In 2009, Keith Ferrazzi announced the birth of the Relationship Age: an era characterized by technology-enhanced interconnectivity where “trust, conversation, and collaboration are top of mind and top of agenda.”
Ferrazzi spoke from a point in time where Twitter was still a fresh new tool for fomenting customer engagement. Twitter’s appeal came from the fact that this medium allowed users to broadcast their messages to the entire Twitterverse, enabling people to vent out frustrations and extoll praises on a scale that had never been experienced previously. Companies still scour Twitter for mentions of their brands, engaging in public conversations as a way of promoting their company and managing their reputation.
However, Twitter’s shining star is gradually fading and I would argue that this descent comes due to changes in the way we use social media. Whereas the public quality of Twitter first held appeal for the multitudes who were eager to have their voices heard, personal and private social media platforms have now gained traction and people have moved toward apps where they can communicate with closed groups of friends and family. While Twitter still holds a great deal of value for broadcasting communications to the public, people are choosing to spend the majority of their time interacting via closed or private media channels.
We can see this shift in the adoption of Instagram. While this image-based app has the same capacity for public posting as Twitter, Instagram nonetheless has an intimate quality. Organizations have been slow to adopt Instagram, leaving it in the hands of individual users who generally post photos to share with friends and family. This intimate quality is demonstrated in the percentage of users who have private accounts: 33%.
Snapchat has also enjoyed success due to its private quality. Though users can broadcast visual stories to the greater public, this app’s appeal comes from its ability to send photos/videos to a select number of contacts. A 2014 study found that Snapchatters primarily used the app to send funny images and selfies to their friends. Perhaps this channel has been widely adopted by Millennials and Gen Z as a way of satisfying the need to share chosen moments and maintain a close, personal connection throughout their daily life.
In this new paradigm of digital interaction, private messaging is also on the rise. Facebook Messenger’s launch coincides with the decline of public Facebook usage (Erin Griffith attributes this decline to the platform’s loss of intimacy). Now the app has 900 million users and, after SMS and WhatsApp, it’s the most popular medium for messaging friends and family. The exodus toward private messaging has been led mainly by the youngest segments of our population, who have eschewed public social media for WhatsApp, WeChat, KakaoTalk, Messenger, Kik, Snapchat, LINE, and others.
In 2009 when Keith Ferrazzi announced the birth of the Relationship Age, he perhaps did not fully understand how deeply true his statement would become. The public online relationships fomented by social media marketing in 2009 are nowhere near as personal and intimate as those established through one-on-one messaging. Though digital marketers will still find a great deal of value from publishing public content, digital marketing is shifting toward private channels; where stronger, more personal relationships can be established with consumers. Digital engagement is the new marketing, but it’s more personal than we ever expected.