Carpe DM: The dark corners of social

Carpe DM

It’s that time again. After months of deliberation and fanfare, the celestial overlords have finally swiped left on 2018, followed by a casual slide into the NY. The remnants of yesteryear’s party poppers are all now swept away, and the big night’s stories all faded from our feeds. They are now just a distant memory, gone. Banished to the social archives forevermore. Sad face emoji.

But stressed face emoji not; there are plenty of things to look forward to, so we can bash the heart button with glee once again. After 1.27 trillion ‘loves’ on Instagram, 14 billion heart emoji comments and Arata’s heart love sticker being the most used GIF in stories, 2018 would seem to be the year of expressive love on social (Instagram Press). It’s never been quicker and easier to throw down some friendly approval of the activities of pals, with less social exposure for doing so – gone are the Facebook days of being thrown into the limelight with every like, as is the case with platforms like Linkedin. Showing we really care is completely frictionless. But is it also hollow? Do we really love our mates’ avo-and-toast antics each Saturday morning?

On face value, these fast flowing rivers of hearts would suggest an era of almost utopian-esque happiness. Total joy pouring from everything that we and our social groups do. Yet instead, the truth is far from that. In real life, the social landscape is a far more worrying picture -- the UK, much like many other developing nation, is undergoing an age of loneliness; 5% of adults in England say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel lonely (ONS). Further still, this isn’t a trend unique to those in later life, which has long been a social challenge. Rather it’s the young, fast-living socialites that are worst affected, hitting the 16-24 bracket harder than any other group. The expressive love we’re seeing on social clearly isn’t showing us the whole picture.

Just 25% of the picture, in fact, according to RadianOne (The power of sharing Data). They estimate that 75% of social activity falls into ‘Dark Social’ -- the under the radar, quasi-social corridors that now exist in all major platforms. Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp group chats, Insta’s DM’s, Snapchat’s Chat, Linkedin’s Inbox. (We won’t go into Facebook’s behind the scenes dominance, here). The main feed of each social channel has become like the kitchen chatter at a party – fast moving, spiralling, sometimes super-enhanced, often spurious. It’s where we go to be part of the big conversation, and discuss our greatest feats with enthusiasm; fun to have so many people involved, but certainly not the place to share our true thoughts, feelings or challenges. Those conversations reside in much smaller groups; perhaps in a quiet spot by the coat-rack, or lurking in an unused hallway. There we’ll tell a friend or two what’s really going.

With the New Year countdowns and soundtracks echoing around the house, it’s physical spaces that clearly separate and define these social pockets. But digital has no-such binary distinction between one place and another; it’s all interconnected. Just a link, click, tap or swipe away. Enter, the slide.

Whilst each part of a social platform plays a very different part – feed and DMs -- it’s the ability to seamlessly transition from one to the other that has emerged in recent years. A post or a story is just a conversation-starter – yes, there are the quickfire reactions and comments, but it’s when it fires up a richer, deeper sideline chat that the slide has truly been achieved. It’s a subtle addition in terms of a feature, but a major difference in terms of its social impact. Shares, forwards, GIF keyboards, screenshots – the internet has just become the place where we cut and paste content to throw into our invisible conversations, whirring away under lock and key.  

For the brand warriors and worriers, throwing tech and comms together for a little bit of social love, it must surely now be a key consideration. It’s no longer just a case of what’s being posted out in terms of images and videos (and hasn’t been for some time). But it poses an interesting question about how far a brand can go – is it acceptable for them to slide into someone’s DMs, or throw around some witty back and forth in response to their own private messages? And in such, do you stop being a brand – a single, consistent but ultimately imaginary entity – and begin to become a collection of people again – a squad of social pros, influencers and on-message folks. No two responses or conversations will ever be the same, after all (lest we go into AI chat; another time). If we’re talking Nike or Google, you might say no. But what if it was the creative behind the local indy candle-maker, or some direct chat with the host of your latest Airbnb booking?

However brands (or not brands) choose to take on the fray, there is undeniably a new element to the social conversation that must now be addressed. So save being the one who thinks they’re holding-court in the kitchen, whilst listeners gradually slink off one by one to safer territory in the corridors, leaving the various monologues to fall upon deaf ears, or no ears at all.

TL;DR: New year means new chat. In format and style.

After all, it’s 2019. Seize the year. Carpe DM.


The piece is by Steve Quirke, Head of Strategy at Your Favourite Story and first appeared here