Consumers Yearn for Privacy, and Marketers Will Need to Respect That in 2019

The future lies in messaging through apps

Social media trends are showing that people yearn for privacy. Getty Images

If you thought social was a fast-moving space before 2018, the turbocharged changes we’ve been experiencing this year may have left you at the very least confused and, at worst, lying in a dark corner in the fetal position. I know I’ve had my moments.

Cambridge Analytica, GDPR, executives in front of Senate committees, fake news, irrelevant content: all these have shaken social media to its core and created something I’ve come to refer to as “social skepticism.”

The public is skeptical about whether their privacy is being respected. Marketers are skeptical about how to measure their return on social investment and, as a result, how much of their marketing mix social should command. And now brands, agencies, marketers and consumers alike are pressing the pause button while they assess this new social landscape.

The shift by people to more private spaces reflects a clear desire for more privacy. In terms of marketing and sales, that means you have to tread carefully with outreach.

The challenge we face in this post-Cambridge Analytica world is how to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over the past 12 months. Reestablishing that trust is especially challenging because the current wave of social skepticism is driving people away from public social spaces and pushing them to private channels like Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Don’t get me wrong, social media engagement is not going to decline. Almost 3.2 billion people on the planet engage in social media every month with a million more users coming online every day. That’s 11 new users every second. The key is understanding that how people are using social media is changing.

This year Messaging has quickly emerged as the dominant communication channel. Think about this: In the past year, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both grew twice as fast as the core Facebook platform. Messenger now has 1.3 billion MAU (monthly active users) and has become an exceptional tool for business communication. More than 8 billion messages are sent between people and businesses every month. The combined total MAU of the top four messaging apps has grown to 4.1 billion. That is up 30 percent year over year. To put it in perspective, this means messaging app users now eclipse traditional social network users worldwide.

The reality is that social is still critical for every marketer on these more private channels and is integral to the customer journey. Looking into 2019, I see social’s importance shifting beyond the traditional marketing silo into sales (social selling), customer care (social support), product development (social listening and innovation crowdsourcing), HR (employer brand amplification and candidate engagement) and more.

Nine out of 10 consumers globally already want to speak with a business directly through messaging apps. In a recent survey by Facebook, 69 percent of people say that direct messaging a company helps them feel more confident about a brand. To me, that represents a staggering opportunity for meaningful one-on-one customer connections. The circles of influence on social may be getting smaller, but they are growing more powerful at the same time.

This year, the most progressive brands have led the charge in how to do messaging right across customer support, marketing and sales. Brands like Estee Lauder are adding personalized value in private channels with their Lip Artist chatbot, which combines AR and AI to help you try on lipsticks before you buy. Starbucks messages branded stickers on Viber, and Domino’s Facebook messenger bot allows customers to find coupons and place delivery orders. They are providing clear value to customers in the channels where customers want to engage.

Remember the shift by people to more private spaces reflects a clear desire for more privacy. In terms of marketing and sales, that means you have to tread carefully with outreach. There must be a clear context for communicating with customers on these channels, and it is imperative that the interaction adds value.

As we head into 2019, being a successful social brand means delivering content that is relevant, interesting and timely to your customers and authentic and genuine to your brand. This will help restore the trust of your customers and followers as you deliver more value to them, which will in turn open up more opportunities and doors into these private channels. Yes, the rules are changing. But now more than ever we have an incredible opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our customers at scale, one person at a time on social.

@hootpenny Penny Wilson is CMO of Hootsuite.