COVID’s Impact on Content Creation: PEOPLE, NOT PRODUCTS and Takeaways for 2021

As it has affected so many aspects of life in 2020, COVID has changed not only the way we create content, but the nature of the content itself. Living through a pandemic has transformed consumers in ways too numerous to enumerate but one of the most dramatic is in the way we consume content.

With so many people on lockdown and many facing financial and emotional hardship, brands have had to find a different approach – failure to do so would risk being seen as tone deaf and inconsiderate. Content consumed through print media, social media/internet, and broadcast media not only evolved, but actually changed significantly in response to the nation’s grim new reality.  Since the pandemic far from over, these strategies will continue to be important for 2021.

Social Media and the Internet

This year, with most of us having severely limited contact with others, social media became the home for people seeking to connect with each other. Consumers gravitated to the internet for socializing, and sites like Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and others saw major increases in use in 2020, a clear reflection of the need for people to connect with each other.

One downside of this flocking to social media is that because of misinformation campaigns that thrive and grow on these platforms, many people were exposed to falsehoods and lies, and that created and continues to create a dangerous environment. In fact, misinformation was spread about the virus itself, including that it was all a hoax. There was also political and hate-based propaganda that was posted by extremist groups and political factions on Facebook and elsewhere.

As brands struggled to find the right tone and message for its struggling consumers who were facing each day in lockdown, they found that they had to change their messaging and develop content customized to that new message. Astute brands understood that there was not enough clear and honest information about the virus being shared on social media and they took up the charge and stepped in to build that awareness. These brands understood that knowledge and preparedness could mean the difference between life and death.  So they wrote and produced content that built trust and good will, conveying to consumers that they would do the right thing and that we would get through this together. The best campaigns urged compassion and community, including campaigns that put our own best interest first, like the Explore BC….later. campaign,  and Cottonelle’s Urging People not to Hoard Toilet paper  And thus, successful brands in 2020 created social media content that enamored them to consumers, portraying the brand as a trusted steward of our emotions. 

Takeaway for 2021:  Focus on people, not products, and tell stories that inspire and create calm. 

Print Media: Newspapers, Magazines and Blogs

When Americans found themselves suddenly home rather than at work, consuming content became a main part of their day.  This content provided distraction, entertainment, education, and stress relief. Locked down in our homes with more free time than ever, we devoured books, movies, television, blogs, newspapers, and magazines. Globally, online content consumption soared as the average daily time spent consuming content rose to six hours and 59 minutes, up from three hours the year before. Forbes

With this unprecedented level of media consumption, blogs have become a favorite pastime for consumers, with 15% reporting they read blogs daily. There are over 31 million bloggers in the US, over 570 million active blogs, and a seemingly never ending appetite for more as several hundred new blogs are created everyday.  Consumers rely overwhelmingly on blogs (70%) over advertisements and the blogging trend will continue to grow.

Takeaway for 2021:  Continue developing quality blog content.

Newspapers have not fared as well due to the ending of sports events, large gatherings, weddings and other pandemic-related changes.  Some, however, have managed to reinvent themselves post-COVID and have been creating content that tell stories of real people.  They have learned there is a huge appetite for authentic, slice of life stories.

Takeaway for 2021:  Tell Stories About Real People.

Broadcast Media -Television and Video Production

The COVID-19 pandemic had a severe impact on the television industry with all production stopping for several months, much of it not yet resumed. Many shows have been cancelled altogether, and others have an unknown future. Talk shows were able to pivot by broadcasting from home, but the pandemic has changed how we watch television.  The future of programming will consist of more game shows and reality shows, and fewer scripted series. When scripted shows resume, and some have, there will be few or no new shows. Viewing habits have also changed and now call for more engagement than ever.

In television advertising, brands have strived to appear compassionate and aware of our collective struggles.  They developed COVID themed ads with mask wearing actors and wrote dialogue that told us we are all int this together, creating a level of trust among viewers.

Takeaway for 2021:  Reality-based television is now the norm, and content creators should focus on building trust with consumers.

2021: Building on Our Experience and Moving Forward

While development of a COVID vaccine may signal the beginning of the end of this pandemic, we still have a long way to go and the effect of the pandemic will be with us for a long time. Content creation changed in 2020, perhaps permanently, and the lessons learned should inform content creation into 2021. The common theme relative to all media platforms is that content should focus on people and stories, not on products and testimonials.  Brands should create content that inspires and builds trust, and consumers will consume such content in abundance.

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