Private Messaging

The Next Game-Changer

4Max / Adobe Stock

Just as I started to get comfortable, social media is on the brink of another major sea change. Regardless of your station in life, it has the potential to affect you significantly.

We’re talking about the “digital campfire” model of online interaction: private messaging.

Once of the province of subversives, arch-paranoids, privacy advocates, cheating spouses and secret agents, private messaging is growing wildly. The reasons why aren’t hard to understand.

Most current social media platforms — Facebook and the other “big boys” — rely on a broadcast model of operation: you post something and it is broadcast to a large audience. How large depends on the motives of the platform. While this is useful for hearing about your Aunt Edna’s knee surgery or your high school classmate’s vacation to Poughkeepsie, you pay a price by being subjected to all sorts of rubbish you don’t want to see. This is why private messaging is growing — most people agree the “signal-to-noise” ratio of current social media has become unacceptable.

Thus, more and more people (especially those under 35) are gravitating toward private messaging platforms. Greatly simplified, the system works by users joining a website such as Discord and then gravitating into smaller, self-selected groups or channels focused on a topic of mutual interest. Sometimes you must be invited or approved into these circles; other times you can simply “walk up” and start interacting with those already there. The word “smaller” means anything from two loquacious individuals to assemblies approaching a million people.

What you can’t do is broadcast to everyone. Using the fireside analogy, this means you can’t set up a PA system and blare your message all over the campground. The only way to share things is to be present in each gathering, as advertising is not allowed or strongly discouraged on most platforms — for now, anyway.

Personally, I think this coming age of “anti-social social media” is a good thing as it negates the society-destroying aspects of our current algorithm-curated system. However, one big question remaining is: How will companies attract large audiences when the average group size is 30 people? It remains to be seen.

We’ve reached the limit of my knowledge on the topic but fortunately, my primary audience is still firmly entrenched in Fakebook (sic). However, if the experts are correct, we’ll soon all be private messaging and folks will be stuck facing the oldest problem in marketing — how to reach the audience. Hopefully, somebody will clue me in!