COVID-19: An analysis of consumer discussions pre, during and post social distancing

COVID-19 was the predominant topic of discussion over the first half of 2020. During March – the peak month of the pandemic, an average of 2 million mentions about COVID-19 was daily recorded. From when the disease first emerged in Vietnam until it was effectively controlled by social distancing methods, there were some interesting changes in how social media users reacted and behaved. Our below report will discuss how consumers were affected at various phases of the pandemic, namely:

  • Stage 1: COVID-19 first emerged in Vietnam
  • Stage 2: COVID-19 came back to Vietnam
  • Stage 3: Social Distancing
  • Stage 4: End of Social Distancing

For each phase, Buzzmetrics will take consumers’ discussion as a focal point and thereby go into analyzing:

  • What were their main interests at the time?
  • How has their behavior changed compared to before?
  • Which industries will be affected by these changes?

COVID-19 first came to Vietnam – Consumers adjusted their lifestyle 

In early January, COVID-19 was only mentioned amongst certain groups of consumers. At the end of January, the first 2 COVID-19 cases were recorded in Vietnam. As such, consumers began to discuss the pandemic more, around the following topics: (1) Updates on the pandemic, (2) How to protect themselves against the disease, and (3) Attitudes towards the pandemic. They actively shared updates on the current situation in the country due to the potential effects it could cause to their daily lives. It should be noted that around this time, students were expected to go back to school. Rumors about the source of COVID-19 were also spread by some consumers, and it was these rumors that caused fake news anxiety which added up to the pandemic anxiety.

From our observation of social media discussions, consumers began to make adjustments to their daily activities to prevent the disease infection. Ever since the emergence of COVID-19 in Vietnam, doctors had been proactively giving preventive advice and asking people not to be confused with fake news. Specifically, at the end of January, recommendations for COVID-19 prevention by Dr. Truong Huu Khanh (Children’s Hospital 1) were shared by many community sites.

See more influential doctors in the COVID-19 epidemic at SocialLift.

Thanks to the doctors, consumers perceived that there was no individual solution to effectively combat COVID-19. Instead, people needed to adjust their daily routine, such as clean eating, mask wearing or regular hand washing. The steep rise in demand for face masks also created noises in the social media landscape: consumers began to discuss the increasing price of masks, the scarcity of masks, and the right way to wear masks. This made “masks” become a hot keyword at that time.

Besides masks, consumers also mentioned supplements, especially vitamin supplements, along with other items such as antibacterial sprays and mouthwash. Consumers also expressed their interest in non-essential services such as travel, aviation, hotels, and restaurants for fear of not being able to access them due to COVID-19 spread. 

COVID-19 re-emerged in Vietnam – Consumers expressed their sense of community

On February 26, the last patient of Phase 1 was discharged. On social media, people talked less about COVID-19. Back then, their main concern was “When students go back to school”. However, it only took 1 day (March 7) to reach 12 million social media mentions, when new infection was discovered. From here,  Phase 2 began with the risk of community infections. 

The severity of the epidemic changed, so was the topic of discussion. Before that, fighting against the epidemic was to adjust lifestyle. Then, consumers became more socially active, as they were eager to support the government by texting, disseminating official information, or participating in medical declarations.

It can be seen that Phase 2 was the phase of strong community awareness. Everyone was attempting to make contributions to society, whether more or less. Meanwhile, more than 250 brands participated in fighting against the epidemic and received positive feedback from consumers. Remarkably, the “Bảo vệ bác sĩ 24h” campaign of VitaDairy topped the BSI Top 10 Ranking in March. Previously in February, this position belonged to ABC Bakery’s “Bánh mì thanh long” campaign – a campaign aimed to rescue Vietnamese agricultural products.

See more of the COVID-19 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities of brands here.

Social Distancing – Consumers enjoyed life at home

In early April, the government issued social distancing etiquette, asking people to only go out in case of extreme necessity, and temporarily suspending non-essential services. Until this phase, fake news was no longer a worry. The government brought up an official Facebook channel and people also become more aware of news sources. Preventive measures are also disseminated by the government. Businesses also allowed their employees to telecommute. With these changes being put into practice, most consumer discussions revolved around daily life at home.

70% of consumers showed their engagement in the work-life blend. As stated by them, telecommuting provided a flexible schedule, allowing them to do things they rarely got a chance back when the pandemic had not emerged, such as playing with children and pets, caring for plants, physical exercising, or house cleaning.

Whenever consumers showed any worry, it was not really about work. 13% of consumers were anxious about loneliness and 26% were afraid of losing weight control as they often used snacks during work as a mood booster and stress reliever. As for cooking, a report by Buzzmetrics shows that people tended to do more home cooking during the social distancing period. Consumers found joy in cooking and that home-cooked meals forged stronger bonds with their families. This gave rise to a trend for cooking loving, along with the increasing popularity of some groups, including: “Yeu Bep”, “Nghien Nha”, “O Nha Vui Thay Ba”. This newly discovered hobby helped consumers feel more positive in the dreary pandemic picture that greatly affected their lives. 

See more of the topic Work From Home here.

Consumers also took this time to learn new things. Besides cooking, they also tried re-decorating their homes. They considered this a way to take care of themselves, improve their mood, and stimulate motivation while at home. To help their children became more independent, parents guided them to do household chores. 

Social distancing made the streets deserted and life moved at a slower pace. As such, people focused on slow living to take care of themselves better and think about life more deeply. So, instead of sitting there worrying, they enjoyed their lives to the fullest. Though staying safe from Coronavirus, some people admitted getting exposed to the Tiktok “virus”. More and more consumers started using TikTok for entertainment. The platform became the birthplace of some trends, such as the #pillowchallenge (make a skirt from a pillow) or #onhavanvui (the campaign that encouraged consumers to stay at home by TikTok and UNICEF). As reported by Sensor Tower, TikTok was the most downloaded app in the first quarter of 2020 with more than 315 million downloads. TikTok was not only the playground for young people in their leisure time but also a channel for propaganda measures against COVID-19, in particular, the #handwashingdance promoted by celebrities.

End of Social Distancing – Consumers come back to “The New Normal”

Based on the research by Ipsos conducted on 29,000 samples in 15 countries: 80% of Vietnamese consumers believe in the quick recovery of the post-pandemic economy. As observed by Buzzmtrics, over the period of social distancing, consumers did mention “end of the pandemic”. Most mentions were about planning for what to do right after the pandemic is successfully controlled. Other consumers were worried about the potential threats or prayed that the pandemic would end soon. 

The intention of consumers after social distancing

Relaxing and Connecting are the 2 utmost needs of consumers, though the needs are interpreted differently by different segments. To the Single, they planned for eating out, friend meetings, and especially traveling. Even before the social isolation rules were lifted, they used to share their past traveling experiences or tagged their friends into the travel-related posts with bemoaning expressions of wanting to travel, e.g: “I don’t know when I’m able to go “, “I do miss this place”.

On the other hand, the Married planned for family reunions. They intended to take their children back to their hometown to visit their grandparents after roughly a long time being restricted from going out. Moreover, parents having to work far away from home wished the pandemic to end soon so that they could see their children. The Married also want to go out. However, they had not drawn up any particular plans yet. They went out more for the sake of their kids than for the sake of themselves, since the kids had to stay at home for too long and could feel stuffy. 

A group of consumers got fed up with homemade dishes at the time of social distancing. They missed the taste of their favorite restaurant, wanted to enjoy the crowded atmosphere and the broader array of food choices of the restaurants. They expect the social distancing etiquette to be less strict so that they can meet their friends and family.

These discussions stated that consumers have prepared for a return from the social distancing period. In particular, the press has captured a large number of tourists flocking to tourist destinations on April 30 and May 1. Social media users shared their photos taken at the food and drink shops, showing that: We are willing to return to normal life instead of being too concerned about disease.

Conclusion

In some parts of the world (Korea and China), the pandemic is showing signs of re-emerging. Therefore, based on how consumers responded and the lessons learned from the March outbreak, brands need to prepare a contingency plan for any adverse situation.

For the time being, COVID-19 in Vietnam is under good control. Social media discussions show that consumers have returned to normal life. Some activities during the off-season will be maintained, such as mask wearing, exercising, or home cooking. Buzzmetrics’ analysis shows that nearly half of the sample surveying on home cooking has found joy in the kitchen and will continue to practice home cooking even when the social distancing period has ended. Notably, with the intention to make up for the days having to stay at home, consumers have a high demand for entertainment services, especially tourism.

In general, the engagement in new activities during the social distancing period and the return to some activities before this period will contribute to “The New Normal” state. This is a signal for industries to weather the current crisis and come out strong on the other side. Brands should temporarily stop talking about COVID-19, and join “The New Normal” rhythm with more bright, upbeat messages.