How Coronavirus changed the digital world and online habits

We are facing one of the most difficult historical periods. Much of the world’s population is forced to stay at home because of the lockdown due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. This radical change in our routine has led to a change in our habits of using Internet and social media, which in turn are carrying out important updates.

The whole world is living a strange, difficult period. For some, it is the most critical since the second post-war period. The daily life of about 4 billion people (corresponding to 50% of humanity) has been completely changed to prevent the spread of Coronavirus: there are people who have started working from home, some in quarantine, some in compulsory isolation and others have found themselves forced to close their business waiting for better times. This situation has contributed to change users’ habits, recording an unprecedented increase in constantly connected people and web traffic.

In Italy, starting from March 16, when the lockdown began, there has been an increase of 30% in internet traffic, 125% of news consumption and 35% of social platforms usage. In Spain, web traffic grew by 25% and the use of social networks by 48%. Of these, Twitter was the most used by Spanish users. In Spain, there was also a surge in terms of mobile phone usage time, which went from 2 hours and 40 minutes a day to 3 hours and 24 minutes. In China there was a 58% increase in the use of local social channels such as Wechat and Weibo. Finally, in the United States there has been an increase in the consumption of news and internet traffic of 50% and of the time spent on social platforms, in particular on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Facebook.

These results show us how digital channels today are more important than ever. It is therefore not surprising that social networks and search engines have responded with updates to these new trends. So let’s see what changed.

What has changed on social media?

Social networks have often been criticized in recent years because of their negative impact on socialization. But today we are observing how they are used by people to counter the so-called “quarantine stress” and break down the barriers of social isolation. So what was previously considered an intrinsic feature of social media, i.e. the paradoxical decrease in interactions between people, actually depends precisely on how users decide to exploit these means.

“Influential” content and formats

During this period there has been a change in the production of contents both in terms of formats and of topics. As for the contents, the most appreciated posts are those related to Covid-19 and the most authentic ones, which show daily life in quarantine: culinary experiments, indoor workouts, entertainment in general – from reviews on films, books and TV series, live concerts from home to the funniest challenges. As for the formats, stories on Instagram, videos on IGTV and live streaming on Instagram and Facebook are preferred.

The tone of voice of brands

At first, the outbreak of the emergency shocked most companies in any sector, which reacted by changing their tone-of-voice to adapt it to the new reality. Right from the start, brands have reduced or suspended all promotional campaigns for their products in order to post new content more suited to the situation.

So how did brands use social media to communicate with their audience? Let’s see some examples.

To promote verified information

National Geographic has decided to make accurate and up-to-date information on the pandemic accessible to everyone on its social profiles by deactivating the paywalls for all its articles related to Coronavirus. At the beginning of the emergency, the Angelini pharmaceutical company has opened a Twitter and Instagram profile to provide its followers with verified information and advice on what behaviors to adopt to counter the spread of the virus. Mercedes Benz and Daimler are leveraging their broad reach of over 50 million followers to amplify the spread of press releases issued by health institutions and organizations.

The Instagram accounts of Mercedes-Benz and Angelini inform their followers on the behaviours to keep during lockdown.

To entertain adults, families and children:

Balance has made access to its meditation app free, intercepting people’s need to relax during this difficult period.

Lego has announced the launch of a 30-day challenge that will help keep children busy during the school shutdown period. Bottega Veneta has globally launched a new concept on its multimedia platforms to share positivity, strength and creativity, by offering live musical performances, cooking lessons, recipes with famous chefs, films and motivational quotes.

The Lego challenge launched on Instagram to entertain children.

To actively support the community

Thanks to social networks, many companies and influencers have launched beneficial initiatives aimed at helping others. Nissan announced with an Instagram post its commitment to supply around 100,000 protective masks weekly to support the U.S. health system. Decathlon Italia has donated 10,000 snorkeling masks to create new respirators for Coronavirus patients. 20 million followers influencer Chiara Ferragni, together with singer and husband Fedez, has promoted an enormously successful crowd-funding campaign on Instagram, which has raised over € 3 million for the purchase of all the necessary equipment to increase the number of intensive and sub-intensive care beds at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Lombardy, one of the most affected areas in Italy.

Gucci used Facebook’s matchmaking service, Facebook Dating, to promote fundraising globally to support the World Health Organization.

Gucci’s crowd-founding campaign.

Algorithms and verified information to fend off fake news

Disinformation, just like Coronavirus, spreads quickly among people, and social media as well as messaging apps are the tools that allow ill-intentioned people to virally spread fake news. All social platforms have teamed up with each other and with institutions to stop the spread of fake news and fight disinformation, demonstrating a great sense of responsibility that will surely benefit the use of these means.

Since January, Facebook and Instagram have activated a dedicated Covid-19 Information Center and pop-ups that direct users to the contents of the WHO and of other official health institutions. In addition, Facebook is regularly carrying out checks to detect “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, i.e. operations of groups of fake users who try to spread fake news.

How Instagram invites users to read verified news

Twitter introduced top-notch, up-to-date and reliable information on the feed, introduced pop-ups linked to the website of the Ministry of Health whenever we search for terms related to the virus, and developed an algorithm that blocks any unverified content.

YouTube invites people to inform themselves on official sites by increasing the visibility of WHO and authoritative sources video contents that talk about Coronavirus, while basically making invisible, thanks to special algorithms, videos that spread content that is unscientific or that contradict the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

Finally, the WHO has opened an account on TikTok, a popular platform especially among teenagers, to fight fake news and spread information about Covid-19 through short videos.

The official WHO account on TikTok aims at fighting fake news and providing reliable information on Covid-19.

What has changed on search engines?

Google SERP

In just over a month, Google has completely transformed the Search Engine Results Page. If we try to type on Google search bar terms like Coronavirus or Covid-19, we can see how the results page has been totally revolutionized. Before the pandemic, both organic and paid results were displayed. Today, Google shows a great number of information on the virus through a vertical drop-down menu with direct links to the main topics, such as symptoms, prevention, treatments, and a constantly updated map of the infections.

Google’s SERP with the keywords related to Coronavirus.

This huge update completely changed the rankings we were used to and, according to experts, it is not a temporary change. This has affected and will affect a large number of brands and companies from various sectors that have keywords related in some way to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Search behaviour and search queries

The lockdown has had a major impact on many aspects of our routine, including online searches.

In addition to the news and information related to the epidemic, there is a strong increase in research related to daily life: from games for children to food recipes, from training to entertainment, from shopping to video conferences, from online meetings and working tools to e-learning. Some of these searches today are accompanied by the expression “at home”. So, what’s surprising is that everything that was previously done offline is now done online.

at home
The Google Trends graph shows how the search query for the term “at home” has increased worldwide in the past 12 months.

Wrapping up

We do not know how long this situation will last and making predictions is often very difficult.

What is certain is that brands have to become aware of these online changes, trying to undertand users’ new interests and adapt themselves to this reality by developing a digital strategy suitable for this new situation.

Though, be careful to not commit missteps, trying to exploit the situation at all costs: the price to pay could prove to be much higher than the potential advantages.

How is your company reacting to this new reality? Tell us what you have done and what you would like to implement to grow your online business. Together we can find the right strategy.

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Since I was a child, my school career has been driven by a passion for what I wanted to do when I was grown up. So I graduated in modern languages and cultures at the University of Pavia and now I'm studying journalism and communication at the University of Bergamo. Today I do what I like most: I work in the technical publishing industry dedicating myself in particular to social media and digital marketing at Eos Mktg&Communication, the publishing house of the international ipcm® magazines. If I had to describe myself in three words according to my hobbies and interests, I would say: globetrotter, shopaholic and motorsport-addicted.

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