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Doomscrolling on Social Media Platforms Through the Infodemic”

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 While more people turn to social media for news, only 14% deem it trustworthy

Despite relying on the internet more during the outbreak, only a few are concerned about the amount of time they spend online

Significant growth potential found as COVID-19 reshapes social media attitudes

GlobalWebIndex, the leading supplier of audience insights to the global marketing industry, announces the publication of its flagship social media report, giving insight into how the pandemic has impacted the social space, using n data from a panel of over 170,000 internet users globally.

With Merriam Webster adding ‘doomscrolling’ and ‘doomsurfing’ – meaning the compulsion to keep reading bad news online – to its watch-list for potential dictionary inclusion, the report confirms that social media usage has both increased and become more news-centric during the pandemic. While 47% of internet users now turn to social media for news, only 14% see it as the most trustworthy source.

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This period has seen trust become a new competitive front amongst social media companies, with Facebook implementing new privacy controls, Twitter introducing COVID-19 hubs, and TikTok facing deeper scrutiny over privacy protection.

As current affairs become the bedrock of social media engagement, attention is moving away from limiting personal usage of social platforms and towards how those platforms manage conversations. Although consumers say they’re spending more time on social media, only 14% of people in the U.S. and UK are concerned about the amount of time they spend online, compared to 34% who are generally concerned about their mental wellbeing. Therefore, users are not currently making strong connections between their mental wellbeing and internet usage, as social media has been a crutch to many in recent months and one of the few means of communication while distancing. 

“With more free time and fewer opportunities to socialise in person, we expected to see social media usage rise during this period,” comments Chase Buckle, Trends Manager. “Even so, it’s startling to see how quickly and significantly the increased intensity of our social media usage has led to changes in our relationship with it. As people rely more on social media for day-to-day activities, there’s a big opportunity for social media companies to make their platforms useful and productive parts of consumers’ lives – but there will be some difficult adjustments along the way. Similar to the way social media has reverted to a more “back-to-basics” usage, where connections and greater humanity are important, brands and publishers also need to incorporate this thinking into their marketing strategies and features. Reflecting back on how they first used social media and how they communicated with consumers could be a helpful step.” 

The average number of social media accounts per internet user globally, has risen from 7.6 in 2017 to 8.1 in 2020, and time spent on social media rising from an average 2 hours 15 minutes to 2 hours 22 minutes, from 2017 to 2020. 

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Back to chat

Although news and entertainment have become more popular reasons to use social media, the pandemic has also shaken up a long-standing decline in the “social” element of social media. Between 2017 and 2020, staying in contact with friends fell as a primary reason for using social media, from 42% to 33% of consumers. In recent custom research, however, the study found that 55% of those who communicate in public or private channels in the U.S. and UK have been sharing more in the last two months.

Just as fewer people are seeing social media as a cause of poor mental wellbeing, 3 in 10 of internet users in those countries say that they are being more open about their struggles on public social channels. 

Chase suggests that “it’s clear that social media is stepping in to fill a gap left by the difficulty of having face-to-face conversations in the current situation. Concerns about the link between mental health and the internet have been circulating for a long time, with tech giants investing in tools to help manage digital wellbeing. Now, it looks like people are starting to rely more on the internet to keep themselves healthy. It remains to be seen if this shift is temporary, or represents a step towards a different long-term attitude.”

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Medium and message

Overall, the list of platforms with the highest number of users outside of China – Facebook, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram – has remained unchanged, putting Facebook in a strong position with four of the five most popular apps. While there are suggestions that much of people’s additional free time has gone towards platforms they were already using, there are also signs that there is room for growth and challenge. For example, video sharing sites such as TikTok and YouTube are engaging diverse audience segments. From the fourth wave of GlobalWebIndex’s coronavirus research in May, around 1 in 5 parents with young children say they have created videos on the likes of these apps because of the outbreak.

As appetite for video grows – with 23% of global consumers planning to continue watching more videos after the pandemic – advertisers are increasingly experimenting with reaching out to users on TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitch. Advertising content has also been affected by recent events: 77% of respondents approve of brands running campaigns showing how they’re helping during the pandemic, while 47% believe that brands should show their support for Black Lives Matter via social media.

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Social commerce

It remains to be seen whether this spike in usage will lead to an upsurge in social commerce. While buying directly through social platforms has been anticipated to take off for some time in the West – as it already has in China through apps like WeChat – just under 3 in 10 consumers globally cite researching products to buy as a main reason for using social media, and only 13% say that a ‘buy’ button would make them more likely to purchase a product. There are also, however, signs that the Western market is ready for social commerce.

“The pandemic has been a crisis point for so many businesses, of every size and in every country. There’s a real need for new ways of selling. At the same time, the pandemic has also increased consumers’ desires to connect with the local community, which is a real opportunity, especially for smaller businesses. Between this, the growing demand around Facebook users visiting the Marketplace, and Instagram swapping out its ‘Activity’ tab for a ‘Shop’ tab, there’s never been a more promising time to explore social commerce.”, concluded Chase.

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