While social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram might get all the media attention, private messaging networks – such as Messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram – have all reached a critical mass. They are now social networks as much as they are communication platforms. For the past two years, in fact, Buffer has highlighted the appeal and attractiveness of these private messaging networks for digital marketers looking to take their social media game to the next level. So are private messages the new social network?
Smaller, more personal networks
One thing is certain: private messaging networks are part of a broader trend in which people tend to share content with a much smaller group of people. Just a few years ago, people thought nothing of sharing their entire photo album with everyone who followed them on social media. Today, however, it’s more likely that people will only share their intimate photos with a much smaller network of people. The same is true for just about any type of social media content – people are (subconsciously) applying different rules for the type of content that they will share with different people.
And that’s what makes private messaging networks so useful – you have much greater control over who reads your content. Moreover, unlike your main Facebook page, where you don’t really know who’s seen your content unless they’ve “liked” the post, you can be pretty sure that anyone who receives your WhatsApp message has seen your photos or videos.
A new mindset about how to use social networks
According to researchers, there is a psychological basis for this shift to smaller, more personal networks. There has been a shift from a yearning for “interconnectedness” to a growing preference for “attunement.” Put into layman’s terms, that basically means that people no longer feel lonely or alone, and instead, are now looking for ways to strengthen bonds with people already in their network. If you’ve ever decided to “prune” your social network, you know what this feels like – it’s a desire to reconnect with the most important people in your network.
And, more generally, the cultural zeitgeist has changed. Any social trend or phenomenon usually moves in cycles, and it’s undeniable that the Facebook backlash is very much going on right now. Amidst all the broader fears about personal privacy, people are getting a lot smarter about where they share their information, and with whom. Private messaging networks, many of them offering end-to-end encryption, are sort of the perfect “anti-Facebook” when it comes to privacy.
Facebook: One private messaging network to rule them all
But here’s the thing – Facebook controls two of the most popular private messaging platforms: WhatsApp and Messenger. So if you thought that you could escape Facebook, you’re very much mistaken. In fact, Facebook recently announced plans to unify Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging on the backend. In other words, you will soon be able to message your contacts in Messenger even if you are using WhatsApp (and vice versa).
By unifying all of these messaging platforms, Facebook is essentially creating a form of “Facebook Lite” – a sort of scaled-down Facebook social and communication network with access to just your best friends. So, yes, private messaging is the new social network. But the new social network sure looks a lot like the old social network.