A Changing Social Media Landscape
In the early days of social media, wide open public sharing was the norm. Today, people are more selective about what they share publicly and are increasingly taking their conversations private (Jafar, 2018). Why? Some want more authentic engagement in forums not dominated by algorithms (Holmes, 2019). Some want to avoid potential woes like cyberbullying, loss of a job by injudicious post, or having a prospective employer screen them via their personal social media profile—one survey puts the number of employers who screen potential employees at 60 per cent (Parry, 2016). Some want to sidestep problems like fake Twitter accounts and Facebook friends, or limit how their interactions are tracked, shared and used for targeting (Jafar, 2018).
And it’s not just older users who are becoming more cautious. One UK survey of thousands of 14-25 year olds found young people “want their Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts to be automatically private as way to protect themselves from unwelcome attention online.” (Campbell, 2018). In addition, they wanted social media platforms to include an option to hide likes, followers and comments (Campbell, 2018).
Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer Report found almost 60 per cent of people don’t trust social media (Holmes, 2019). Hootsuite CEO, Ryan Holmes writes, “Against a backdrop of ‘fake news’ and data manipulation, users have grown distrustful of influencers–both celebrities and media personalities. In a major reversal, trust has reverted back to immediate friends, family, and close acquaintances on social media, individuals whose personal credibility speaks far more than the size of their followings.” (2019)
Tightening up security
So while Twitter has purged millions of fake accounts and Facebook has been pressured by regulators to improve security and transparency to regain public trust, individuals are increasingly going private. They are making their tweets private, only letting friends see their Instagram and choosing to make their personal Facebook accounts altogether private or selecting who can see which status updates.
Do you know who can see what on your Facebook account? It’s easy to find out. Just click on the down arrow at the top of any Facebook page, select “settings” and then “privacy”.
What about your other platforms? The Centre for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin has a complete guide to managing your social media privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn and Pinterest (n.d.).
Many users are also opting for direct messaging and joining private, closed or secret group accounts to keep their information out of the public eye and to join authentic conversations.
Personal messaging is gaining popularity. Between them, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have more than 2.8 billion users (Holmes, 2019). If you add in WeChat, QQ and Skype, the number of monthly active users climbs to nearly 5 billion, more than the traditional social networks have worldwide (Copp, 2018). Rather than sharing openly on social networks, these users are opting to engage in private or small group conversations. (Holmes, 2019).
This change is being felt in the business world. For instance, a 2018 Facebook survey of 8,000 people found that in the U.S., direct messaging is how customers prefer to communicate with businesses, with 69 per cent of respondents saying that direct messaging helped them feel more confident about a brand (Copp, 2018). Copp advises companies to adapt by enabling Facebook Messenger on their business page and learning to move customer conversations that begin on social from the public to the private space (2018).
Groups on social media: Closed and secret
Groups on social media platforms aren’t new.
These forums where people gather to discuss particular topics were part of Facebook early on. “But the renewed interest in privacy and intimacy among users means Groups are suddenly having their moment,” writes Ryan Holmes in The Financial Post (2019). He points to the number of Facebook Group members which has climbed by 40 per cent in the past year, with 1.4 billion people now participating in Groups every month (2019, Holmes).
Anyone can join a public group on Facebook. Closed groups can be found via search but can only be joined with permission from the administrator. Secret groups are invisible and unsearchable to the outside world. You can only join if a member invites you. These can be a way of creating an aura of exclusivity and are sometimes used for commercial purposes like launches and special promotions, giving members the privacy to share more freely. (Copp, 2018)
Last year, Facebook added features to Group accounts such as an ability to participate as a business Page, update with Stories, post live videos within the group and create social learning units (Chen, 2019).
The beta version of LinkedIn Live was launched this February and brings live streaming to the professional realm. It also gives a nod to the trend towards privacy. This platform is expected to be used for live streaming of conference calls, tradeshow keynotes, product announcement and other communications typically done through webinars and conference calls. LinkedIn Live users will be able to stream to the general public or to a select group of people. This will give companies the scope to host company-exclusive and private events away from prying eyes. This is a unique feature among video platforms. (Social Report, 2019).
Of course privacy isn’t the only reasons the number of private accounts are on the upswing on social media. Certain brands are making their account or specific campaigns private to build exclusivity, capitalizing on the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) (Chacon, 2018). Although this strategy isn’t for everyone, meme Instagram accounts like @moistbuddha and @commentawards with large followings have reaped the benefits (Chacon, 2018). Certain brands like the direct-to-consumer fashion brand Everlane, which is popular on Instagram has been known to take their account private to promote a new collection (Chacon, 2018).
If you’re considering this strategy for your business, be aware that when you take your Instagram account private there are some drawbacks (Brown, 2018):
- You have to switch your business account to a personal one and you will lose analytics and the ability to run Instagram ads and promote content.
- Potential followers might be annoyed
- Your posts no longer appear on the Explore page and they won’t appear under any of the hashtags you use.
- You won’t be able to embed your content on a website or link to it.
To find out more about whether this is a strategy for you, read Benjamin Chacon’s blog, Will Taking Your Instagram Account Private Get You More Followers?
What this mean for businesses?
Privacy concerns and a desire for a more authentic community experience on social media are unlikely fade away. Smart networks and businesses will mean to find a way to respond to user concerns about privacy as well as the surging interest Groups as a safe forum for discussion, away from the wild west of public social media.
What do you think?
How do you think brands will need to adapt to the social media user’s escalating use of private and closed groups as well as direct messaging—a trend fed by the need for more privacy and authentic engagement?
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Social media users are clamping down on their public exposure
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Public vs Private:
A Changing Social Media Landscape
Brown, E. (2018, December 17). 5 Reasons Why Brands are Using Private Instagram Accounts [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/private-instagram-accounts/
Campbell, D. (2018, November 13). Make social media accounts private, says survey of young. The Guardian. Retrieved on February 24, 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/nov/13/social-media-accounts-private-young
Chacon, B. (2018, August 1). Will Taking Your Instagram Account Private Get You More Followers? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://later.com/blog/instagram-private-account/
Chen, Jenn. (2019, January 18). 7 social media trends to watch in 2019 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from: https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-trends/
Copp, Emily, (2018, December 4). 5 Social Media Trends in 2019 (And How Brands Should Adapt) [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-trends/
Holmes, R. (2019, January 7). Five trends that will change how businesses use social media in 2019. Financial Post Business. Retrieved on February 24 from https://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/five-trends-that-will-change-how-businesses-use-social-media-in-2019
Jafar, M. (2018, January 11). With More Caution and New Technology, Social Media Sharing Has Become More Private [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://insights.viacom.com/post/with-more-caution-and-new-technology-social-media-sharing-has-become-more-private/
Parry, H. (2016, May 5). Are your social media profiles as private as they can be? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.surfeasy.com/blog/are-your-social-media-profiles-private/
Social Report. (2019, February 19). Here’s How LinkedIn Live Will Change The Live Video Game in 2019 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.socialreport.com/insights/article/360023503612-Heres-How-LinkedIn-Live-Will-Change-The-Live-Video-Game-in-2019
The University of Texas at Austin Centre for Identity. (n.d.). How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings [Webpage]. Retrieved on February 24, 2019 from https://identity.utexas.edu/everyone/how-to-manage-your-social-media-privacy-settings