Social media sparked a revolution in marketing. As Scott Stratten remarked, brands had to move away from the traditional ‘push and pray’ method of broadcast marketing, to an approach of ‘pull and stay’.  Communication became two-way, a dialogue. Brands were given the opportunity to speak and listen to their customers in an unprecedented way. Now, the first tremors of a new revolution are being felt; audiences are moving in large numbers away from public social networks like Facebook to private group networks, such as WhatsApp.

The rise in popularity of private messaging

As MW Schaefer points out in an eye opening article in HBR, these private messaging apps are growing at a phenomenal rate; WhatsApp now has a billion users and Snapchat gains more daily checkins than Facebook. Of course, for marketers targeting a more mature demographic, the grand dames of social networking like Facebook and Twitter are still highly relevant. However, if you want to engage with young people, especially those aged 16-24, you probably need to start looking at private networks.

The challenges and opportunities for marketers

These channels create as many challenges as opportunities for marketers. On the one hand, you have the chance to create intimate, personalised relationships with customers. On the other, you have to be extremely wary of invading customer’s private realms and turning people off. The time required to manage multiple tiny messaging groups also creates a massive resourcing issue for marketers.

With these challenges in mind, it is clear that marketers will have to proceed with caution in the sphere of private messaging. I believe there will need to be a heavy focus on permission. That is to say, brands will have to work extremely hard to be invited into customer’s private worlds, rather than aggressively infiltrate them.

Building trust with users

To meet this challenge, brands will need build engagement and trust by ensuring that all their communications through these channels are highly targeted, relevant and create value for customers. Inevitably, new technologies will start to emerge that allow brands to automate the management of multiple private messaging groups.  The challenge then will be to maintain the feel of personalisation and quality of content in an automated process.

Just as the public social networks sparked the paradigm shift towards ‘pull and stay’ marketing, private messaging apps are challenging marketers to take this transformation even further. Marketers will once again have to demonstrate agility and creativity to keep up with their audiences.