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Opinion: Coronavirus rewriting social connection rules

Open Mind Strategy’s Megan Routh examines how the coronavirus pandemic has affected our “cultural rules of connection” and four shifts in how people connect that brands should know.

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

Opinion: Coronavirus rewriting social connection rules

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

Two months ago, if you talked to a millennial, they likely would tell you there is nothing more anxiety-provoking than a real-time phone call. But in the solitude of quarantine, a craving for intimacy and personal connection means people want to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces more than ever.

Quarantine and the COVID-19 crisis are completely rewriting our cultural rules of communication. But the frantic ways we’re corresponding will shift how we connect well beyond the lockdown.

Shift 1: Online communities going democratic

Celebrities are livestreaming with anyone who asks to join in; anonymous Zoom dance parties take place nightly. Ordered to stay home, it took but days for folks to start broadcasting themselves, mostly to chaotic and confusing ends. While it may seem haphazard, each interaction is an expansion of community that chips away at our cultural fear of real-life intimacy and democratizes online communities.

As white-collar workers wonder not when they’re going to return to the office, but why they would ever return at all, big cities are looking at an exodus of knowledge workers – cultural capital. This migration gives brands a mandate to expand their offerings to more diverse social groups of consumers as they use tools to build new online communities.

Shift 2: Exasperated with aspiration

The everything-is-perfect image that is the hallmark of influencer marketing has never been less appropriate than now. In a global crisis, consumers are rejecting content marketing that screams aspiration, instead seeking ways to mitigate our collective exasperation.

From live baking tutorials to yoga flows in bedrooms to Zoom support sessions, we’re all content creators, and each other’s influencers, more than ever. “Coming to you live” from the physical and emotional messiness of quarantine is recalibrating our relationship with reality, causing us to embrace “doing the best we can do” as the new form of “living our best life.”

An example, Heineken’s recent spot montages the relatable pain points of our endless digital gatherings and nods to the fact that quarantine life isn’t great, but we’re all just trying to make it through.

Shift 3: Optimism equals self-care

Against a backdrop of endless doomsday news, we’re clamoring for optimism. The sarcasm and troll-like tone, once a hallmark of the internet, is being replaced by uplifting content. For a moment, “Duck Pool Party,” a stream of ducks playing in a pool, was the most viewed Reddit stream. Even notoriously snarky brand voices like Wendy’s have shifted their Twitter strategy to encourage camaraderie through games, activities and shared stories.

Wholesome, positive content has become a balm for our anxiety, a form of self-care that fills provides a sense of calm that facemasks and baking cannot.

Shift 4: Fascinated with facts

Life in the time of coronavirus is marked by an insatiable consumption of facts. Consumers, especially younger ones have become amazingly good at distilling information from the inane.

Unlikely figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have emerged as leading men of the pandemic thanks to their straightforward delivery of facts. Now, to be worthy of consumers’ time, you need to give it to them straight. Frito-Lay’s COVID-19 “It’s About People” won praise for saying what they were doing to help employees, rather than selling chips.

But perhaps the most trustworthy brand voice and tone comes from a most unlikely player: Steak-umm, which has emerged as a “voice of truth” thanks to their non-nonsense. Their willingness to tweet bold opinions has doubled their pre-COVID-19 audience and won the admiration of the internet.

After the pandemic, when we emerge, knowing that catastrophe can hit again at any moment, people will still want straightforward talk from brands with big platforms. Brand messaging will need to quickly adjust to the “new normal.”


Megan Routh is a cultural anthropologist, writer and strategist at Open Mind Strategy whose expertise lies in translating cultural insights and trends into actionable strategies for Fortune 100 companies. With a decade of experience conducting research, moderating workshops and cultivating trend and cultural intelligence, Megan has helped clients uncover emerging directions in culture, business and consumer behavior to develop strategies and innovate products, services, and experiences.


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