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Lockdown has brought new meaning to ‘social networks’

Lee Davies sifts through the data to provide insight into the boom social media networks have experienced during lockdown.  

Over the last few months, Facebook has been hosting a series of regular webinars called, COVID Live, offering up insights into consumer behaviour, attitudes and ways of living during the pandemic. I’ve learnt an awful lot, and here’s some of the most interesting insights I discovered.

Covid-19 has been the biggest driver of digital transformation ever. The natural spike in internet activity at weekends is no more. Global lockdowns, furloughed workers in the UK and school closures mean that right now, internet usage is relatively similar seven days a week.

In the first two weeks of lockdown in the UK, Facebook’s suite of products (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp) recorded a 1,000 per cent increase in usage. At first that seems a staggering figure, and it is, but it’s less surprising when you consider how people relied on these platforms to communicate to family and friends about the uncertainty that had suddenly besieged all our lives.

Instagram’s ‘Stay Home’ story sticker was used more than four million times in the first week it was introduced, (hitting 300 million by the end of April) and interaction with stories and live videos doubled in two weeks. So many people downloaded Zoom that the video conferencing platform reported downloads 20 times higher than at the same time last year, and at their peak ‘business tools’ were downloaded 62 million times in just one week!

Online video consumption has increased 39 per cent amongst 16-34 year olds, the age group affected the least physically by Covid-19, but the most socially.

The video call quickly jumped from the conference room to the living room as it became the number one way to communicate with friends and family. By the beginning of April 40 per cent of people in the UK had been on a video call with friends and family, 29 per cent made contact with someone they hadn’t spoken to for some time, and 3 per cent had a virtual party.

At the end of April, Facebook introduced Messenger Rooms as a direct competitor to Houseparty and Zoom to accommodate the increased desire to communicate with friends and family digitally.

You could argue that the ‘social’ in social networks had lost its meaning in recent years, particularly with some of the features that platforms have introduced, which at times feel like they’re taking things further and further away from their original use.

It’s taken a global pandemic to prove that’s not the case, and these networks have really proven their worth. As lockdowns around the world ease and countries attempt to get back to ‘normal’, usage of social networks will naturally decline slightly, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the relationships which have been built, maintained, and strengthened throughout the pandemic continue to lean so heavily on these social networks. They have have allowed people to stay close to one another, even when they couldn’t get any face time with each other.

Lee Davies is a Paid Media Specialist in our Strategy & Insights team.