others, requiring frequent output of content and engagement with fans and followers. It is always better to excel at one or two than to spread yourself too thinly and squander opportunities.
4. Repurpose Content
You don’t have to start from scratch - old, evergreen blog articles or marketing collateral can be refreshed and updated. One piece of work can be repurposed into different mediums and so shared across different platforms (e.g. a blog post could be made into an infographic, video, podcast or slide deck). You can also reshare the same content on the same platform - even your biggest fans may miss it the first time round.
5. Share, Comment and Credit
If you don’t have time to create your own content, then there’s no harm in sharing images, videos and articles that are already out there. Join in conversations, respond to insights with your take on the subject matter, and ask your followers for their opinions. Just make sure to include links to the original source material and/or credit the author.
6. Get it Out
It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to exist. Don’t be tempted to waste hours creating something that might become irrelevant within a couple of days. Get it checked by your peers for any obvious mistakes then get it shared online.
It may feel uncomfortable to make any fixed long term plans at the moment, but our predictions for the future of social media are a safe bet. Ultimately, it all comes down to two knowable elements: knowing your audience and delivering an experience that is authentic to your brand (learn more about your brand voice here). Stick to these two facts while drawing up your social media strategy and you’ll be hard pushed to put a foot wrong.