Pandemic restrictions forced socialisation to shift from the physical to the virtual world, where online communities help people to find others with shared interests. These online groups are where brands can engage the Gen Z consumer.
Socialising is a part of life that ties very heavily into one’s mental health. It can have both positive and negative effects on one’s perception of self and on their anxieties. On the positive side, interacting with close friends can be a form of social and emotional support, providing security and reassurance. It can also be a distraction from one’s anxieties and can stimulate engaging interactions.
On the negative side, it can heighten the social pressure to fit in, and can be a source of stress and anxiety. Some people are also more susceptible to overstimulation, and may crave more time for themselves in these moments
Over the past few years, we observe the relationship that one has with themselves and their social circles have been shifting. The codes of socialisation have been changing slightly over time.
There have been a number of factors that have led to this; from rising costs of going out, to the social and mental health aspects resulting from the pandemic and forced isolation. This has made some people retreat inward and become more aware of their ‘social battery’ – the energy that one has to socialise. While for others, it only heightened the need to go out and meet people more often, and to explore new adventures.
In the midst of these changes, the digital world is also one that has been rapidly expanding – allowing people of all ages to engage with each other more freely through online messaging, social media and a host of digital spaces where one can congregate with friends and strangers to hang out, play, learn etc.
“South Korea’s unique ‘room culture’ from physical rooms like kiss bang, karaoke to online group chat room, and decreased human contact sharply escalated since the pandemic…”
– @sgu_lisa, Mar 13th, 2023 (South Korea)
There has been an increase in both physical and online spaces, with online spaces coming up in a big way since the pandemic.
With online spaces and communities becoming more prevalent, this gave more options for individuals to socialise with friends or meet new people with shared interests online. It is a space where individuals can choose to interact in a manner that specifically engage them, can choose when to engage and leave when needed.
It is also a space where many brands are looking to build their communities by becoming more human with their interactions with their consumers.
The pandemic curbed physical social interactions between friends, and since the lifting of restriction in the past year or so, we see that this has left an impact on many.
For many, the forced restrictions and the heightened awareness of the stresses and the safety measures taken during this time set them on a course of self-care. Taking up new hobbies, pursuing interests that one previously didn’t make the time for, focusing on one’s health and wellbeing, were given more of an emphasis.
“I actually got to do a lot of self-care during the lockdown. I miss it lol”
– @24_Crisjames, Mar 3rd, 2021 (Indonesia)
The pandemic gave many the time to focus on themselves.
It also made people more aware about the pressures of social interactions put on them, and on the boundaries that they set themselves with regard to social interactions and engagement.
The term ‘social battery’ became a more commonly used phrase. It refers to the capacity or energy levels that one has to socialise. Just like a physical battery, a social battery can become depleted over time, leading to feelings of exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout. It is therefore treated a limited resource.
Google trends show a sharp rise in the phrase ‘social battery’ across the world
“I used to be SUCH a social butterfly, but now my social battery drops after like 4 hours. Last week, I went out with some friends I haven’t spoken to properly since pre-covid and I genuinely was surprised at how quickly I just became exhausted”
– @hrxs_47, Mar 24th, 2022 (Indonesia)
Quote on social media talking about the strain that socialising puts on their energy.
Wordcloud on the negative sentiments associated with socialising since the pandemic.
For others, this downtime was a long wait to reconnect with friends, and it manifests with greater intensity and pace than before. Many were keen to re-engage in socialising, much like things were before the pandemic It was even heightened because of the sense of loss and deprivation felt during this time.
“Post #COVID19 parenting is like a time-lapse video. What should have happened gradually over the last couple of yrs are being compressed in months. Son has gone out for coffee w/friends, movie w/friends & rode the metro to Delhi. All on his own. It’s exhausting. For me, I mean.”
– @nilanjanab, May17th, 2022 (India)
Many were looking to make up for lost time, and come back into the ‘new normal’ with increased fervour.
Wordcloud on the positive sentiments associated with socialising since the pandemic.
Brands like Japanese coffee brand, Kinto, promoted slow living through its slow coffee style brewing with an emphasis on slowing down and being more mindful.
Innisfree, an all-natural personal care brands from South Korea, emphasised mental well-being and self-care in its campaigns.
Opening up of the digital world
One major shift that took place in the interim between the start of the pandemic, and the relaxation of the restrictions was the movement from physical to online spaces for socialisation (among many other activities).
It is interesting to note that even after the major restrictions were lifted and the public were allowed to travel as they pleased, online communities continued to thrive. Platforms like Discord has seen drastic growth among the youth as well as other audiences, where it helps people casually hangout with friends, connect with strangers over common interests, play games and so much more
“After covid, all my offline friends are also online friends 🙃”
– @_hrithikn, Feb 14th, 2022 (India)
Connecting with friends continued both online and offline.
Wordcloud on activities with friends on Discord.
Online communities help people find other with shared interests, and delve deeper into the subject of interest. It makes it faster to connect and form groups, and form connections within these groups.
“learned a lot this year jud and met a handful new friends online and irl and I’ve got to enjoy life again after the crazy high pandemic era”
– @kakakaloy, Sept 8h, 2022 (Philippines)
“Are there any online communities for makers of any type? This may just be my bubble, but the maker communities I know of are disproportionately about software, directly or indirectly. I just want somewhere where people share drawing, weaving, software, and more all together.”
– @kiriappeee, Mar 15th, 2022 (Sri Lanka)
Online communities can help users find specific areas of interest to engage in.
Online groups help people find connections in more vulnerable situations and among marginalised groups. It enables like-minded people to create a safe environment and helps people feel less alone in a difficult situation.
“In Dec 2020, I had spoken to kids for a story on online classes and its impact on kids’ mental health. One of them mentioned how being on Discord helped them during class because they felt connected with friends on that parallel network this way.”
– @shephalibhatt, Nov 25, 2021 (India)
Online communities can be used to share the burden of stress, much like any interest.
Even brand communication and engagement has benefited from online communities.
It helps the consumers reach out to the brand directly, or a participate in a community of enthusiasts that enables better engagement with the product or service that the brand offers; and as a whole, it helps create a better consumer experience.
The key to brand engagement on such platforms is the emphasis on community. While these spaces are often used to address issues, if it engages solely as a customer service portal, then that’s all it becomes. The brand must merely be a part of the larger community and not the centre of it.
“So glad to see a mindset shift of brand owners from ‘getting followers/sales’ to ‘building an online community’.”
– @MahimaJalan2, Jan 7th, 2022 (India)