Since coronavirus hit our shores in March, I have spent quite a lot of time on social media and it appears so have many others. Data sources show that increases on popular social channels are up more than 40%. Social media can play a positive role in connecting consumers as it increasingly becomes the central place for vital information and discussion, especially around breaking news. Originally from Sydney, now living in Melbourne, I have seen both sides of the coin; the joy and excitement flooding social streams during the easing of a lockdown and polar opposite when people are faced with the grim reality of a second lockdown.
Within this bleak reality, we were exposed to some true optimism from our friend the internet. People’s creativity became supercharged on channels such as TikTok, which has seen in excess of 800 million active users worldwide since COVID-19 hit. People around Australia were injecting fun into our new normal: dressing up to take out the bins, baking and developing their “newfound obsession with cooking.” Instagram released its “Stay at Home” sticker, a highlight reel of our friends finding joy in isolation. Thanks to social media platforms and user creativity, it helped create a hyper-connected digital world and a sense of community, much needed during a global pandemic. We were not alone, with messages of hope shared by big brands, such as Coles’ emotive ‘Thank You’ campaign, shining the spotlight away from its prices and on to its staff working on the front line.
Thanks to the use of social media being the instant provider of information, consumers finally felt a sense of control after a year of world turmoil – bush fires, COVID-19, the death of George Floyd and a lot of political unrest, to name just a few. Consumers were fed so much news, that the news outlets literally changed their format overnight to keep up, such as the introduction of ‘live blogs’. And just like that, live blogs flood consumers’ social news feeds creating somewhat of a consumer addiction to the news feeds, and seeing stories become the new ‘news feed’ - an integrated part of the platform.
The new approach to social has been, for the most part, a success. We have seen this wide-level adoption of news feeds from providers (news outlets) and consumers (readers) continue as each crisis unfolds through 2020. However, there are disadvantages to this new format. It can deprioritise full-length articles, a space where journalists are given whitespace to interpret the news feed, fact check statements and data, and inform audiences on what the news means and its impact. This was helpful to consumers especially with the rise and concern of fake news.
This real-time approach to news through social media quickly found its way into our feeds not just through official publications, but also through friends, family and brand accounts we follow.
This was seen most aptly through the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which became the catalyst for widespread, socially-led activism. This came to a head on Tuesday, June 2 2020, AKA Black Out Tuesday – a powerful display of global solidarity and support for the ongoing BLM movement around the globe, enabled by multiple social channels, most notably Instagram.
What emerged from this new social media normal, I am calling “newsfluencers.” We quickly saw the transition from “stay at home” or “look what I ate for lunch” to everyday consumers sharing current events around the world. Most notably, bringing to light the social injustices occurring against Black people globally, and a rallying cry to all of humanity that now’s the time to speak up and help.
But “newsfluencers” and real-time social feeds come with its problems too. Real-time news feeds can provide a lot of conflicting and confusing messages for consumers, such as whether to attend protests given the global health crisis and local government advice.
Not just an information overload, but without clear calls to action such as Instagram’s simple “Stay At Home,” it leaves people around the world aware but hopeless, with an inability to make a change other than pressing “share”.
The Second Wave
When Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced the reintroduction of stage three restrictions, a second lockdown in metropolitan Melbourne, the emotional impact was clearly visible. News headlines and social news feeds were grim, becoming instant and constant reminders of the record upon record of case numbers broken, the thousands of small businesses closed, with 15% expected to never reopen.
Why does it feel worse this time? We have been in lockdown before, and for many Australians, there was wide acceptance that COVID-19 is likely to remain an issue for many more months yet.
Brands can play a vital part in helping consumers get through the second lockdown. Using their voice to bring people together once again, restoring Australian’s sense of duty and community through these increasingly difficult times.
For the media and news outlets, the opportunity is a question of integrity over audience. Media organisations should do their utmost to keep up to date with breaking news using reliable information from respective departments and they should both fact and reality-check information in order to remain a trusted source. This includes their social media news feeds and all other digital platforms associated with the news outlet.
And for you and me, the opportunities to take back control is endless. Consider what is important to share on your social channels – if it’s positive, if it’s encouraging, if it’s accurate, then it’s worth sharing, so share it! Use your social voice to help beat the second wave.