Digital Connection Amidst the Coronavirus: Pivoting to Cultivate Community

As we near close to a year of the “new normal” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, trends in digital activity and user experience have become evident. The pandemic has resulted in a rise in activities that require only oneself and a digital connection, such as video game streaming, meditation apps, exercise classes, and more.

Video game streaming services like Amazon’s Twitch have grown exponentially during the pandemic. Twitch is the largest video game streaming service, holding 76% of the market share in the Americas and Europe. Unbeknownst to some, video game streaming is a $180 billion industry, greater than that of movies and music. On Facebook alone, more than 700 million users play, watch, or chat in gaming groups. However, despite efforts by major players like Microsoft, Twitch reigns supreme in the video game world. Twitch’s reported 140 million monthly users interact with one another in their dedicated community, a number that seems to only be rising during the pandemic. This points to the notion that individuals are seeking forms of digital connectedness to feel a sense of community and belonging during these unprecedented times.

These trends do not stop with video game streaming; another area of growth this past year is within mental wellness apps. In April 2020, the largest English-language mental wellness apps on the app store saw close to 10 million downloads. Calm, the market leader, saw a rise of nearly 31% in downloads from January to April 2020. Many market leaders, including Calm, offered free memberships to front-line medical professionals, first responders, and some to those unemployed. Nonprofit health system Kaiser Permananete even announced a free Premium subscription on the Calm app for its members.

Many apps like Calm and Headspace offer live meditations, guest speakers, and other resources for their users to cultivate a community experience. Apps like MindBody, fitness bloggers, and influencers have also offered virtual exercise classes, live meditations, and courses throughout the pandemic. Headspace CEO Richard Pierson remarked that “we are craving human connection and shared stories more than ever.” It is no wonder that apps and activities that offer digital connection with a communal element have sharply increased in a time where human interaction and sense of belonging feel absent for so many.

In a world of advertising hopeful to attract cord cutters and “cord nevers”, the pandemic has largely influenced the way users consume and experience media. As we navigate a future beyond the coronavirus, advertisers should pay close attention to the trends revealed in the past year and if these new consumption patterns are here to stay.

Margaret McConn