If humans are naturally social, how can we address the need for emotional connections in an era of social distancing?
"Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual." - Aristotle
In other words, we are born social. Humans are social beings. Ever since the dawn of time, the embryo relies on the mother to live. And as time goes by, our social connections strengthen and are equally crucial to our survival. We live in families, tribes, nations, and, on a bigger scale, we are all part of a global, interconnected community.
Even more profoundly, studies have shown neurological responses to socialization. Neuroscientists believe we have a dedicated system for social reasoning. In his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman, a Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director, explains that brains "experience threats to our social connections in much the same way they experience physical pain."
Individuals are joining online communities to stay connected
A few months back, the pandemic of COVID-19 started hitting on a global scale. To address this issue, most countries adopted strict governmental measures: curfew, lockdowns, closure of many establishments that prevents us from being the social beings we are by nature. Many of us find ourselves alone at home, unable to connect socially. From that moment on, we become strictly dependent on technologies.
The increased usage of social media on a global scale easily proves this. In this study, more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets participated in a survey, and here are the results:
- Social media engagement increased by 61% over standard usage rates.
- WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage.
- Facebook usage has increased by 37%.
- China experienced a 58% increase in the usage of local social media apps.
Other researches found out:
- In the US, 74% of respondents said social media is very important to them to stay connected with people close to them during the pandemic.
- Messaging across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp has increased more than 50% in countries hit the hardest by the virus. (Facebook Study)
- Twitter reported a 23% increase in daily users compared to the previous year.
In a nutshell, people have turned to social media and other platforms to address this need for emotional connection in a time of social distancing. Being connected to relatives and friends has been made possible despite being dispersed, thanks to different apps and platforms' various communication channels.
As important as it can be for human nature, this sense of belonging has found its way online. Social media, which initially connects people who know each other, is now seeing a change in the landscape with the birth of community platforms such as Reddit, gathering people of common interests worldwide. Community isn't only about who you know anymore; it's all about finding a safe space to meet like-minded peers and socialize.
What does it mean for your business?
You need to adapt and shift your offline efforts online to answer your userbase's social connection needs. For that, you need to integrate elements in your product that will enable engagement, entertainment, and connectedness.
The first step to connect people is to enable their communication as the most important pillar of social contact. By integrating in-app Chats, you allow people to discuss and express themselves with others.
Besides bridging one of the main gaps created by social distancing, you also encourage people to spend more time on your app, as they get more value from it and want to check in more often. Forums are also a great way to boost communication. Forums allow any individuals to express themselves and ask questions, benefitting from the community and getting more valuable information.
People are looking for ways to get distracted and escape the routine-like days. It's a difficult task to keep yourself busy under times of lockdown, and essentially, we need entertainment.
Feeds are a great element to integrate into your app, as they provide entertaining content and are familiar to most people, being a core experience of any social media. But there is even more significant value that a feed brings: tailor-made content, displayed based on your users' preferences. If your user expresses interest in a specific topic, the feed will change accordingly — making it an excellent source of inspiration and knowledge!
Videos are the most engaging form of content. Being visually captivating, convenient, and highly-distracting, this format made platforms like TikTok "explode" in popularity during the early months of the pandemic. Videos can be streamed live or watched whenever the time is the most suited.
Videos also enable a more human-like connection, with live streaming growing in popularity. Watching someone talking and acting in real-time creates this feeling of connectedness.
Another crucial element for you to consider is Groups. This feature helps to fulfill the need for social interactions and create a sense of belonging.
By integrating Groups, you can encourage connection between your users. The goal here is to turn your app into a safe space where people can meet like-minded peers, generate content about the subject of their interest, share it with other members, and discuss it. The more people join the communities, the more value is created. Content generated by a member can benefit another, and so on. They can share reviews, personal stories, and experiences, debate, and essentially learn from others.
Under such unprecedented circumstances, socializing finds a new meaning. People depend on technologies to find emotional support and to stay connected. For your organization, it also means you will need to find a new way to reach your users. By answering their need for social connections, you can build a closer and stronger relationship with your customers. Last but not least, a better understanding of your users opens the door to new monetization opportunities!