In a recent post, marketing expert Mark Schaefer highlighted an important trend which is probably getting far less coverage than it should.
Schaefer actually took it a step further than that:
“I think this graph represents one of the most significant trends in the recent history of marketing … and yet there is relatively little conversation about it. Social interaction is migrating away from the public view into private spaces.”
No doubt you’re at least somewhat aware of this – both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp now have 1.3 billion users each, and both, as the chart shows, are seeing massive growth in comparison to your usual social platforms.
As social networking, as a concept, has expanded, so too have the risks and concerns with public posting. The data suggests that people are becoming more wary, more inclined to converse in smaller groups, as opposed to broadcasting everything. While the capacity to share with everyone is great, most conversations are probably better within a more refined group of friends and connections.
Even the social networks themselves have acknowledged this, and have moved to offer tools which cater to such usage – Facebook, for example, has put a bigger emphasis on groups this year, aligning with the trend towards more specific discussions, as opposed to the ‘public square’ approach.
But they’re actually going even further than that – Instagram's been testing out a new ‘Lists’ feature which enables users to share posts and Stories with selected groups of friends only, creating a level of exclusivity and intimacy via their personal lists within the app.
Instagram’s also considering splitting messages into its own separate app, further separating the public and private elements – they would only be seeking to do so if they saw a clear usage trend moving in this direction.
Facebook too is working on its own private sharing – or limited sharing – tools.
New? Facebook 'Create Sharing Space' feature for private sharing with friends pic.twitter.com/Z7VCGuZmDW— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) December 21, 2017
The shift is important to note, because it’s a different way of using social networks, requiring a different approach to connect with users. The main brand solution offered on this front thus far would be Messenger Bots, enabling simple, one-to-one communication, without the need for dedicated staff labor - but bots haven’t seen wide take-up as yet.
So what else should businesses do - what approach should they be taking to ensure they’re moving in line with audience trends and tapping into this new shift?
Creating more private, intimate brand connection is hard, and can easily veer into intrusive territory, but the broader impetus appears to highlight a need for more focus on brand communities, on building groups and participating in relevant conversations to help enhance your business standing, and give you a way into that more direct communication.
Content would be a key step, highlighting your expertize and willingness to provide valuable, relevant advice, but responsiveness is also critical – and that does require a dedicated human touch.
Creating brand groups on Facebook should be a consideration, as should exploring the opportunities of each of the major messaging apps (relevant to your target audience), exploring the ways in which your business can provide value, and connect in a more personalized way.
Of course, there is also the possibility that users are turning to these more private channels in order to avoid the growing intrusion of brands, and that too needs to be a key consideration in your approach. How can you pitch your products and services without pitching, without turning people away by making everything an extended ad?
There are challenges, for sure, but the trends are clear. As private sharing increases, all brands need to consider how they can tap into those smaller networks, and utilize such shifts to benefit.