“The greatest growth in how people are communicating continues to come from private messaging, small groups, and disappearing stories,” Mark Zuckerberg stated in one of their latest earnings calls. This continuing shift in the way people are communicating and sharing content online is being part driven by the new, younger online audiences craving privacy and deeper connections than are found within many public social platforms.

These, aptly named, “dark social” environments come in a wide variety of modes but the majority can be grouped into three main categories: private messaging platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.), shared interest closed groups (e.g. private Facebook Groups) and experienced based communities (e.g. online gaming such as Fortnite squads). What users are enjoying about these spaces is that they allow them to be and share what they want, avoiding “friends” and relatives who may be judgmental or share unwanted comments, as well as being away from advertisers snooping eyes.

Understandably, the likes of Facebook may be concerned by and reacting to this shift as around 98% of their revenue comes from advertising across their public platforms. Not only do “dark” environments often contain little to no advertising, they are very sensitive to intrusions and breeches of privacy. Additionally, from a brands and agency point of view, it restricts the amount of insight that can be gathered from online conversation and how and where content is being shared.

Although there are options to appear in private message environments, brands are looking for alternative opportunities to engage their consumers in more private social environments. Nike released branded Air Jordan skins within Fortnite and Adidas have recently been prompting their fans to start private interaction with them over WhatsApp to promote their Predator range.

Understanding the attributes of the sub-culture you are engaging with and how they identify themselves (something we dived into with our Life Behind Labels research), makes interactions from brands valuable to the consumer, rather than just a blatant data gathering exercise. Creating bespoke content for different sub-cultures is the key to making these kind of activations work and should be a focus for any brand looking to enter the private social arena.

https://qz.com/1793651/facebook-q4-earnings-reveal-its-future-is-in-private-messages/

https://hbr.org/2020/02/the-era-of-antisocial-social-media

https://www.statista.com/statistics/271258/facebooks-advertising-revenue-worldwide/

https://www.voguebusiness.com/consumers/gen-z-reinventing-social-media-marketing-tiktok-youtube-instagram-louis-vuitton

https://twitter.com/adidasUK/status/1224625382437064704

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