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How digital engagement has shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Ben Magnuson April 7, 2020

The response to the Coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered daily routines, and with that how people are consuming digital content. Without the ability to socialize, go to work or even outside, the reallocation of hours was bound to see a surge in engagement with digital.

One North wanted to look at which types of content are seeing increased consumption, and which are not, as firms ramp up their content to address customer concerns.


Social Media

Image Source:

But the devil is in the details … 

Social Media has seen a surge of engagement as people search to find ways to recreate in-person interaction. The increased traffic has left companies such as Facebook scrambling to keep operations up and running.

This extra traffic has increased Social referral traffic to many websites. Below is an example of how One North’s channel distribution changed. At around the midway point of March, when many of the work from home rules began, Social begins taking a bigger proportion of the whole.

While only one example, this is typical of behavior we have seen across our clients.

Image Source: Google Trends

But not all social has gained. While social sites such as Facebook and Twitter have reportedly surged, career networking site Linkedin may be seeing a decrease in engagement. Google Trends (above) shows a decline in searches for Linkedin around Mid-March.

Although this may be counterintuitive with Linkedin’s role in job searches, perhaps it is a sign that people are not bothering with a job search with so much shut down. The lean into personal or family networks may also reflect the immediate desire to seek out more socialization and engagement.



The rapid-pace change led to a necessity for companies to communicate quickly to customers on how they would be handling the crisis. Email was the tool of choice, for both its more personal tone and ability to capture attention in the inbox.

Though the volume was overwhelming, recipients responded. Validity reported in its State of Email webinar that open rates increased noticeably as travel restrictions and shelter in place orders were announced.

In a summary of Validity’s webinar, Mediapost picked out these interesting stats:

“COVID-19 messages have placed 2% higher in inbox deliverability than non-COVID-19 content. And they are 11% less likely to be marked as spam.

However, people were 10% more likely to open COVID-19 emails over other messages on weekdays four weeks ago — now it’s closer to 7%. But they are 30% more prone to do so on weekends.” 

Despite the jokes about not needing to hear how your car dealership was taking precautions, it appears at least core audiences did engage with that communication. But this may shift quickly if businesses aren’t careful not to take advantage of the heightened attention they’re holding. Communications should remain aligned with established brand tone and voice and always be adding value.


Government and Legacy Media

Image Source: Comscore

Comscore tracked trends in digital consumption in the week immediately after many changes started to take effect. Authoritative sources such as Government and News saw expected large increases as many searched for answers and tuned in.

The table offered other interesting changes. Education services picked up in a response to many needing to educate their children at home, and the shift in markets saw an uptick in Investments traffic, but not Financial Services as a whole.


Streaming and Video Conferencing

Image Source: Quartz

Streaming services such as Twitch and virtual meet-ups such as Zoom have seen popularity grow outside their core followings.

As offices and schools moved to Zoom for all things, people began to see its potential for socializing as well. Virtual happy hours and gatherings have made Zoom the platform of choice to gather with friends, and companies are even using it to keep track with customers (think yoga studios and other services firms). However, this openness has led to a security risk of malicious users overtaking the events, which has plagued Zoom in the past.

Twitch, an online streaming service, has seen large increases. Its popularity mainly stems from the streaming of video gameplay. With many kids home from school, this has been a natural place to see that attention wander to.



On the flip side, not all have seen growth from the changes.


Image Source: Podtrac

Podcasts have become big business in recent years, but have seen steep declines since many states began issuing shelter-in-place orders.

The most likely culprit is the disappearance of the daily commutes. People have not yet found the replacement for the hour or so each day many could listen in solitude.

We thought there could be other confounding factors. After all, many podcasts cover pop culture and sports, where there is not much news to report. But a look at Spotify (via Quartz) below shows people are not listening as much to music, either, which indicates the podcast format has not fit as neatly into the new routines.

Image Source: Quartz

It should be noted that not all podcasts are seeing a decline. As seen previously, news organizations such as Today, Explained by Vox and the BBC are seeing increases in daily listens.

As this crisis moment continues, organizations need to adjust their communications strategy to fit rapidly changing habits. To reach people effectively in their new work environment, we recommend focusing on delivering highly useful content through traditional channels such as Email, Social and publishing to your website. While streaming may evolve to find a place in marketing communications moving forward, the security alone is risky enough to steer clear.

Ben Magnuson
Associate Director, Data Strategy

As Associate Director, Data Strategy at One North, Ben supports clients by applying a strong data focus to marketing initiatives across channels and tools. He starts by gaining an understanding of each client’s unique goals and tactics, and guides them toward a strategic analytics program. He focuses on the creation of a meaningful feedback loop to help support and steer decision-making.