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Technology Trends: Private Social Media - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Private Social Media

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Private Social Media

Private social media networks are not a new thing. In 2005, Ning rolled out a web-based platform for invitation-only social networks, first with free plans and then with a pay structure as businesses and other organizations found the web-like, cross-ways interaction useful for collaboration and camaraderie. The year before, an open-source networking application called Elgg was founded, giving complete control over closed social networks to administrators.

While both services continue these many years later, many groups who dipped their toes into the waters of closed social networks ran into problems once the websites were set up and set into motion. Those who weren’t yet familiar with social networking found the learning curve steep and the many options overwhelming. Those who were already neck-deep in social networks found it burdensome to add a new service to check in on. Young people found the work-play line difficult to cross; Facebook was something they did for fun, and they weren’t very interested in bringing it into the routine of the classroom or office. Older people were tentative because the talk in mass media about social networks was predominantly cautionary. Private networks all over the place became ghost towns, many of them resorting to the groups function on Facebook.

But a weird thing happened. Facebook, once the domain of college students and teens, was becoming overrun by the generations before them, and many of the new users were those who’d been intimidated by the steep learning curve just a few years earlier. Now young people had not only to watch out for sharing what potential bosses might see; they had to deal with the friending of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

So they did what young people do. They found new turf, new social networks where grandma would never see them and where snooping teachers were unlikely to find them. Spotify, which started off as one-on-one video sharing that erased itself from the receiver’s phone, has expanded to include collected snippets viewable by all followers (as opposed to single videos sent to targeted friends), each with a 24-hour shelf life, after which the videos disappear. The key to Snapchat’s often baffling popularity is that the user has total control over who receives which videos, so that even if mom and dad connect with them there, they’re privy only to the activity that their children specifically send their way.

Instagram’s privacy settings allow for almost the same exclusivity. Accounts can be set as “private,” and anyone requesting to see photos must be approved first by the user. It’s this private, closed-community sharing that drives Snapchat’s and Instagram’s enormous popularity with young people. In January 2015, college student Andrew Watts published on Medium his breakdown of how teens use social media, and his description highlights the appeal of Snapchat and Instagram: Facebook is now “an awkward family dinner party we can't really leave,” while Instagram is “by far the most used social media outlet for my age group,” and Snapchat is “a somewhat intimate network of friends who I don't care if they see me at a party having fun.”

This private intimacy, one of social media’s strengths when it can be managed responsibly, is the ironic turn social media has taken with young people, who have been branded as “over-sharers” who don’t understand the concepts of modesty or privacy. They may be sharing more with more people, but they’re taking back control of who those people are and what those people can do with it.

Perhaps the most telling testimony in these closed networks’ favor is the way older people say they “don’t get” Snapchat, a conversation that pops up frequently on (of course) Facebook. This is exactly what young people want to hear; it is the strongest indicator that private social media has what young people want, and with their tastes being as fickle as they are, there is surely some newer, cooler thing right around the corner.

A Teenager’s View on Social Media, by Andrew Watt: https://medium.com/backchannel/a-teenagers-view-on-social-media-1df945c09ac6


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