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Observations

Let’s hang out virtually — when social becomes truly social

The article is also available in audio version here

We are all social animals by nature as it is a dominant force shaping our thought, behaviour, physiology, and key for our survival. As the world is becoming increasingly home confined with no travel and large gatherings, we are turning to social, not to just show the better side of ourselves and become influencers but to truly connect with each other at a distance.

This has caused a surge in virtual house parties, playing games virtually, co-watching content and connecting over video calls. Moreover, it has also contributed to a major surge in mobile traffic around the World.

If you’d like to explore how consumer behaviour has changed, please see these observations bringing it all together.

House parties

We recently gathered with 10 friends on video chat over Zoom. One of us was sharing a computer screen with others tuning in on Jackbox on their phones to play the game. It was a lot of fun and hours passed quickly, but it was clearly the old-school workaround to fast-growing social video and gaming apps. Houseparty — top 1 app in 17 countries (incl the US), continuously no 1 in the social networking category and growing faster than Zoom, Webex and Hangouts Meet combined. It differs a little by market, while in the US Zoom is in the lead, Houseparty dominates in France (30x growth), Germany (26x), Spain (2360x) and Italy (423x). It is a mobile app owned by Epic Games (acquired in June 2019), the company behind Fortnite, where eight friends can gather to play games and hang outIn addition, there’re several competitors in the market like Pop.in and Bunch, bringing game party on your phone. The latter similarly growing exponentially, doubling their downloads week-over-week and recently hitting 100K on Android. Try them out (yes, they’re fun even when you’re an adult)!

Co-watching / Co-shopping

Moving on from Houseparty to Netflix Party (seems to be a trend here to call your new startup Something Party). More seriously, it is a chrome plugin initially made for couples in a long-distance relationship to watch Netflix together but has recently seen a 10x increase in search. They’ve quickly grown from the previously reported 500K users to 4M installs (on Chrome Web Store). There’re also several alternatives like Scener for Netflix and Metastream and TwoSeven, which also include many other streaming services and also incorporate chat, but all of it in desktop browsers.

Co-watching has been a huge hit even more so on mobile. Apps like Squad and Rave (consistently in top 15 in Social Networking) allow users to be in a video chat while enjoying the latest YouTube, TikTok, Netflix or Instagram videos and some also enable users to shop together (e.g. Squad). Big tech joins in as Instagram recently released an update for anyone on IG video call to watch IGTV videos together. I believe you can expect many other video, social and shopping apps to incorporate these features (Yes, YouTube, this could be your killer social feature). With Apple’s recent update enabling peer-to-peer video chat in Safari mobile, many brands are looking to connect their sales associates with customers over video. Startups like Cuup have already implemented it by allowing customers to book online fittings over Zoom

Messaging and video calls

Most of the top utility and entertainment apps in the App Store have been replaced by video and messaging apps. “We’re just trying to keep the lights on over here,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a recent interview as the messaging and video call traffic surge puts pressure on large platforms. In many countries, messaging on Instagram and Facebook grew by over 50%, while group calls in Italy jumped by more than 1,000%. WhatsApp usage is also up across the globe, but voice and video calling are growing even faster — and putting a real strain on the infrastructure. The messaging userbase is also widening. As most kids are home from school, Messenger Kids has risen to no 5 in Social Networking rank. Microsoft Teams has experienced a 775% growth in voice and video calls in Italy. In addition to many others including Duo (no 2), Hangouts (no 3), Skype (no 10), Signal, Discord (no 9) etcVodafone, a mobile carrier is reporting 50% increase in data usage in some Europen countries and Comcast reported 212% increase in voice and video calls over the internet with total usage increase of 32% (highest 60% in San Francisco).

Bonus: VR headsets— sold out

This is supposed to be the moment for VR and it seems to be. Oculus Quest is the first truly mobile VR headset offering 360 degrees of freedom with inside-out tracking and costs under $400. This is clearly an appealing offer and even if you wanted to get one for yourself or family, they’re sold out. This is great, but also not great for VR growth as now truly seems to be the time to showcase social VR at it’s best for gaming, co-viewing, hangouts — potentially the most social thing we can do remotely. Hope they’ll be back soon.

What does it mean for your business?

While many of these products have been around for a while, they’re definitely getting a major boost from helping us to stay connected at a distance. Regardless if you live on the same street or on another continent, all friends can be united now in one place, no one being left out or feeling far away. Many activities we used to do exclusively in person, will soon have a strong (if not better) alternative, even when we get back to normal.

If you’re a brand owner, is your shopping experience ready for co-shopping apps? Could you make your own digital experience more social? Are your sales associates ready to join customers over video? Could you make your social games and content available on Houseparty? 

If you’re a video producer/creator, have you made your content available on co-viewing apps or offering that on your own platform with messaging and video chat?

I recently received a Zoom birthday party invite with live DJ, everybody enjoying their own drinks, but dancing to the same rhythm and having a good time. If you want to join the next dance party with the two-time Grammy-nominated choreographer Ryan Heffington, then he’s live Tue, Wed, Thu at 10am PST.