How Social Media Behaviors Evolved Due to COVID-19

Updated Survey: How Social Media Behaviors Evolved Due to COVID-19

How Social Media Behaviors Evolved Due to COVID-19

2020 will forever be known as the year that everything changed. A global pandemic, a Presidential election, numerous social justice movements, and more led to a slew of changes to how Americans live their everyday lives… including our social media behaviors.

About one month into nationwide lockdowns, our team at Ignite Social Media conducted a survey of over 600 consumers to gauge their opinions on social media marketing tactics and how their social behaviors had changed. Today, we’re announcing the results of a follow-up survey of another 1,000 consumers to see how social media behaviors shifted as a result of the pandemic and other major events that unfolded over the past 12 months.

Key Takeaways:

  • Audiences are much more comfortable with brands running advertisements on social media today than they were in the early days of the pandemic.
  • Audiences were more prone to joining new groups on social media at the start of the pandemic compared to now.
  • Of those audiences that joined new groups throughout the year, Gen Z’s main motivation was to stay connected to people, while Millennials joined to keep up to date on COVID-19 information.
  • Over the course of the year, some audiences have been more willing to try out new networks with Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok leading the pack.
  • Audiences are creating less content across social media today.
  • Audiences are most likely to unfollow a brand or influencer for publishing content that implies a political stance the user disagrees with.

Advertising on Social Can Resume as Normal, Barring Major Events

When the pandemic originally took hold of the country, most marketers began to question if they should be running ads on social media. It was a very valid question at the time, and in our original survey 2/3 of respondents said they thought it was ok for some brands to continue advertising.

Graph: Do you think it's okay for brands to continue advertising on social media right now?

Today, our latest group of survey respondents agree that not only was it ok brands run ads during the pandemic, but the majority (80%) are comfortable with brands running ads right now. About a fourth of those who are comfortable with ads feel there are still some restrictions brands should be mindful of, for example, only running ads if their product is essential or if the message is sensitive.

That said, there are still going to be case-by-case scenarios where brands need to evaluate pausing social media ads, pandemic or not. When a critical event occurs, such as a mass shooting or a natural disaster, an evaluation needs to be quickly conducted and a modified strategy rolled out to your social channels. We recommend you review the following post for guidance on best practices when temporarily pausing your advertising efforts.

Group Usage Isn’t as Prominent in 2021, But Motivations Changed

While networks like Facebook and LinkedIn continue to put more emphasis on group features within their platforms, not many audiences are looking to leverage these assets. In both surveys we conducted, over 70% of respondents hadn’t joined any new groups as a result of the pandemic. This increased by 15% with our latest survey (81.4%).

Graph: Have you joined any new groups on social media as a result of COVID-19? (Facebook group, LinkedIn group, etc.)

Of those audiences that were joining groups, we saw some interesting shifts in the data when it came to different generations and their motivations. Originally, our Gen Z age bracket was 2X more likely than other generations to join groups to keep up with COVID-19 information. Our latest survey shows that’s no longer the case, and that this same generation is now 3X as likely to join a new group to stay connected with others. It’s now our oldest generation that’s nearly 3X as likely to join a group to keep up with COVID-19 info, which makes sense as this age bracket’s health is more at risk than others.

Graph: Have you joined any new groups on social media as a result of COVID-19? (Facebook group, LinkedIn group, etc.)

Consumers Somewhat Open to Trying New Platforms

Our 2020 survey results showed the majority of respondents hadn’t ventured on to any new networks (70.4%) which has barely decreased (69%) in our latest survey. That said, of those audiences that have chosen to explore other platforms, all up we’re seeing TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram stand out, with audiences 2X as likely to join Instagram.

Graph: Since the pandemic began, have you started using any social media platforms regularly that you didn't use regularly before?

When we then dive into channel usage across different generations, that’s where we start to see some more robust outliers.

Graph: Since the pandemic began, have you started using any social media platforms regularly that you didn't use regularly before?

Our 2021 Gen Z audience is more likely than any others to try out a new network (not surprising). While they’re known for dominating TikTok, they’re also 2X as likely than others to start using Instagram or YouTube. Also, when compared to a year ago, respondents in this category showed a 5X increase in Twitter usage, the largest change in platform consideration over the past year for this age group.

Graph: 18-24-Year-Olds: Since the pandemic began, have you started using any social media platforms regularly that you didn't use regularly before?

Now Millennials (25-44 age brackets) are the ones more recently infiltrating the TikTok space, our 2021 survey results show. Additionally, although Pinterest recently touted their year-over-year growth among the Gen Z market, our data shows that over the past year the Millennial audience became 7X more likely than before to consider using Pinterest.

Check out our infographic for more information on the differences between the Gen Z and Millennial audiences and their social media usage.

Now, our biggest change in new network consideration from 2020 to 2021 comes from our 65+ age bracket. While still the least likely of all ages to join a new network, they’re 7X more likely to join a new network today – and these chances increase to 10X more likely when considering TikTok, Twitter, or Pinterest (which was practically non-existent last year).

Graph: 65+ Year-Olds: Since the pandemic began, have you started using any social media platforms regularly that you didn't use regularly before?

People are Posting Less on Social Media Today

While over 50% of respondents in both surveys say they’re publishing about the same amount of content since the pandemic began, we saw a 52% increase in respondents saying they’re creating less content today. That said, out of all the data we’ve pulled this is one that we could see drastically change in the coming months as people gear up to share stories of being reunited with loved ones or traveling once again. (It sounds like a dream, but we’ll get there one day people!)

Graph: Compared to one year ago, are you creating and sharing content on social media more, less, or about the same?

Political Content a Top Motivator for Unfollowing Brands and Influencers

As mentioned earlier, there were many different events that occurred over the past year impacting our lives. As a result of these events, brands struggled and debated throughout the year if they should be participating in potentially controversial topics online or if it was best that they not get involved. There’s no single right answer to this question, as each brand needs to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. One thing is for certain: once your brand has taken a public stance you need to stick with it.

That said, this inspired us to ask our 2021 surveyors if they unfollowed a brand or an influencer within the past year and why. In both questions, the majority of respondents (over 65%) selected “none of the above” implying they didn’t unfollow accounts for potentially controversial topics. However, of those that did, politics was the main motivator, specifically if the brand or influencer took a political stance that the user disagreed with.

Graph: Did you unfollow a brand within the past year for one of the following reasons?
Graph: Did you unfollow an influencer within the past year for one of the following reasons?

While respondents were somewhat 50/50 when it came to unfollowing brands/influencers who took a stance on social justice movements or didn’t publicly, it’s important that your brand evaluates your position on today’s important topics. When it comes to brand activism on social media, arm your social media teams with these best practices to ensure you’re not made an example of or called out by followers on social media.

Moving Forward in 2021

What was supposed to be a two-week lockdown has caused over 560,000 deaths and consumed over a year of American’s lives. While things are beginning to look up, keep in mind that your brand should be prepared at a moment’s notice to adjust your social media marketing strategy in addition to the optimizations you already have in place for this year. Social media behaviors are likely to continue to evolve as the world changes again, especially with new apps launching (like Clubhouse) and new features emerging across channels. (Twitter has big plans for this year.)

Keep your social media teams up to date on the latest news and trends in social media by subscribing to our bi-weekly newsletter, Social You Should Know, below. We’re #AlwaysLearning and sharing insights regularly.

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