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Tom Belford25 September 2020

The coronavirus has brought into sharp relief how desirous and dependent we are for communication, connection … and consumption.

And when we can’t do these things in person, we go online.

BayBuzz teamed up with NOW in July to undertake a survey of how Hawke’s Bay residents are using the Internet – what services and activities, what devices, what concerns or issues?

Over 700 individuals responded, giving us a robust picture of online usage in the Bay. With this caveat …

Fully 88% of our respondents enjoy a home-based broadband connection, while other data indicates that 21% of households in NZ do not have such access. Our survey, conducted online, obviously reflects the habits of those who can afford broadband connections as their primary means of accessing the online world.

What we do online

The bedrock activities centre on connecting – 97% use email (still the granddaddy function), trailed by online messaging services, 81% (e.g., What’s App, Facebook Messenger), Facebook itself (74%) and video meeting services, 62% (e.g., Zoom, Skype, Facetime).

Further down the scale, 33% report using Instagram, 26% LinkedIn, 19% video messaging services (e.g., Snapchat, TikTok), and 10% Twitter.

And then there’s real connection … online dating, at 4%!

That’s a heap  of connecting! But as important as interacting with our friends, rellies and business colleagues is, there’s obviously a lot more that fuels our Internet habit. This chart shows the twelve activities done by more than 50% of respondents on the Internet over the past 30 days.

Do you see any ‘disruptors’ here? Well, 81% go online for the news. What ‘news’ if not instant? Did you find out about Auckland’s return to Level 3 – and ours to Level 2 – by TV or by your phone squawking at you?! Not surprising that TV news programmes are losing audience and revenue, if not authority.

Downloading movies and TV, at 61%, is certainly a disruptor. Downloading has totally exploded the old TV advertising model, and increasingly threatens movie theatres (protected only by the big screen, the socialising aspect of movie-going, and in the best cases … good popcorn).

And then there’s retailing, with 75% doing their shopping research online and 61% actually purchasing online (with ‘bricks & mortar’ protected only by the socialising aspect of shopping and the occasional ‘need’ to actually ‘touch & feel’).

Perhaps less socially significant … just shy of 70% use online navigation. When will you next purchase a paper map? And 54% download music … buy a CD lately?

The next ‘middling’ group of online activities are engaged in by at least a third of respondents — researched DIY, home craft or decorating (42%), downloaded new mobile apps (42%), made bookings – movies, travel, restaurants (41%), browsed property for sale/rent (40%), worked from home (38%), played online games (35%).

I suspect activities here like researching DIY, pondering bookings, browsing property and game-playing rack up some very substantial online hours!

The lowest tier activities – still with most capturing 3 of 10 respondents – might be characterised as ‘high involvement’, with most requiring a certain amount of mind share, like managing investments, expressing your views (whether a restaurant review or on issues), of course formal education … and certainly online dating!

It’s worth watching how the online working that’s reported here develops – 38% say they worked from home and 30% participated in online video calling or meetings for work.

The other activity encouraged by lockdown would have been purchasing food online, reported by 31%, as compared to the 61% who reported other kinds of online purchases. It will be interesting to see if this gap closes. About 18% say they expect to do more online food shopping in the future.

Survey responses also indicate that 61% have purchased goods from overseas (e.g., Amazon), while 71% use person-to-person trading (e.g., TradeMe). One-half of online shoppers purchase online at least once per month. But nearly 40% have yet to shop online.

Our survey asked whether certain online activities might change after Covid-19. Across most activities, 55% to 70% responded ‘about the same’. By far the biggest upward bump is expected for video calling, where 42% said they would do more (including 10% who say ‘much more’). Other gainers are streaming TV/Movies (up 24%), working from home (up 23%) and shopping online for local goods/services (up 22%).

BayBuzz readers

BayBuzz readers might be curious to know whether their activities differed from the broader public in the survey. Across most of these activities, the answer is ‘No’. But one set of activities does set BayBuzz readers apart … they track the news more, they have views and opinions … and share them. This is the classic definition of Influencers.

Activity                                 Broad public        BayBuzz readers

Follow news online                76%                             89%

Read/post reviews                  26%                            42%

Express views on issues         25%                             36%

BayBuzz readers also report more working from home (BayBuzz 49%, other 31%) and more work-related use of video meetings/calls (BayBuzz 40%, other 24%).

So, connect with others, research/inform ourselves, enjoy entertainment, purchase stuff, and manage our lives – these are the online activities we enjoy and have come to expect instantly at our digital doorstep. So much so that in some circles Internet access is now deemed a ‘human right’.

Concern about inappropriate content for children and young people tops the list, with 67% either ‘highly’ or ‘extremely’ concerned. NOW comments on this issue below. A hair behind, at 66%, is concern about Internet hacking and spam.

NOWComments: Kids and the Internet

Kiwis are concerned about staying safe online and the survey results speak to this strongly. We’ve seen parents’ concerns growing for how to keep their kids safe online – this has been acknowledge by the government in their launch of the “Keep it Real Online” website and marketing campaign, promoting the awareness and need to have conversations with children about common internet issues.

NOW has experienced a noticeable increase in demand for family Internet filtering devices in the last 12 months; these devices help to filter online content to make it kid-friendly. While these devices go a long way to help parents keep their families safe, NOW believes they aren’t a one stop shop and need to be supported by regular, open conversations with kids about what they’re experiencing online. Netsafe has a great toolkit for creating an online safety plan, which we recommend to parents and caregivers who have kids accessing the Internet.

Online media

The role of social media is disturbing to many, and probably increasing. On the one hand, ‘citizen media’, often disseminated via social channels, can record terrible abuses – as in police violence – and incite and organise justifiable political protest. On the other hand, the same tools can be used negatively for everything from schoolkid bullying to anonymous character assassination to distorting elections.

It’s not surprising to see 41% highly or extremely concerned about the trustworthiness of the news and information provided on the Internet, much – but not all – of what’s questionable transmitted via social media. With no shortage of examples, from Covid and myriad other conspiracy theories, to fake or unproven remedies, to photoshopped images, to specious data, to blatant unchecked lies … all coursing through the Internet with negligible opportunity for correction or effective response.

And it will probably get worse, as the tools can be mastered by just about anyone.

On this topic, our survey did ask what ‘publications or websites’ respondents used to keep up to date with news and information.

Stuff.co.nz was the far and away winner, cited by 83%. Rounding out the top five were: Hawke’s Bay Today (55%), NZ Herald online (43%), International news sites (32%) and, happy to make the list, BayBuzz online (31%).

Online upcomers focused on national news – The Spinoff and Newsroom – were cited by 17% and 16% respectively.

Regrettably in hindsight, we failed to ask about Facebook as a news source. Probably because we unconsciously feared the result!

There will be more insights to report from our survey results, including usage differences by gender, age, education and income. Watch for these in future BayBuzz magazine and online articles.

The ‘have nots’

As noted at the outset, this is a report of Internet usage by those in Hawke’s Bay with efficient broadband access.

But there are, per the botched 2018 census, an estimated 21% of New Zealanders – at least 211,722 households, 600,000 people – who have no Internet access, including an estimated 80,000 school-aged children.

BayBuzz’s Keith Newman writes of these ‘digital refugees’ and what they are missing: “Internet access is no longer an optional extra; it’s almost a human right. Everything’s online, from banking and bill payments to travel and concert tickets, education, public health information, social support resources and information essential to an inclusive democracy.”

For more on this issue, read Keith Newman’s Facing NZ’s digital divide (www.baybuzz.co.nz/2020/04/09/facing-nzs-digital-divide/)

 

Tom Belford25 September 2020

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