After launching the Digital 2021 global report last week, we’re excited to share with you our very own local drilldown of the numbers specific to the internet, social media, mobile and e-commerce usage in Australia.

It’s safe to say that 2020 was no ordinary year and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our digital behaviour are reflected in several areas of the report: more time at home, a greater need to find new ways of connecting, a more diverse entertainment diet, and more online shopping.

So, get comfortable as we present some of the highlights from Digital 2021: Australia (and if you just can't get enough, you can find the whole report at the end of this post).

The time people spend on online activities versus watching TV is always an interesting place to start our analysis. In 2020, the amount of time Australians users 16-64 year olds reported spending online jumped by a whopping 10%, or 32 more minutes. In comparison, all that extra time at home only boosted the time spent watching TV by 15 minutes. Time spent streaming music also grew by 20%, with 14 more minutes reported on average.

Social media, now at 1 hour 46 minutes per day, accounts for roughly one-third of the time spent online, making it the second most popular media activity for Australians after watching television.

Social media is also driving change in search behaviour. 98% of Australian internet users aged 16-64 still use a conventional search engine, over 1 in 3 users turned to social media to gather information about brands they were considering. This proves that a brand's social presence is just as important, if not more important, than their website for communicating who they are, what they stand for, and what they offer.

It’s also interesting to see voice search grow steadily, with over a third of people using it regularly in 2020. Audio-only is a growing trend within digital and social, as people look for ways to engage online without having to stare at their screen. Hands-free and audio-only allows them to multitask and get on with other activities, as well as streamline their communications and entertainment. With audio social platforms like Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse on the rise, maximising audio while minimising screen time is definitely one to watch for 2021.

Related to this is the continued growth of listening to music streaming services. We saw earlier that time spent listening to music has increased by nearly a quarter of an hour, and the size of the music streaming audience jumped by 6% year-on-year. Similarly, listening to podcasts continued to grow from 31% to 35% in the past year.

Social media also sees continued growth: there are now 20.5M active social media users in Australia, representing around 80% of the total population.

Now, let's look at the overall leaderboard of social media platforms from our Digital 2021 Australia report. The report shows that YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram are still Australia’s most popular social platforms for internet users aged 16-64, but newer platforms are climbing the rankings.

2019 was the year we saw TikTok make its way on to the chart for the first time. In 2020, it moved from 16th place to 10th thanks to usage almost tripling among 16-64 year olds, going from 8% to 23.6%. This continued growth is partly driven by an older audience of late adopters – some who found their way onto the platform through its mainstream media coverage, some who discovered it through other platforms via cross-posting, and some who hopped on as a way to engage with younger family members.

As a result, TikTok became one of Australia’s top mobile activities during 2020, with Android users spending an average of almost 17 hours per month using the app. It was also the second most downloaded mobile app in Australia last year - unsurprisingly, after Zoom.

The report also shows that Australians are prolific gamers, with 3 in 4 internet users aged 16-64 playing video games for an average of nearly one hour per day. Mobile takes the crown as the preferred gaming device, with more than half them playing games on smartphones (51%), followed by 35% on laptops or desktops, 32% on games consoles and 23% on tablets.

The three most downloaded mobile games in Australia in 2020 were Among Us!, Roblox, and Fishdom: Deep Dive. When ranked by active users Among Us! took the top spot again, followed by Pokémon Go and Roblox, with the latter also taking the second spot in the ranking of mobile gaming apps by consumer spend.

One of the biggest impacts on day-to-day life during the height of the COVID lockdowns in Australia was the increase in businesses improving their online systems and ecommerce offerings. With travel and mobility curtailed, 75% of Australians went online to do their shopping, creating a large spike in a wide range of markets; fashion, groceries, electronics, DIY, hobbies, and over two-thirds of 55-64 year olds regularly went online for their purchases. A digitally savvy demographic that cannot be ignored.

For many, the pandemic signalled the Great Move Online, a behaviour that’s now expected to stay as people opt for safer, more convenient options, even outside the restrictions of a lockdown.

The only segment to lose out was, unsurprisingly, travel, mobility and accommodation. With international and interstate travel out of the picture for Australians, disposable income was redirected to other areas like hobbies, fashion and home improvements. 

So, in a year of uncertainty, fear and rapidly changing consumer behaviours, how has the industry fared? While overall digital ad spend only grew by 1% across the board, there was a 2% increase in social ad spend during 2020, with total investment in Australia reaching almost USD $2 billion (which equates to AUD $2.51 billion at today's exchange rate).

It’s safe to say 2020 was a year like no other, and with long-lasting impact on Australians' behaviour, as we can see in the Digital 2021 Australia report. Even though the lockdown period in Australia was shorter than in most other countries, this report shows how much of an impact COVID-19 had on our digital life and the way we socialise, get our entertainment fix, and shop, among many other things.

The rollout of a vaccine is giving us hope things will return to normal, but exactly what normal will be is yet to be seen. It’s going to be interesting to see the Digital 2022 report and analyse which trends have become the norm and which have fallen by the wayside, but certainly, a number of these new behaviours are here to stay, and can't be ignored any further.

New social platforms, like TikTok, are growing exponentially, and social gaming is proving to be a prominent presence in the digital diet of most Australians, representing a unique and broadly untapped opportunity for many brands. It’s never been more important for marketers to understand online and social media cultures in order to reach and engage people in a meaningful way. If you'd like to chat about what this could mean for your brand, and how to gain an advantage over your competition, feel free to drop us a line.

Now if you'd like to get all the delicious data from the Digital 2021: Australia report, check it out below, or find more global stats in the Digital 2021 Global report here

This analysis has been written by Matt Pearce, Senior Strategist at We Are Social.