When it comes to our social lives, there is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a far-reaching impact. Our physical social lives were replaced with digital alternatives, and even though we are now entering a period of cautious normality, things are far from the same.

As part of our report, The Next Normal – life post-lockdown according to Instagram, we explore how COVID-19 impacted our social lives and what we can expect in the coming months.

The findings come from an analysis of over one million Instagram posts from May and June 2020 – the height of the pandemic. If you'd like to access the full report please fill in the form below and you will be sent a link to download it. By filling in this form you consent for us to store and process your email. We won’t add you to a mailing list but might briefly follow up with you in a few days time.

Switching to digital started off easy

At the start of the pandemic, digital alternatives very seamlessly replaced face-to-face contact, particularly for the younger generations who have digital in their DNA. But older generations also began to exploit digital for the first time, realising that it was the only solution to maintain closeness to their loved ones.

Platforms like the video and gaming app Houseparty became popular, giving families and friends a fun and novel way to connect (even brands got in on the action). Family Zoom calls replaced Sunday lunches and Whattsapp calls replaced Friday nights with friends.

But digital didn't just foster relationships with existing connections. From virtual choirs with 17,000 worldwide members to daily dance parties with strangers, digital not only facilitated a deeper connection to friends and family but helped forge new relationships too.

While people are now suffering from digital fatigue and longing for face-to-face contact, there is still caution (and uncertainty) in the air. A rich and compelling network of virtual social interactions will be a core part of our Next Normal for a long time to come.

A cautious approach to normality

With lockdowns easing, people are cautiously beginning to socialise in the more traditional sense of the word. Social distancing is unsurprisingly mentioned regularly in feeds, but attracts a positive sentiment.

In fact, feeds are showing the joy of being able to meet up with friends and loved ones, despite the unusual restrictions surrounding these meetups. This is likely to remain a common theme as lockdown rules are eased further. It shows what we always knew at heart; people are often resilient, adapt easily to change and positive under pressure.

Alongside the joy of seeing friends and family again, there is also a new-found appreciation for the little things in life.

As a slow emergence from lockdown progresses, people are gradually experiencing the new normal in relation to shopping, eating out and simply walking through their local areas, with many sharing their joy at these moments.

Discovering our neighbourhoods

Perhaps one of the best things to come out of the pandemic is the surge in people discovering and supporting their own neighbourhoods and communities.

As the confines of our lives tightened, a sense of community and proximity flourished. Messages of hope and gratitude appeared in windows (and on the side of houses), community art projects raised smiles, and people reached out to their vulnerable neighbours to offer assistance.

All of this and more created and promoted a sense of togetherness that continues to be sought-after as people move into a new normal.

But, although feeds are full of positivity, there is also a sense of curiosity and apprehension. People know this new-found freedom may not last forever and are keen to make the most of it while they can.