Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus impact: WhatsApp sees 40% surge in usage globally, says study

  • The study delves into consumer attitudes, media habits and consumer expectations as the world buckles under contagion fears of the deadly virus
  • WhatsApp saw 27% increase in the usage in the early phase of the pandemic and 41% in mid-phase

NEW DELHI : Instant messaging app WhatsApp has seen 40% spike in global usage as people look to stay connected amid rapidly spreading coronavirus (COVID-19), which has lead to social distancing and lockdowns worldwide, global research firm Kantar said in a study on Wednesday.

The study delves into consumer attitudes, media habits and expectations of people from brands as the world buckles under contagion fears of the deadly virus.

According to the study, Facebook-owned WhatsApp saw 27% increase in the usage in the early phase of the pandemic and 41% in mid-phase. The usage has surged by 51% in the countries which witnessed the late phase of the pandemic.

Increased usage across all messaging platforms has been biggest in the 18-34 age group. WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram have all experienced over 40% increase in usage from under 35-year olds.

Spain experienced a 76% increase in time spent on WhatsApp. Overall Facebook usage has increased 37%. China experienced a 58% increase in usage of local social media apps including Wechat and Weibo.

The study surveyed more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets, the first wave of COVID-19 Barometer research provides brand owners with clear direction on how to ensure their brands stay connected to their customers during the pandemic crisis.

As countries move deeper in to the pandemic, media consumption increases across all in-home channels. In later stages of the pandemic web browsing increased by 70%, followed by a 63% spike in (traditional) television viewing and social media engagement increasing by 61% over normal usage rates.

The study also stated that there is a crisis in trust. Traditional nationwide news channels (broadcast and newspaper) are the most trusted sources of information with 52% of people identifying them as a ‘trustworthy’ source. Government agency websites are regarded as trustworthy by only 48% of people, suggesting that government measures are not providing citizens around the world with assurances and security. The findings also reflected the loss of trust from recent election cycles, social media platforms are regarded by only 11% of people as a source of trustworthy information.

A significant part of the study deals with consumers’ expectations from brands. As high as 78% of the respondents expect the brands they chose to take care of employees’ health while 62% favoured flexible working hours. 41% of the respondents favoured the brands that support hospitals and 35% picked those which were helpful to the government.

There is very little expectation that brands should stop advertising with only 8% of respondents identifying it as a priority for brands. As many brands consider ‘going dark’ to save costs Kantar estimates that a six-month absence from TV will result in a 39% reduction in total brand communication awareness, potentially delaying recovery in the post-pandemic world.

For those that do continue advertising a clear majority of consumers expect advertising to make a positive contribution to society. This can be done by highlighting how a brand is helpful in the new everyday life (77%), inform about their efforts to face the situation (75%) and offer a reassuring tone (70%).

There are clear pitfalls to be avoided in advertising during the pandemic which includes not exploiting coronavirus situation to promote the brand (75%) and avoid humorous tones (40%).

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