*Originally posted on Fast Company*
2020 changed everything for a lot of people. The pandemic forced people around the world to change the way they live and work and what it means to spend time together. We went from being able to go to a movie, concert, or enjoy dinner with friends to needing to remain physically distant. Human interaction is so important to our well-being, and suddenly, it was taken away from us.
To stay connected with the people around us in the face of social distancing, we turned to and relied on technology. Demand for services such as my company’s tool, Facebook Messenger, skyrocketed, and as business and people’s routines changed, so did our focus on the messaging products we focused on delivering. We saw fundamental change in how people wanted to stay directly connected and it forced us to compress years’ worth of product development into a few months in order to adapt. People are adapting to these new patterns as well—they are here to stay even after the pandemic goes away.
We expect these shifts in behavior to continue through 2021 and beyond. Here’s what to watch for in this new year.
MORE VIRTUAL CO-EXPERIENCES
Connecting through video calling, especially in small groups, was arguably the most in-demand feature people turned to in 2020. And this trend shows no sign of slowing down. According to a study from Ipsos, 85% of people currently using video calling platforms believe they will continue to use them even once COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted.
In 2021, people will look for video calling services that let them do more than just talk to each other. They’ll want features that will let them share normally in-person experiences virtually; watch movies together, listen to music together, play games together, learn and teach together. People will expect these “add-on” features to be free and easy to use, and companies that deliver these experiences without letting the technology get in the way will likely thrive.
At Messenger, we recognized this shift in behavior in 2018. When the pandemic hit, we focused on accelerating our existing strategy to meet the needs of people that use our services faster. We introduced Messenger Desktop to allow people to connect on bigger screens over their computers, alongside on mobile. We released Messenger Rooms, as an easy and seamless way to create a virtual living room with friends and family, as well as Watch Together, a group-watch function with the ability to chat during Facebook Watch videos.
THE YEAR OF CONVERSATIONAL E-COMMERCE
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions have been especially hard on small businesses. Many have had to close their doors, some forever, and countless others have turned to the internet to stay connected with their customers, some creating an online presence for the first time. According to a recent study by Deloitte and commissioned by Facebook, 77% of the SMBs surveyed indicated they started using or increased their usage of digital tools during the pandemic. In 2020 we saw total daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grow by over 40%.
In 2021, businesses will look to enhance their online presence even more by engaging in conversation with customers through messaging. As more people shop through social channels, businesses will build more robust conversational technology that will let them connect more with their customers in a way that works better for customers. For example, businesses will recreate the “in-store experience” online by giving people the ability to ask questions along the path to purchase, at a time and place that works for them.
PARENTS EMBRACING VIRTUAL CONNECTING
One of the trends we saw globally in 2020 was the transition to remote learning for schools and universities across the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19. To help their kids cope with isolation and lack of physical social interaction with peers, parents turned to tech to help kids remain connected with their friends and family. And they turned to services they trusted to help.
Now that parents have seen the power of connection through technology for their kids in 2021, we will see more and more gaming, social, and messaging apps designed specifically for kids and teens. We’ll also see increased scrutiny—from parents and regulators—on apps for kids. Parents will continue to seek ways to maintain connection for their kids through distance until the vaccines are widely available and distributed, but they will want to make sure their children are safe online and will turn to those services that give them that control.
While the past year may have increased our reliance on technology to stay connected with one another, it’s also made clear that regardless of the technology people use they want it to facilitate real human connection, no matter the distance. People will turn to those companies that can help people maintain this connection in 2021 and beyond.
Stan Chudnovsky is the vice president of Messenger by Facebook. Before joining Facebook, Stan was vice president of growth and global strategy at PayPal after IronPearl, which he cofounded, was acquired in 2013. He cofounded several other successful companies including Jiff, NFX, Ooga Labs, and Wonderhill.