Alison Taylor, Managing Director

The way that people engage with the mainstream media, social media and digital channels has changed rapidly and it remains unclear what the communications landscape will look like when lockdown is lifted.

For now, while we can’t venture outside our homes, people of all ages still need to be entertained, educated, informed, and to get exercise and social interaction. The appetite for inspiration in all manner of areas has increased dramatically, to match the demands of a universal new way of life – home schooling, exercising in confined spaces, cooking with limited ingredients… YouTube has recorded a 52% global year on year increase in views of educational videos; who would have imagined a few weeks ago that 20 million people would be tuning in and exercising with Joe Wicks?

Here are some facts and observations we hope you’ll find useful in informing your communications strategies over the coming weeks and months:

  • Media consumption across all in-home channels has increased significantly. Web browsing is up by 70% and TV viewing by 63% – in many households, TV has become a background constant and the demand for choice is greater than ever, especially to fill the void of TV sports during this Olympic year.
  • Shared viewing experiences and remote socialising – Zoom, Houseparty, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet – have fast become the new norm: Zoom’s users have risen from 10m to 200m each day since February; Microsoft Team’s daily active users went up by 37% to 44m; and Houseparty has reported 50m sign-ups in the past month.
  • Social media engagement has grown by 61% over normal usage. Interestingly, corporate posting frequency has decreased in almost every industry but, as a result, engagement rates are higher for those brands that remain proactive. 45% of consumers across the world are spending more time on social media and more than 1 in 10 people are now creating and uploading their own videos. Channels like Facebook and WhatsApp are being credited with bringing communities together and WhatsApp’s usage is up by 40%. TikTok has also enjoyed a 27% growth in engagement in the past month, and only this week Dame Judy Dench debuted a well-rehearsed TikTok dance with her grandson, which found its way onto the BBC news!
  • Some online mainstream media have hit all time records for traffic during the crisis; the BBC, The Guardian, The FT, The Telegraph, and The Mirror are doing particularly well. All news publishers have been heading down the digital road for a long time now, so they’re actually really well geared up for this new world, although the speed at which the switch has needed to happen has, of course, caught some off-guard.
  • Print media have seen a huge negative impact of the crisis and national newspaper sales fell by over a fifth in March. The days of printed newspapers are not yet over though – people still enjoy the physical read – and the strongest news brands are finding ways to get their printed product into customers’ homes with new delivery models. Local newspapers have been most severely hit but those that are managing to keep printing are playing a vital role in sharing local upbeat community news and keeping people connected – we hope their commitment will be rewarded with long-term customer loyalty.
  • The use of email marketing is significantly up and retail email open rates are 40% higher than they were pre-pandemic.  Customers globally want to receive reliable information from multiple sources and we’re not surprised to have it confirmed that the most credible combination of sources is mainstream media coupled with email.
  • The success of radio and podcasts seems to vary – radio has undoubtedly suffered because people are spending less time in their cars, although some listeners have been regained in the home; across the board, podcast downloads seem to be down, unless they relate specifically to the pandemic, in which case they’re significantly up. The Telegraph’s podcast has seen a 55% uplift in downloads, maybe reflecting the trust customers place in the brand.

There is, understandably, a focus on ‘help’ content, as opposed to ‘sales’ content, on websites and social media feeds – at times like this it is crucial for brands not to be seen to put profit over people. Blogs, videos and live streaming are offering customers solutions for how to cope with life’s challenges during the pandemic.

Current research tells us that anything that’s not pandemic related is most likely to be ignored. So, make your communications relevant but avoid being seen to be exploiting the situation and, remember, humour in relation to COVID-19 is an absolute no-go – messaging needs to be empathetic, informative and reassuring.

More than ever, consumers need hope, happiness and reassurance, and brands have the opportunity to become a source of positivity and compassion, which will help them build loyalty longer term – 25% of UK consumers are trying new brands simply because of the compassionate way they have responded to the pandemic.

Importantly, remember that earned media still tops the charts in terms of customer trust – 64% of consumers trust in the reliability and accuracy of national media and 62% trust in local media.  So, a strong media relations strategy and an experienced and informed media relations team to implement it, are your greatest public relations asset at this time.

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