How COVID-19 Has Impacted B2B Content Consumption

NetLine shares its B2B marketing trend observations following COVID-19.

It’s been just over a month since the United States recognized and grappled with the severity of COVID-19. 

The flurry of texts and tweets flying through my phone the night of Wednesday, March 11, 2020, are things I’ll never forget. 

News of positive tests in the NBA and from actor Tom Hanks hit home harder than any warning we’d gotten from officials and healthcare workers before. (Incredible that the canaries in the coal mine ended up being basketball players and one of America’s favorite actors, right)  Normalcy was immediately replaced by anxiety and unease, forever altering the way we’d look at neighbors and strangers. An entire way of life seemed to vanish overnight.

So in these ~30 days, just how much have things changed?

Content Consumption is Skyrocketing

To absolutely no one’s surprise, people are consuming a ton of content. At a time when people are sheltering in place, streaming services and other content act as a distraction from the unease of dealing with an invisible foe. 

Nielsen predicted as much right around St. Patrick’s Day, saying that consumption would jump 60%. Netflix has reported all-time traffic numbers to the point where they needed to reduce bandwidth by up to 25%.

But that’s just the content that’s consumed when we’re not working (or maybe you’re watching Tiger King when you are working, too; these are unprecedented tiger times, after all).

How Business Consumption Patterns Have Changed

Naturally, we’re mostly concerned with how professionals are reacting to (and coping with) this new reality. With our ability to track first-party data in real-time, we’ve been able to follow the story the market’s been telling us as it’s happened. 

Demand for Coronavirus Content Has Exploded

Everyone and their mother have been clamoring to learn more about this novel coronavirus. Of course, being a brand new threat, there was no pre-existing content beyond breaking news coverage. 

To meet the needs of our audience, NetLine reached out to dozens of our publishing partners, asking that they upload any and all of their best COVID-19 information, research, and associated topics to the platform. With this material, we built a dedicated resource center — featuring pieces like the immensely popular Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Quick Reference Guide — where professionals could find more than 9,000 pieces at no-cost.

In total, we saw nearly 45,000 content requests for this topic specifically in March 2020 – one of the largest totals we’ve ever seen on the platform for a new topic.

Requests for Remote and Work From Home Content Rose Rapidly

The topic of working from home has remained quite level in the past few years. Basically, businesses and/or their leadership either were permitted it or they didn’t. Interest would come and go depending on the week, but it never registered as a “hot” topic within Google Trends.

How quickly things can change. 

From the moment 2020 rolled into March, interest in information on working from home began to rise around the United States and the globe. The details of COVID-19’s impact on China, Italy and small pockets of the United States began dominating headlines and social media chatter, leading businesses to consider how they could protect themselves and their employees.

At the same time, NetLine noted a change within consumer behavior, just as Google had, beginning March 1st. The chart below shows the activity requests for content related to Working from Home and/or Video Conferencing within our platform.

The week of February 23, 2020, we only logged a handful of downloads for content matching this description. One week later (March 1, 2020), those same topics had ballooned to 1,678 downloads, with another 5,899 requests coming the following week.

Video Conferencing “How To” Downloads Increased

When people work from home, there’s a greater emphasis and value assigned to face-to-face communication. Despite the fact that video chats aren’t new technology, many businesses weren’t used to using them casually, let alone for daily operations or meetings. This meant a lot of folks had to learn new technology in a hurry. 

While more users requested work from home and remote management content, video conferencing information saw a similar spike in interest. We expect to see a similar situation later this year as more teams accept video meetings as a new professional standard.

Coronavirus Took Center Stage, But Not All of the Spotlight

In the month of March, topics like Windows 10 Mastery, Guides to the Dark Web, Career Reinvention, and 100 Tips for Saving Money ranked within the Top 5 of the most content requested. Beyond that, the month was dominated by titles like 9 Strategies for Working Remotely During the Coronavirus, Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Quick Reference Guide, and 8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Coronavirus. 

While the world has certainly reprioritized a bit for the next few months, we haven’t seen a significant drop-off in overall demand. What we can say for certain is that, for the time being, safety is being prioritized over business. 

Leadership Requested Content First

In an era of unprecedented disruption to normal, everyday operations, it’s vital that leaders act quickly to protect both the health of their people and their businesses. It’s encouraging, then, that of all the people who requested COVID-19 & work from home content the first downloads happened to be from executives, directors, & managers. 

In reviewing the chart above, Directors, Managers, and Individual Contributors were the first job level groups to request content in droves. The weeks of the 8th and 15th saw the C-Suite get involved in greater numbers, while, still, Directors downloaded the most content. 

As our own SVP of Audience, Product, & Marketing, David Fortino, said, “Executives and management needed to do their homework prior to simply telling everyone, ‘go work from home’. They needed to research how they could actually manage and maintain some normalcy.”

Safe to say that plenty of homework was done. 

The States Hit Hardest Were the Most Active

The majority of the requests for Coronavirus content came from 8 of the 10 most populous states in the country, all of which are facing the greatest strain from the virus, relative to the number of cases each has reported.

Population size aside, we’d like to call attention to how the Peak Week of Relevant Subscriptions columns tell the story of how quickly the virus either took hold or how swiftly each State reacted.

For example, my home state of Pennsylvania took decisive action in the regions of the commonwealth closest to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in mid-March, ordering citizens to stay at home and non-essential businesses to close their physical offices. When the orders did come down from the Governor’s office, people had already been anticipating a change in “business as usual”. 

Given the size of these areas, we expect that residents will continue to download COVID-19 content, just not in the same volume. 

The Initial Wave Has Subsided But More Will Follow

Businesses along the coasts and across the Northeast have all, for the most part, responding accordingly. They’ve requested and ingested the content needed to prepare for the virus and its disruption. Even though we seem to have reached a peak, there are more to come. We don’t know when “normal” will return, unfortunately. 

The South, Midwest, & Great Plains still have yet to see the same level of permeation that the rest of the country has. Despite the fact that their populations are smaller and their communities more spread out, they’ll face the same questions and dilemmas others have already encountered. 

How Your Business Can Adapt in This Surreal Reality

Life is strange right now. There’s a whole lot we’ve had to adapt to already and there will undoubtedly be more adjustments to make in the coming days and months. 

The trend we see in our data reflects what we’ve seen in the world: those who adapt have an opportunity to survive, if not thrive. 

For content marketers, adaptation should be part of your DNA at this point. Knowing that there is both an appetite for normal (i.e. software proficiency, productivity hacks, career advice, etc.) and highly specific information surrounding COVID-19 gives us plenty to cover.

Creating content that straddles these worlds still requires that you use the same principles you always would: Does this matter to my audience? Does it provide genuine value? Ultimately, providing value might be the best approach across the board, which continues to hammer home the basic premise content marketing’s long been trying to share. 

To see how your industry has been impacted by the novel Coronavirus, visit Audience Explorer and see how your business can adapt to a new reality.