Snapchat, Zoom and private Facebook groups are having a moment amid the coronavirus crisis. But will they remain popular once all this is over?
A curious thing has happened to me during the coronavirus pandemic: I’ve actually started to enjoy social media again.
I’ve been doing regular Zoom calls with friends as far away as London, something I never even thought of doing before quarantine. All day long, I’m bombarded with messages from the various group chats I’ve joined in recent weeks, with everyone sending updates about their respective quarantine experiences. I’m sending more private Snapchat messages and interacting more in private Facebook groups.
Despite being confined to my home, I’m actually keeping in better touch with certain friends of mine. I’ve completely shifted my focus away from growing followers in favor of deepening my relationships with those closest to me — a trend that I think will continue well after this crisis ends.
It seems counterintuitive, but not being able to interact with people face-to-face has given me a newfound appreciation for all the interpersonal relationships I was taking for granted before lockdown started.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this transformation. One of the few good things to come of the coronavirus crisis is people seem to be placing more value on authentic digital interactions and doing less public sharing.
Simply put: Social media is becoming social again.
I’m old enough to remember the early days of social media, when people would use Facebook to earnestly stay in touch with friends or Twitter to share innocent cat videos (might I suggest @RexChapman for some uplifting ’rona content). But as these social media channels matured, and as the Culture Wars heated up during the 2010s, these platforms became filled with fiery takes, misinformation, intense political rhetoric, cyberbullying campaigns and bad faith debate. What was once fun, new and exciting had become bitter, divisive and exasperating.
Users complained about being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content in their public social feeds and the stress that comes with counting the number of likes, shares, replies and followers.
High-profile data breaches — such as Equifax, which exposed the sensitive personal and financial information of 147 million consumers; and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, which stole people’s personal information to aid Trump’s 2016 election campaign — put an emphasis on privacy.
People longed for a return to the halcyon days of social media, when it was a genuinely helpful tool for staying connected with friends (and not a way to argue with or try to impress total strangers). This shift back to a more intimate, personal iteration of social began several years ago and has only accelerated during the coronavirus.
Two years ago, people were saying Snapchat was done for. Since then, Snapchat’s engagement rates and stock price have both surged, specifically because it prioritizes intimate, person-to-person sharing. Its usage numbers have climbed even higher during the pandemic.
WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned private messaging service, has seen a similar increase in recent weeks. So has Slack, the workplace-focused communication platform.
And then there’s of course Zoom, the video conference application whose popularity has skyrocketed recently for both professional and personal uses (I still cannot believe we got Zoom-bombed last week, lol).
This doesn’t mean that public sharing is going away. By all indications, all the major social platform players are experiencing a huge surge in usage overall, and that invariably includes public sharing, as well. (Facebook can barely keep up with its increase in usage, apparently.) And TikTok, a platform predicated on public sharing and spreading memes, is the hottest social network in the world right now.
But the migration away from sharing in public feeds and toward private, enclosed feeds is a significant one, and it’ll be interesting to see if this shift persists once the lockdown orders are lifted.
My prediction is that this interest in private sharing continues. Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on medical and economic systems all over the world. But reconnecting with old friends has been a welcome source of joy amid all this uncertainty, and I’d like to keep it up once life goes back to “normal” (whenever that may be).