Digital 2020: Explore the April Global Statshot

DataReportal analysis indicates that 4.57 billion people now use the internet, an increase of more than 7 percent since this time last year. Social media users are growing even faster, up by more than 8 percent since April 2019 to reach 3.81 billion today.

The world has changed dramatically over the first three months of 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting almost every aspect of our lives. These changes have been clearly evident in the world’s digital behaviours too, especially as billions of people turn to connected devices to help them cope with life and work under lockdown. 

Lately, DataReportal has released their Digital 2020 April Global Statshot Report to exploring these extraordinary trends, but this update also includes all of the usual data points that we cover in our ongoing series of Global Digital Reports too, including detailed analysis of how people around the world are using the internet, social media, mobile devices, and E-commerce. 

Key headlines in this quarter’s report include: 

  • Big jumps in digital activity, especially in countries that have seen the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns 
  • Significant increases in social media use, with video calling taking centre stage 
  • Accelerating adoption of E-commerce, particularly for grocery shopping 
  • An increase in the amount of time spent playing video games and watching esports 
  • Some unexpected opportunities for digital advertisers 

You’ll find comprehensive analysis of all these stories and more in the article below. 

Key headlines: Global digital adoption still growing

The latest data show that the number of internet users and social media users around the world have both increased by more than 300 million over the past twelve months, despite delays in reporting in some key countries due to the coronavirus outbreak.

DataReportal analysis indicates that 4.57 billion people now use the internet, an increase of more than 7 percent since this time last year. Social media users are growing even faster, up by more than 8 percent since April 2019 to reach 3.81 billion today.

Image: Datareportal

Global social media use hasn’t quite reached the 50 percent penetration mark yet, but the latest trends suggest that we should pass this key milestone before the end of 2020

Image: Datareportal

The number of people using mobile phones has also increased, with global user numbers up by 128 million over the past twelve months. GSMA Intelligence reported 5.16 billion unique mobile users at the start of April 2020, meaning that roughly two-thirds of the world’s total population uses a mobile phone today.

Use of connected devices jumps 

Detailed research from GlobalWebIndex reveals that people all over the world have been spending considerably more time on their digital devices as a result of coronavirus lockdowns.

Image: Datareportal

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of internet users aged between 16 and 64 in surveyed countries say they’ve been spending more time using their smartphones in recent weeks compared to their pre-lockdown behaviours, with almost 4 in 5 women reporting an increase in mobile use.

Image: Datareportal

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people report that they’ve been spending longer watching television too, with more than a third (34 percent) of internet users across the 17 countries in GlobalWebIndex’s special coronavirus study saying that they’ve been spending more time using smart TVs and dedicated streaming devices such as Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire Stick. 

Other data supports this finding too, with American network AT&T reporting that Netflix traffic has reached all-time highs during the US coronavirus lockdown.

More people have been signing up for streaming services too, with Disney Plus in particular posting impressive growth during the first three months of 2020. The platform’s recent launch in Europe and India has helped to boost subscribers to more than 50 million in just five months since its launch, while the platform has almost doubled its subscriber base since the start of 2020.

Netflix has also seen its user base grow since the start of the year. The company announced that it attracted 16 million new paying subscribers to its service in the first three months of 2020, equating to quarter-on-quarter growth of 9 percent.

COVID-19 lockdowns have a profound impact on digital habits 

Beyond increases in device usage, GlobalWebIndex’s data reveals that people’s digital behaviours are also changing dramatically as a result of coronavirus-related lockdowns. We’ll cover many of the individual changes in detail throughout the rest of this article, but the chart below contains the headline numbers. 

Image: Datareportal

Many people say that they expect their new habits to continue after the COVID-19 outbreak passes too. One in five internet users say they expect to continue watching more content on streaming services, and one in seven (15 percent) say they expect to continue spending more time using social media.

Image: Datareportal

However, it’s worth remembering that some of these ‘new habits’ are purely the result of a sudden increase in spare time, and there’s a good chance that activity levels will quickly return to pre-lockdown levels once people are able to return to work, and are once again able to socialise with friends and family in the physical world.

Use of social media surges

One of the clearest trends in recent weeks has been a dramatic increase in socialising via digital platforms, whether that’s with family, friends, or colleagues and commercial partners. This isn’t surprising of course; with so many people struggling with social isolation measures or a complete lockdown, digital platforms are increasingly our only opportunity to communicate with the outside world. 

Almost half of internet users (47 percent) in surveyed countries say they’ve been spending longer using social media, while roughly half of these users (23 percent) say they’ve been spending “significantly” more time using social media compared to their pre-lockdown behaviours.

Image: Datareportal

Increased usage has been most pronounced across younger age groups, but a third of internet users aged 45 to 64 also told GlobalWebIndex that they’re spending more time using social media as a result of coronavirus lockdowns.

Women are more likely to have increased their social media activities compared to men, with almost two-thirds of women aged 16 to 24 saying they’re spending more time using social media in recent weeks

Image: Datareportal

Despite already spending more time on social media than any other country, the Philippines has seen the greatest number of people reporting an increase in the amount of time they’re spending on social platforms. 

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the Filipinos in GlobalWebIndex’s survey said their ‘social time’ has increased, compared to a global average of 47 percent. More than half of respondents in Brazil, India, and South Africa also report increases in social media activity, compared to less than one-quarter of respondents in Japan, and 26 percent in Germany.

Image: Datareportal

Social media apps already accounted for half of the time that we spent on our mobile phones in 2019, but these ‘old favourites’ have seen considerable increases in use over recent weeks. 

In a press call with journalists as early as 18 March, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had already witnessed twice the usual level of calls made via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in the days since European countries began their lockdowns.

Meanwhile, some countries have seen even greater jumps in use. In Italy – one of the first Western countries to experience a complete lockdown – the number of group calls on Facebook Messenger involving three or more users increased by more than 1,000 percent in March alone, while people across the country have also increased the time they spend using Facebook-owned apps by more than 70 percent since the lockdown began. 

App Annie also reports that the amount of time people spend using Snapchat and TikTok has grown considerably over recent weeks, while Reddit has also reported increases of 20-50% in traffic to subreddits related to business, finance, news, education, travel, and sports.

Image: Datareportal

Social media platforms see solid growth in active users 

In addition to these increases in time spent, the latest data suggest that all of the key social platforms that we track in our ongoing Global Digital Reports grew their active user bases over the first three months of 2020 as well.

Image: Datareportal

Twitter saw the biggest quarterly jump amongst these platforms. Numbers published in the company’s self-service advertising tools show that advertisers can now reach 47 million more people on Twitter compared to January 2020, equating to a quarter-on-quarter increase of 14 percent.

Image: Datareportal

Interestingly, Russia accounted for roughly 30 percent of Twitter’s global growth this quarter. The company’s data show that the number of people in the country that advertisers can reach using Twitter ads increased by 149 percent over the past three months, from 9.5 million in January 2020, to more than 23.5 million by the start of April.

Image: Datareportal

Facebook’s advertising audience also grew in the first three months of 2020, and is up by almost 4 percent since January (more on this below). Instagram’s audience is growing even faster, registering an uplift of 4.5 percent since the start of the year, while Snapchat’s tools indicate that the platforms’ advertising audience grew by 4.2 percent during the same period. 

Sadly, TikTok remains tight-lipped on active user numbers, so DataReportal unable to provide any new insights that would enable us to compare the platform’s growth directly to other platforms. However, the latest data from App Annie show that TikTok still trails Instagram when it comes to monthly active users of each platform’s mobile app.

Is video calling the future of social media?

In addition to their usual ‘portfolio’ of social apps, people have also been turning to new platforms and solutions to help with the unique challenges that the pandemic has created. 

In particular, video conferencing apps have quickly moved to the centre of many people’s work lives, and many users have been using these platforms to stay in touch with friends and family too. 

Despite lingering concerns about privacy, teleconferencing service Zoom has been a clear winner, with the company revealing that it’s had as many as 200 million daily active users in recent weeks – 20 times more than pre-pandemic levels. The latest reports from App Annie also reveal that Zoom was one of the ten most-downloaded apps around the world in March 2020,with the app generating a greater number of downloads than Netflix.

Zoom isn’t the only video calling app that’s seen adoption accelerate in recent weeks though. App Annie reports that Google’s Meet app (until recently known as Hangouts Meet) saw 30 times as many downloads in the USA in the week of March 15th to 21st compared to pre-pandemic levels. Downloads of the app also increased dramatically in Europe, with Italy registering 140 times as many downloads, Spain 64 times as many, and the UK 24 times as many. 

Houseparty has been another big winner, especially amongst younger users who’ve been unable to meet up with friends during the lockdown. App Annie reports that downloads of the Houseparty app in Spain jumped by a factor of 2,360x in the week of March 15th to 21st. Italy saw an increase of 423x, while the UK, which started from a higher base of existing users, still saw downloads jump by 17x.

It’s unclear to what extent these new behaviours will continue once lockdowns have been lifted and people are able to socialise in person again, but with many people now using these platforms multiple times each day, it’s likely that significant numbers of people have already overcome key barriers to trial and adoption. 

As a result, there’s a real likelihood that many of the social media habits that people have formed in recent weeks will outlast the pandemic, and a move to more ‘face-to-face’ digital interactions may be an important legacy of coronavirus lockdowns on the world’s social media behaviours.

Advertisers can now reach more than 2 billion people on Facebook.

If we assume that all of these users are at least 13 years old – as required by the platform’s terms of service – would mean that advertisers can now reach more than one-third of the world’s total population aged 13 and above using adverts on Facebook. 

It’s not just the platform’s audience numbers that have grown either; as we’ll explore in more detail in the next sections, the platform’s users are clicking on a greater number of adverts too.

However, the latest numbers also suggest that just 80 percent of Facebook’s active users saw an advert in the past 30 days, which means that the platform was unable to monetise roughly 500 million of its 2.5 billion monthly active users during that time.

Advertising’s perplexing paradox

Both the Wall Street Journal and Digiday cite various sources who report that the cost of advertising impressions on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have all declined by 15 to 20 percent between February and March 2020. Meanwhile, an article in the New York Times suggests that drops may have been even more precipitous, with one source reporting a fall of between 35 and 50 percent in the cost of Facebook ad impressions.

However, other data tells a different story. Facebook’s ad planning tools indicate that users have been clicking on more adverts on the platform in recent weeks compared to the end of 2019, both relatively and absolutely. The platform’s latest data show that the typical global Facebook user clicked on a median of 13 adverts in March 2020, up from December 2019’s median of 12.

People between the ages of 35 and 65 also show greater propensity to engage with commercial messages on the platform. Younger users are the least likely to interact with ads, with Facebook’s own data showing that users aged 18 to 24 click or tap on a median of just 10 adverts per month, compared to an overall median of 13 ad clicks per month across the platform’s total user base.

However, the latest data suggest that – across all age groups – ad engagement has increased in recent weeks, potentially because people have been spending longer using social media

But should brands even be thinking about advertising at this time?

People don’t expect brands to stop advertising 

Research from GlobalWebIndex shows that more than half of internet users (51 percent) approve of brands continuing to advertise as normal despite the Coronavirus outbreak, compared to less than one in five (18 percent) who say they disapprove. Just under a third (31 percent) say they neither approve nor disapprove.

Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal

However, brands need to be careful how they approach advertising during the crisis, and research from Edelman found that one in three consumers have already “punished” brands that they perceived to have responded badly.

Something as simple as creating content that helps everyday people to achieve their own objectives can also add meaningful value. Indeed, GlobalWebIndex finds that tutorials and how-to videos are amongst the top kinds of content that consumers want more of during the COVID-19 crisis, and these may represent a particularly compelling opportunity for B2B brands.

Brands should be very careful when it comes to the use of humour. While GlobalWebIndex finds that people are craving more ‘funny’ content, this finding likely focuses on dedicated entertainment formats such as TV shows, and Edelman finds that 57 percent of consumers think brands should stop marketing activities that might be considered as “humorous or too lighthearted in tone” while the pandemic continues.

Organic social increases too

Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal

Marketing mix considerations: social platform overlaps

First, a bit of guidance on how to read the chart. The percentages in the table identify the share of users of each platform in the left-hand column that are also users of each platform in the top row. 

For example, 35 percent of Instagram users also use Snapchat, while 86 percent of Snapchat users also use Instagram [note that this disparity is partly due to the fact that Instagram has roughly 3 times as many total users as Snapchat.

Image: Datareportal

The key takeaway is that very few social media users are ‘unique’ to just one platform. Being the largest platforms, Facebook and YouTube have the largest unique audiences, but even these platforms’ unique audiences only represent 6 percent and 7 percent (respectively) of their total user bases.

Games are a top choice for a world on lockdown

Data from GlobalWebIndex shows that – even before the current wave of lockdowns – 4 in 5 of the world’s internet users already played video games.

Image: Datareportal

However, new data from App Annie shows that weekly downloads of mobile games in March 2020 jumped by 30 percent compared to weekly averages for the final quarter of 2019, with people around the world downloading more than a billion games each week.

In total, mobile users downloaded more than 13 billion games during the first three months of this year, and spent close to US$17 billion dollars on mobile games and in-game purchases during the same period – a 5 percent increase on spends in the last three months of 2019.

Image: Datareportal

Mobile’s growing influence 

Image: Datareportal

This finding is supported by data from App Annie, which shows that the amount of time people spent using mobile devices during the first three months of 2020 increased by 20 percent compared to the same period last year.

The company also reports that in China – the first country to impose a mass lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus – mobile users spent an average of 5 hours per day using apps across the first three months of 2020, representing an increase of 30 percent compared to the levels seen at the start of 2019. Italy saw a similar pattern, with users spending more than 10 percent more time in apps across the whole of the first quarter.

Image: Datareportal

Computers’ share of web traffic dropped from 47 percent in March 2019 to 45.3 percent in March 2020, representing a relative drop of almost 4 percent, while tablets’ share of total traffic dropped by a third, from 4 percent in March 2019 to 2.7 percent in March 2020.

During the same period, the traffic shares attributable to handsets running operating systems other than Android or iOS have fallen considerably, highlighting the ongoing consolidation in the industry.

Image: Datareportal

However, it’s worth noting that people have also been spending more time using laptops and desktops as they find ways of dealing with life under lockdown, and people haven’t suddenly abandoned their computers.

Image: Datareportal

Internet speeds slow due to increased demand

Many countries saw meaningful drops in average download speeds for both mobile and fixed internet connections between February and March 2020.

Image: Datareportal

However, most countries still registered year-on-year increases in average connection speeds, so it’s likely that these month-on-month drops are a direct result of the increased network demands of people’s lockdown-specific behaviours.

Image: Datareportal

The latest data from Ericsson show that the world’s mobile users already consumed almost 40 billion gigabytes of mobile data every month during Q4 2019, but all the evidence suggests that this figure will jump considerably in Q1 2020.

Image: Datareportal

The world turns to e-commerce during lockdowns

Image: Datareportal

At a country level, China has seen the greatest increase in the amount of time that people have been spending shopping online, which is all the more impressive when we consider that China already has some of the highest rates of ecommerce adoption in the world.

Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal

What the world has been searching for on lockdown

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google has seen a huge increase in coronavirus-related searches in recent weeks. “Coronavirus” was the third most frequently entered search query across the whole of Q1, but the query topped the rankings in March, generating more than twice as many searches as the perennial top term, “Google.”

Image: Datareportal
Image: Datareportal

If it hadn’t been for COVID…

Image: Datareportal

Despite a persistent myth that Millennials and Gen Z don’t use email, the latest data from GlobalWebIndex shows that email use remains consistently high across all age groups. Critically, roughly three-quarters of internet users between the ages of 16 and 24 say they used a webmail service to read or send emails in the past month.

Image: Datareportal

Concerns about misuse of data continue to rise around the world. 65 percent of internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 surveyed by GlobalWebIndex say they worry about how companies use their personal data, up from the 64 percent figure that we reported in January.

Image: Datareportal

Younger users are the biggest users of ad-blocking tools, although men are considerably more likely to use these tools than women.

Image: Datareportal

What happens next?

No one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect our lives, so it’s difficult to offer advice on next steps. However, here are some of the things the author from Datareportal expect to see:

  • Use of video calling and teleconferencing services is likely to remain at higher levels than those we saw before the pandemic, even once lockdowns have been lifted.
  • With many people relying more heavily on online grocery shopping in recent weeks, this new behaviour persists at higher levels than those we saw before COVID-19 lockdowns, albeit as part of a combination of online and offline shopping.
  • As companies continue to battle with the economic impact of lockdowns, advertising budgets may take many months to return to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, brands and their agency partners will need to experiment with more cost-efficient activities, with particular emphasis on organic distribution, as well as advertising channels and formats that can deliver more tangible returns to a brand’s bottom line. 
  • If conventional sports and sporting events continue to be suspended beyond the middle of the year, esports may attract increased interest from both sponsors and gambling companies. While it’s unlikely that esports will ever replace more ‘physical’ sports, brands that experiment with esports-related activities now will likely be better placed should that opportunity endure.

Source: Datareportal

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