Covid-19 has impacted a multitude of aspects in all of our daily lives, from changes in the way we work, to face masks becoming this year’s must-have accessory.
Not only have our behaviours as consumers changed, but the world has had to adapt around us, and social media platforms are no exception. From helping us all stay more connected when we are unable to visit friends and family face-to-face, or making e-commerce more accessible with the rise of online shopping, the platforms we use day-to-day have adapted to help us all navigate ‘the new normal’.
There have been many minor platform updates over the past few months, from new Instagram story fonts or Facebook’s makeover (including dark mode!), but here’s our time-line of new features that have been introduced because of Covid-19, or as a result of our online behaviour at this particular time. The focus for a lot of these updates is on community and connection, and the prevention of the spread of misinformation.
March: Fact checking
On 6th March, Instagram first announced new fact-checking procedures in relation to Covid-19. This initial reaction included removing misleading information: when users searched for related hashtags the platform directed them to WHO, CDC and health authorities. Instagram and Facebook were also using fact-checking partners to review posts, restricting harmful hashtags and blocking ads which would exploit the situation. (Although, from 19th August advertisements including face masks, sanitizer and disinfectant were allowed). On Facebook, local alerts were implemented to help users navigate the situation close to home and find relevant updates within their communities. Towards the end of the month, users noticed the Covid-19 information centre rolling out, a place with reputable information for users to access and seek information regarding the ongoing effects of Covid-19. Twitter similarly began addressing the ways in which they would tackle the spread of misinformation.
March: Community spirit
With the focus turning quickly to community, Instagram’s ‘Stay Home’ sticker first launched later in March, by using this sticker on your story, you would be added to a shared story featuring all users who are using this sticker, whilst sharing experiences of life in lockdown. Further stickers also included the ‘Thanks Health Heroes’ sticker, which was released shortly before the ‘Stay Home’ feature, as a nod to those immediately helping on the front line during the pandemic, and a ‘Donation’ sticker which allowed users to easily encourage their followers to raise money for their non-profit of choice. Also in March, Instagram responded to the surge in users trying to stay as connected as possible through group calls, by releasing a feature which allowed users to share posts whilst on a call. Facebook also released audio only live stream, following the 50% increase in live streams from January 2020 to March 2020, with the option for automatic captions and viewership outside of Facebook, allowing non-users access to content.
April: Small business boost
Off the back of their Covid-19 related story stickers, throughout April and May, Instagram launched ‘gift card’, ‘food order’ and ‘support small businesses’ stickers and tools to help out small businesses during this challenging period. They collated information for small businesses on their platform through their Covid-19 resource directory, to help businesses manage and stay connected to users throughout this period.
April: Fundraising features
In the same month, Instagram also announced a new fundraising feature for live streams, allowing hosts to track donations on their live stream and ‘wave’ at donors, with the proceeds going directly to their non-profit of choice.
April: Connecting friends and family
Technology was increasingly used to also connect people who are apart from loved ones. April saw the launch of Facebook Messenger arriving to desktop on the 2nd, and on the 24th, Messenger Rooms launched. This new launch allowed people even without a Facebook account to gain access, with features allowing you to start and share rooms through newsfeed, groups and events. Keeping people connected seemed to be at the forefront of these changes, allowing people who may not actively even use the platform to still partake in connecting with their friends and family during an isolating time.
May: Online shopping
In May, new shopping experiences began launching across Instagram and Facebook. Creators and brands now had the ability to open storefronts, boosting social commerce by working towards a full in-platform/app shopping experience. This became fully functioning in July and was rolled out to all qualifying users within the eligible markets. Within Facebook shops, owners are also able to communicate with buyers via Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram direct. As Instagram Live viewership rose by 70%, Instagram extended its shop updates to testing shopping experiences within Instagram Live, making it possible to tag products within a stream.
May: Wellbeing support
Although initially designed with travel in mind, Instagram Guides was introduced in May, and rolled out across a few selected accounts. The first guide available focused on wellbeing, with content from creators, public figures and organisations, to offer support to the public who may be struggling mentally throughout this period. On Twitter, the focus was once again on halting the spread of misinformation by introducing labels and warnings, providing additional information in relation to content surrounding Covid-19. Twitter monitored any content related to the pandemic and urged users to seek the facts through a link to their curated information whenever a tweet was flagged as misleading. WhatsApp also took action against the spread of misinformation surrounding Covid-19, by partnering with Poynter to implement a fact-checking bot, allowing users to check any hoaxes or counter false claims they may have seen.
May: Online events
While people were still using technology as their main form of connection due to social distancing measures, Facebook released their new app, CatchUp. Launching in the USA in May, CatchUp took inspiration from the success of Houseparty by allowing users to also choose their availability, however, the app is an audio-only version for group calls, with up to 8 people. On LinkedIn, pages were now able to create virtual events by combining the existing features of LinkedIn events and LinkedIn Live, allowing people to stream events directly to their attendees.
June: Voice features and date-checkers
June was a somewhat slower month for platform changes, Twitter announced the new voice tweets feature, allowing users to have more personal and human touch to allow for in-depth and longer conversations by tweeting voice notes. Facebook also announced added context to news articles which notified users if an article was over 90 days old, this allowed users to see more relevant and up to date information regarding Covid-19.
July: Public information
In July, both Instagram and Facebook added a wear a mask reminder to the top of users’ feeds as a response to the rise in Covid-19 cases across the USA. It’s small actions like this that will have aided in making a difference on people’s perceptions, reminding social media users the importance of keeping themselves and everyone else safe.
July: Screen-sharing and live broadcasts
On Facebook, screen sharing became available within the Messenger mobile app, allowing users to connect while they browse online together. With further developments of live stream features, live broadcast video-calls were introduced by Facebook for up to 50 participants, by combining their messenger and live functions, both individual users, groups and pages now have the ability to broadcast their panels, meetings and more.
August: Video shorts
On 5th August Instagram announced their new short form video feature, Reels. Shorter video content has definitely been on the rise throughout the stay-at-home period, after TikTok truly took off gaining over 500 million monthly users, Instagram has tapped into a growing entertainment field.
August: Messenger merger
August also saw the beginning of the merge between Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct, on the 14th August, some users saw a pop-up notification letting them know of the new platform update.
August: Paid online events
On the same day, and as in-person events were still on hold, Facebook launched paid online events across 20 countries. This new feature allows businesses to create the event, set a ticket price, promote and host the event all on one platform.
August: Work meetings
As many of us are still working from home, Facebook’s Portal has gained growing attention as the pandemic caused disruption in our ability to see people face to face. Facebook portals introduction of business orientated apps including Zoom and Webex, has further developed Facebook’s Workplace feature on Portal, that was introduced a few months back. For many people, working from home has become the new normal, and Facebook has tapped into this by making staying connected with teammates easier than ever.
September: Business Suite
September saw the roll out of Facebook’s new Business Suite, a new dashboard to manage Facebook and Instagram accounts that combines insights with scheduling capabilities and management tools. At a time when small businesses, especially, may need a more streamlined approach to managing and optimising their content, the new Business Suite features will help simplify social media management.
There have been a significant amount of platform changes since we first felt the impact of Covid-19, with the common themes of community building, fact checking, online shopping and shifting our entertainment to become even more digital than before. Some features may stick, and some may fade out as many people return to work and countries come out of lockdown, but it is remarkable to see the fast action of these platforms in adapting to the needs of their users.