- Quarantine an d the COVID-19 crisis have totally rewritten our cultural rules of communication. But the frantic ways we’re corresponding now will likely shift the way we connect long beyond the end of lockdown.
- Open Mind Strategy’s Megan Routh shares four crucial shifts in online behaviors with examples of how brands like Skittles, Frito Lay’s, and many other popular faces have quickly adapted their communication to these shifts.
- Read on for some refreshing insights and lessons that will help your brand pivot successfully in the “new normal”.
Talk to any Millennial or Gen Z’er two months ago, or … text them, they would say there are fewer things more anxiety-provoking than actual, in-real-time phone calls. The abruptness, the awkward pauses, and the very fact that they’re beyond control.
But that was the ol d world.
In the solitude of quarantine, a craving for intimacy and personal connection means consumers  , once notoriously adverse to spontaneous, face-to-face communications, are now clamoring to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s fac e .
Verizon fielded over 8 00 million phone calls per day within the first two weeks the country was locked down. The word “Zoom” has become a stand-in to mean any “video chat” and apps like Houseparty have seen downloads increase 70 fold.  
Not only are face-to-face chats more frequent, but they’re also increasingly unannounced, unplanned, and unavoidable. A jarring juxtaposition to our pre-pandemic habits. It’s communication chaos.
Quarantine an d the COVID-19 crisis have totally rewritten our cultural rules of communication. But the frantic ways we’re corresponding now will likely shift the way we connect long beyond the end of lockdown.
Shift one: A quest for intimacy in digital communities
Your bestie going live. Your bos s going live. Your bank going live. When we were ordered to stay home, it only took a matter of days for everyone to start broadcasting themselves, most times to seemingly chaotic and confusing ends.
The official, verified account of Skittles has, on more than one occasion, stirred up drama in th e comments section of Bowen Yang and Julio Torres’ Instagram Live chats.
Club Quarantine  , a daily digital Queer dance party that happens every night via Zoom allows virtual clubgoers to join in with their cams, or just watch from behind a black tile, eliciting exhibitionism that can be traced back to the random recklessness of the bygone Chat Roulette era.
But while it seems haphazard, each call, chat, and interaction is an expansion of community that chips away at our cultural fear of real-life intimacy and democratizes digital communities.
As more white-collar workers are be ginning to wonder not when they’re going to return to the office , but why they would ever return to an office at all , major coastal cities are staring at an exodus of their creative class an d a bit of their cultural capital.
What the migration offers brands
This migration gives brands a mandate to expand their offerings to bigger, more diverse groups of consumers as they use live-streaming and dig ital tools to build new communities all over the country.
Take The Wing, a women’s co – working space founded in N ew Y ork C ity with offices in chic urban hubs like San Francisco and London. When forced to close, they quickly pivoted from millennial-pink meeting rooms to Zooms, making the interconnectedness of their community and celebrity-speckled programming accessible online for people all over .
Shift two: Consumers are rejecting content that screams aspiration
The foundational cracks in the i nfluencer veneer have been growing over the past few years, but the COVID-19 crisis provides a magnifying glass that’s amplifying influencer’s social media shortcomings.
The highly-filtered, everything-is-perfect image that is the hallma rk of i nfluencer and celebrity marketing has never been less appropriate than it is now.
In a global crisis, consumers are rejecting content that screams aspiration and are instead looking for ways to share in and mitigate our collective exasperation. S o what’s to fill this anti-influencer void? More unpolished, even unhinged, content.
64-year-old character actor Les l ie Jordan has seen his following balloon from 80k to 4.2 million thanks to a stream of monologues showcasing the absurd mundanity of lockdown – ironing for fun, baton twirling for exercise, watching porn while eating cereal. 
But we’re the stars, too. From live baking and hair-coloring tutorials to yoga flows in cluttered bedrooms, to organized weekly Zoom sessions, we’re all content creator s and each other’s influencers, now more than ever. “Coming to you live” from the physical and emotional messiness of q uarantine is recalibrating our relationship with reality, causing us to consciously avoid unreasonable expectations and embrace “doing the best we can do” as the new form of “living our best lif e”.
Shift three: Optimistic content has become a balm to cure anxiety
Optimism was already growing as a countertrend to the vitriol on the internet, but today, it’s flourishing. During the pandemic, against a backdrop of endless doomsday news, we’re clamoring for mor e optimism. The sarcasm and troll-like tone that was once the hallmark of the internet is being replaced by content that uplifts.
For a moment this week, “Duck Pool Party,” a stream of ducks playing in a pool, was the most viewed Reddit live stream. Even notori ously snarky brands like Wendy’s have shift ed their Twitter strategy, at least temporarily, to encourage camaraderie through games, activities, and shared stories. 
Wholesome, positive –if not strange and mindl ess– content has become a balm to cure our anxiety, making it a great way of communication, a form of self-care that fills a void and provides a sense of calm that sheet masks and sourdough cannot.
Shift dour: Fascination with facts
In March, consumers were letting out a collective sigh of exhaustion as their inboxes filled with branded emails detailing how we were all “in this together”. But against the background of a p andemic, these vague platitudes have a counter-effect, reminding us all just how much these companies haven’t been t here for us in the past, what little cooperation and communication we received from airlines and car companies before, and what little practical application they have in this stripped back version of reality.
Instead, we want to hear the straightforward truth. Unlikel y figures like Dr. Fauci and N ew Y ork’s Governor Andrew Cuomo have emerged as the leading men of the p andemic , and Cuomo’s curt, distinctively Dad-toned Powerpoint slides have fo und a cult following of their own. Frito Lay’s COVID-spot “ It’s About People ” has won praise for saying wh at they were doing to help employees, instead of sell ing chips. 
But the most trustworthy brand voice comes from a most unlikely player: Steak Umms . The frozen meat company has emerged as a “voice of truth” thanks to their straight-forward, no -nonsense tweets that are at times, radical, at least for a corporate brand. Their willingness to tweet bold opinions– and not mild platitudes–earned them double their pre-COVID audience and the admiration of the internet.
W hen we emerge p ost-crisis, shell -shocked, knowing that catastrophe can hit again at any moment, we’ll still want straightforward communication from brands . Brands need to learn this lesson quickly if they hope to pivot successfully in the “new normal”.
Megan Routh is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and strategist at Open Mind Strategy whose expertise lies in translating cultural insights and trends into actionable strategies for Fortune 100 companies including PepsiCo, Calvin Klein, JP Morgan Chase, Mondelez, Target, and the United States Postal Service.
- ^ consumers (www.searchenginewatch.com)
- ^ 00 million phone calls per day (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ downloads increase 70 (techcrunch.com)
- ^ chatting with baby squirrels. (twitter.com)
- ^ Club Quarantine (www.thecut.com)
- ^ actor Leslie Jordan (www.washingtonpost.com)
- ^ quarantine life (www.searchenginewatch.com)
- ^ Wendy’s (twitter.com)
- ^ cult following (www.instagram.com)
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