OPINION | As usage skyrockets, social media matters now more than ever

OPINION | As usage skyrockets, social media matters now more than ever

Perhaps I’m a little biased because of my job, but I love social media.

Instant access to information at my fingertips, exploring the world through my cellphone, being able to talk to anyone and make connections with a diverse bunch of people is liberating.

In fact, some of my closest friends are people I met on Twitter.

So it came as no surprise that when the world was interrupted by a global pandemic, I was not the only one fixated on my cellphone — for a change!

As Covid-19 began to dominate every aspect of our lives, Facebook services started to buckle.

In many of the countries hit hardest by the virus, total messaging increased more than 50%, according to Facebook's own stats. Voice and video calling more than doubled on FB Messenger and WhatsApp.

In Italy, Facebook saw up to 70% more time spent across their apps since the crisis arrived in the country. Messaging increased over 50% and time in group calling (calls with three or more participants) increase by over 1,000% during the last month.

Facebook lowered its video quality across Europe to help meet demand for its services. And with the influx of information, third-party fact-checkers were increased to curb the rise of fake news on Instagram.

It’s history in the making, as global leaders called on households to shut their doors, stay home and stay safe to flatten the curve.

The lockdown also had business impacts. The phrase “working from home” skyrocketed as a search term on LinkedIn. People were thrust into juggling online meetings with educating their kids. Shares of video-conferencing platform Zoom spiked as workers turned to digital solutions.

Within a matter of days, we were stuck at home and spending a lot more time online, whether it be for work or play.

I ran a snap poll on Instagram with my own followers. Almost 90% said they were spending more time on social media. The majority admitted to recharging their devices more than once a day (yup, I’m also guilty).

We want answers. We are seeking reassurance. We are frightened. And when trust in the media and the government is at an all-time low, we rely on our Facebook family and friends to hold us together.

Cocooned in our homes, we’re seeking information online to stay healthy and mentally stimulated offline. We’re being bombarded with “free everything” — from yoga courses to online lessons and recipes.

Pinterest searches for indoor scavenger hunts for kids have risen by nearly four times in the US over the past two weeks, according to statistics.

As people cook more and encounter constraints to ingredients, they’re relying on Pinterest for easy, flexible recipes.

One trend that’s on the rise is baking your own bread. It’s not only South Africans — Australia is going bananas for banana bread recipes — up 47%.

For the moment, we’re loving this new existence — but how long before the honeymoon wears off? Social media is a great distraction, but what happens when there’s no distraction from the distraction?

Humans crave connections, but we love human touch. A hug. A smile. Sitting around a braai with friends. But it's not quite the same as drinking cocktails via Zoom.

When the pandemic subsides, there will be a few positive outcomes.

Corporates will realise that work is not tied to a location. Consumers will trust online shopping. There will be an appreciation of time and choice to do other things — such as baking banana bread and parkruns. We'll walk our dogs more.

We’ll admit that we don’t look so bad with a splash of grey hair. We’ll discover the rewards of growing our own veggies. And the joys of watching our children help around the house after a game of tennis in the driveway.

Some relationships will suffer under the strain of lockdown. Marriages will fall apart. Depression and suicide rates will have soared. Lots of businesses will close down. Some already have.

We’re in for a rough ride. Uncertainty and fear will become the norm.

But the businesses that will survive will be those with solutions to problems in the months after Covid-19 — the ones that adapted faster and sought out opportunities. Most of these will be online businesses.

Social media will prove that, if anything, it does connect us all and has brought the world closer together. At last.

  • Bronwynne Wiehl is the CEO of Conversation Station, a Johannesburg-based social media business which helps new entrepreneurs and small businesses improve their social media visibility and become great content creators.