Are you ready for the mega-shift from social media to private media?

Mark Schaefer

Over the past few months I’ve seen a few trends coming together but I’m not sure I grasped the significance of what’s happening until I heard a recent comment from my 16-year-old nephew. Here is what I have seen occurring:

  • WhatsApp has rapidly become the biggest messaging service in the world with more than 1 billion users.
  • Snapchat is a juggernaut with the 18–24 age group, now earning more daily check-ins than Facebook. The company founder insists it is “not a social network.”
  • Facebook is the social network for most of the world, yet their major investment is in the development of private Facebook Messenger, including bots that would help companies scale “human” interaction through the service. More than 900 million people use Messenger now.
  • Other private messaging services like Viber and Kik have established footholds with certain demographic groups and have attracted millions of users.

And here is the quote from my young nephew:

“Oh Facebook is dead. My friend posted on Facebook and we made fun of him. We only use Snapchat now because who wants to put everything in public all the time? This just connects me with my real friends.”

Of course you can’t pin a trend to the comment of one person but he helped articulate the idea I had been pondering: A seismic shift in how people connect to each other. People are more interested in actually communicating, instead of broadcasting. We don’t want personal and private lives merging any more and we want control over our different social circles within these messaging apps.

Social media won’t go away (Facebook isn’t dead!), but it may become less important to certain groups as this trend toward more intimate conversation rises. It seems like we’re going full circle. The first communication apps (ICQ and AOL Chat for example) were all private.

What Facebook, Snapchat, and WhatsApp have realized for some time finally hit me, too. The world is transitioning from public social media to private media. For the foreseeable future, these intimate channels will present vast new opportunities, and perhaps perils, for marketers.

The rise of private media

The platforms have been responding to the rising trend of private media:

  • Instagram started private DM in 2014 that focuses on the sharing of content with up to 15 people in a threaded approach.
  • Twitter has experimented with Snapchat-stylized doodles and photo editing and in 2015 expanded the character limit via direct messaging.
  • Facebook Messenger will now support scannable codes, user names and links. This update allows the creation of a unique Messenger URL that will allow for greater discovery of users and businesses within the private sphere.
  • Facebook is already positioning pages and ad units with a “message the brand” option and analysts believe Facebook is positioning Messenger as its primary commerce hub of the future.
  • Business Insider reported that for the first time, combined usage of the top four messaging apps exceeded the combined usage of the top four social media apps. Falling data prices, cheaper devices, and improved features are helping propel their growth:

Implications for marketing

I am beginning to think through some of the implications for this trend and I would be delighted to hear about your ideas in the comment section.

“Open rate” — The typical open rate for email is about 20 percent. Without the boost of ad support on Facebook, your organic reach for your content probably averages less than 1 percent (this varies widely by business). The open rate for a private message? 98 percent. Smartphone users are more likely to have push notifications turned on for a messaging app than for email, a branded app, or even Facebook.

Protection against another wave of content shock — I recently wrote that content shock isn’t a trend, it’s a wave. Every “quiet” channel becomes more difficult and expensive to maneuver in as the amount of noise rises. How do you keep the open rate at 98 percent as the popularity (and potential spam level) rises? What will be the rules of engagement?

Conversational moments — Today a brand goal on social media is mass relevance. We want that kitty picture to get as many likes, clicks, and shares as we can muster. But in this new world, the goal is engagement through private, meaningful, conversational moments. How do you scale? Through …

Bots — Facebook is working on smart bots that can hold human-like conversations. This seems like the foundational technology that would make this work on a large scale. How do we insert ads and brand messages in conversations in a way that isn’t disappointing … or creepy?

From content-orientation to person-orientation — In our current “mass relevance” model, content is at the center of the experience. In the future, content will still be important, but an individual will be the focus of the experience. We will be using Big Data in sophisticated ways to craft personalized, timely, location-based content and offers. Brand communications will be more immediate, expressive, and intimate.

Permission-based — The challenge of Snapchat is to get people to find you and follow you. Presumably brands will have to get people to find and follow them in these channels.

The purpose of Facebook — It will be fascinating to see how Facebook morphs and shifts in this environment. This is the platform most brands have been married to, and this is where most of the marketing investment is still occurring. There is a comfort there. How does that relationship change moving forward?

Data capture — Several years ago I suggested that Google should give away new smartphones every year in exchange for the ability to analyze the gold mine of data in text messaging. It appears that this trove of data could be migrating from texts and email to company-controlled messaging apps. What will happen to the lines of privacy? Will there be a new value exchange for this data?

And by the way … Where IS Google in this whole development? As of yet, they don’t seem to have a relevant entry.

This is a fascinating new development and there are many, many future conversations we will have together on this topic. Let’s get the ball rolling with this new podcast episode. In the latest edition of The Marketing Companion, Tom Webster and I open up a discussion on private media and we also dissect new research on brand authenticity.

And oh yes, we launch our latest product from the Marketing Companion Labs, Snapchat Silver, for those of you over 40 trying to figure out Snapchat. You won’t want to miss this episode!

Click here to listen to Episode 75 of the Marketing Companion.

Originally published at on May 3, 2016.

Mark Schaefer

Written by

Chieftain of the blog {grow}, strategy consultant, educator, podcaster, author of Return On Influence, The Content Code, and The Tao of Twitter.

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