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  • Writer's pictureJess Moloney

Social Trend Series: “If You’re Not Online You’re Invisible.” - Online in the wake of COVID-19

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Late last year, it popped up on our radar: "Corona," and “novel coronavirus.” A wee blip of data in a sea of it, the indication of a Social conversation gaining traction, and ironically - now being monitored for a different kind of virality, all the way down here in New Zealand. 

And then we watched that little blip grow - slowly at first and then spreading rapidly in size, lighting up on data dashboards as rapidly as the virus was impacting people around the world. The spread of pandemic related conversation online matched the spread of the virus in real life. The online world is a reflection of the offline one and this pandemic certainly highlighted that.  


Then one day, it lit up here in Aotearoa. The virus had reached our shores. It was now known as COVID-19. 

New Zealand has so far experienced two significant “lockdowns.” Normally a very active and social bunch of people, Kiwis were confined to the walls of their own homes, forbidden to socialise, unable to head to the gym or workplaces. Anything that involved physical human interaction beyond household bubbles was banned. We were being forced to become anti-social. "Bugger that," we thought. As a team of five million we decided to get our fix online.

As though overnight, we turned in droves to replicate as much face-to-face interaction as we could through the tech we have at our fingertips. 

Around the country, end-of-week team drinks turned into virtual beers on Houseparty. Bricks-and-mortar stores rapidly built online shops. The cat’s Instagram account was reactivated. Guests were Skyped into TV interviews. We joined Netflix watch parties, used Google Hangouts to connect to our team for twice daily check-ins, some of us (!) spent five hours creating a 15-second TikToks, spoke at virtual conferences, ordered our wine to the door, and caught up with old friends from multiple countries for Zoom cooking hangouts. DJs from around the world were livestreamed into our lounge rooms via Twitch.

Online recruitment boomed on LinkedIn as new job-seekers flooded the market. We supported whānau through this change by tagging them in informative stories, job listings, and even memes when we knew they needed a laugh.

Social justice and activism thrived with a captive and online audience, with the Black Lives Matter movement rising to the world’s attention, fighting once again to find the space it deserves in our everyday actions.

With nowhere to hide but our houses, anyone with a mandate to engage customers, stakeholders, employees, and shareholders realised an uncomfortable truth: if we weren’t online, we were invisible

During this time, over 47% of New Zealanders' conversations and interactions on Social Media increased - one of the highest rates in the world. Even now, when we've (mostly) come out of lockdown, our behaviour seems forever changed, with all signs pointing to its permanence. Even in a “reopened” world, domestic online shopping remains 30% higherthan this time last year and new opportunities for online businesses have opened up rapidly with a huge growth boom expected for finance services, housing, FMCG, homeware and technology industries over the coming months. 

As a team, Moloney Moloney spend a great deal of time reading the internet. To add maximum value for our partners, it’s our job to understand what people are talking about and what they’re responding to. We are looking at millions of data inputs constantly to monitor conversation, emotion, sentiment, reach, impact, virality, content techniques, engagement, performance, CPC, CPA and a bunch of other acronyms I won’t list. 

If you had told me late last year that I would be spending time in late 2020 looking at how a global pandemic influenced Social Media trends, I would probably have needed a sit-down. But yet here we are. COVID-19 has disrupted us all and impacted all our businesses. We must adapt. 

The goal for 2020 is speediness when it comes to Social trend-spotting - an important proof point of being a customer-centric organisation and adapting to this new world. This discipline will allow you to pivot quickly to adapt to an ever changing consumer, whose media consumption habits are being driven by increased time online and mindsets of uncertainty, adaptation, trauma, hopefulness and a whole heap of other character-building traits that COVID-19 has brought with it. We are almost burdened with the opportunities COVID-19 has presented and the ruthlessness of the stress test it has provided our businesses, lives and relationships. 

Businesses, brands, parties, and people need to be working on three things concurrently

  1. Your short-term Social trend opportunities.

  2. Your long-term digital adaption and online brand building. 

  3. Re-configuring your marketing and communications strategy and relevant purchase journeys to be “Level Proof” around always-on Social and digital content. 

2020 is the year that Social Media becomes the foundation on which you must build the house of your strategy on. The rapid digital shift that is required will demand expert change management and relationship skills, with the ability to dual design for immediate, tactical implementation as well as long-term viability. Thinking Social-first will still provide content fit for use across any marketing channels but with the benefit of being aligned to customer conversation, behaviours and activity online - generating that all important word-of-mouth, offline and online. From the CEO down - everyone has a role to play in these channels. 

It would be remiss of me in this piece to not acknowledge the dark side of my industry and the immense difficulties and hardships COVID-19 has brought with it. It is my job to wade through the absolute minefield of what our online selves believe, say, do, search and entertain ourselves with. I see the good, the bad and the ugly. I am highly aware that with rise of online usage we see more of the bad - the conspiracy theorists, the discrimination and fake news. Unfortunately, combating these negative sides of Social Media is almost impossible in the current environment - regulatory action needs to be sped up and designed for the future - not just today. We need a global approach, digitally-native excellence, diversity at the table and cross-platform collaboration. Anyway, that’s a topic for another day. 

In my business, we have a belief that we should approach our role in guiding our clients to navigate Social-led strategies, campaigns and posting with a goal of leaving the world better than how we found it and aligned with values of kindness, sustainability, justice and prosperity.

Because despite the sometimes ugly nature of the conversations and data we observe, we also get to observe the good trends - content that keep people safe, cheer them up, and help them sleep better. We get to see the change consumers would like to see from businesses, the online experience that works best, products they’re loving, stories that resonate, the strive for more transparency, the demand for justice, what makes them laugh and the constant good news, views and work in our communities and businesses that need support and amplification. The good is there, it’s just not as ‘loud’ as the bad and we think that needs to change. There are enormous opportunities for positive and social change that can come from our observation of the belief systems and interactions we have with each other online and then acting upon this. We are asking businesses to lead the way, and thank the many that already are.

So, over the coming weeks I’ll be releasing our data-led 2020 Social Trends series. You’ll get to see how COVID-19 has influenced these, and I’ll share some creative thought-starters on how your business could action the real time research, insights and conversations we’re monitoring. My hope is that the series adds value in these tough times, and inspires you to have meaningful interactions with your target audiences online. 

Stay tuned!

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