The WHO recommends using the term ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’, because there are many digital ways to connect socially. The Youth Lab explores youth socialising during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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The technologies that young people have available to them today make it possible to maintain strong and constant social contacts while ‘physical distancing’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. Platforms that have rocketed to popularity include Zoom, Houseparty app (two million downloads in the last week), Google Hangouts, Skype and WhatsApp. Despite the fact that young people are physically missing their friends, they are able to chat to them face to face via these online apps and video technology.

Zoom has emerged not only as the preferred working/studying from home tool, but also as a host for the likes of post-work drinks, youth climate activism gatherings and virtual parties for young people. Compared to the Houseparty app, which inspires more impromptu casual and spontaneous socialising (users get notifications when friends enter the app), Zoom is more of a scheduled event. With groups of up to 100 people, you get 40 minutes free chat. It doesn’t matter that the tool was initially meant for corporate use – youth are adopting the most convenient platform at hand. Between February 22nd and March 22nd it saw a 1270% increase in downloads, and according to Appopi it was downloaded 600,000 times in one day alone as the outbreak hit the US. It’s now worth about $29 billion – despite experts' concern about its data security and privacy.

What makes this kind of ‘quarantine socialising’ interesting, is that people are having fun and getting innovative with how they spend their time together on these video calls. Younger generations are using the likes of Zoom in creative ways to host game nights, table quizzes, and even murder mysteries, together.

Of course, young people are still finding time to party virtually too. In fact, ‘Zoom Hangovers’ are now a thing.

Pop-up remote raves and club nights like ‘Club Quarantine’ have been virtually attended by celebrities and music fans around the world. There’s so much socialising and activity that some young people are ‘exhausted’, may be craving alone-time and actually feel like all this socialising is getting in the way of making the most of isolation. Everybody knows that their friends haven’t got much going on... But, even when not on video chats to one another there are 1,000s of virtual classes and shows being streamed (from relaxed gatherings like meditation and yoga to intimate one-off music gigs). Plus, tools like Netflix Play are being used by young people to collectively watch movies and TV shows, while also chatting to one another. Phew.

Co-isolation and co-quarantining

Some young singletons are lamenting not having found a partner before the isolation period, but statistics coming from China tell us that isolation among lovers is not always idyllic. Divorce rates are rising, as couples have been spending ‘too much time together.’ COVID-19, it seems, has been the catalyst to killing bad relationships.

While most young teens are physically distancing themselves at home with parents, many 20 and 30 somethings are co-isolating with friends and significant others. One-on-one time with no breaks is not always easy but some dedicated partners are going viral for creating at-home barista experiences for loved-ones. Others have reported getting ‘stuck’ in isolation situations with people they’d just started dating.

In fact, sex and dating in a COVID-19 world is a topic all in itself. College students in the US are reportedly going on Zoom blind dates. For those on the hunt for a long-term relationship, a virtual date is an easy way to filter people without having to leave the couch! Meanwhile as worries about when sex (between people not cohabiting) will be socially permissible again becomes a heightened concern, coronavirus porn is on the rise. PornHub is giving people free access to premium content, and health officials in NYC have even released COVID-19 sex guidelines recommending masturbation.


In between managing co-isolation partners, Zoom parties and Instagram-Live table quizzes, memes are driving lighthearted conversation among young people. A Facebook group started only a few days ago called Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens, has already grown to more than 150,000 members. Upon the news of the UK lockdown this week, 100s of memes started emerging online with humorous responses to the measures. There are memes about COVID-19 itself, memes about working from home, memes about social/physical distancing... Inspiration to provide others with light relief is flowing.

Elsewhere, RTÉ’s #CreateDontContaminate campaign has reached millions of young people in Ireland and continues to drive creative, positive interaction between youth influencers and their followers.

These outputs are not only a source of relief from the news cycle - they are helping people communicate important messages about physical distancing and symptoms while also nurturing a sense of togetherness via their relatability

Brand takeouts

While many value the down-time, youth who have access to technology are permanently connected in modern times, even in times of surreal isolation. Platforms like Zoom are providing young people with some sense of normality and connection. With less to brag about, we’re seeing social media become more social – and orientated towards helping others – rather than a place for showing off. The virus is actually encouraging people to use the internet as it was meant to be used – to connect, share information and solve problems collectively. Youth are using it to hold themselves, and each other, up. Think about how you could embrace this shift by supporting online communities or getting creative with this positive side of sociability.

Youth are gravitating toward the platforms that function optimally for them at this moment in time. They are showing their agility to adapt and find the spaces that suit their needs most effectively. While there is plenty of room to provide some light relief and humour, it’s important to prioritise functionality and practical support at this moment in time. How could you integrate (fun or functionality) into current hero platforms like Zoom or Houseparty? The wide adoption of these platforms also presents the opportunity to host more intimate brand experiences for fans or customers.