The biggest thing to come out of SXSW this year, in my opinion, is the group chat apps; namely, GroupMe and Beluga.
The reason isn’t just that I think they’re cool and that they make my life a little easier. It’s because they embody to me two big trends that I see happening within our space that you should watch for while choosing sessions and taking in information at Ad:Tech:
- Social going mobile
- Social becoming (somewhat) private (again)
Social Going Mobile
As social media matures it becomes less of a destination and more of an all-encompassing digital layer of our lives. It’s not about logging onto my computer and going to Facebook.com, it’s about my Facebook information, connections and context becoming a part of everything I do online. The next logical step is for that to become a part of my offline life.
Of course I’m not talking about us becoming droids who are always plugged into the matrix (I’m not *that* big of a geek) but the proliferation of iPhones and smart phones makes it easier than ever for digital information and context to become a ever present part of our lives.
Is this new? No. But its adaption is continuing to grow and the ways we think about this digital information and how we access it is changing. Check-ins used to be fun, but now we demand more out of our social, mobile and GPS enabled apps. We need more context, more social information, more accessible and more consumable. GroupMe and Beluga are trying to find the best ways to provide that to us.
Social Becoming (somewhat) Private (again)
It may seem like the opposite of what I just said, but it’s not. As we demand more social context and we require it to be present in all aspects and on all the time, we’ll need more refined ways to express our social network.
Think about it. There’s much more to the intricacies of human relationships than our current social networks give us credit for. Sure I can put friends on Facebook, work contacts in LinkedIn and everyone on Twitter. And sure, I can refine my settings slightly; family gets restricted Facebook access, only my real friends can connect on FourSquare, etc. But that doesn’t allow for shades of grey and as humans, we color with grey liberally.
For example – common wisdom says don’t add your boss on Facebook, or work contacts at all for that matter. But haven’t you ever been to an office cocktail party? All of a sudden the lines stretch a little, you can make that slightly NSFW joke or comment once you’ve been in conversation long enough to feel like it would be well received…but how do you teach your social network to understand exceptions, situations, and just general social intuition?
Right now you can’t. So we come to an impasse. There are three choices:
- We accept that we are mostly (or all) public and open and everything we do online needs to go through our own internal filter before we ever hit “send.
- OR we take our real names and identities out of the situation.
- OR we fine-tune our social network - create small subsets of connections to target our messages as appropriately as possible.
OR we do all three at once in different ways. To illustrate:
Twitter generally falls into the first bucket. To tweet it is to say it publically and fairly permanently. Prepare accordingly.
Color.com and ChatRoulette before it (and comment forums before that) are heading towards the second category. Though that has a tendency towards creating trolls and/or losing the power of social context in the first place.
But the last option, that’s the last one that I think will become most accepted and most popular. It’s an extension of what we already do, filtering certain contacts into separate networks (Facebook v. LinkedIn v. Twitter v. FourSquare) depending on how close we are to them, how much we trust them and the type of connection they are. I think we’ll see that become a finer sorting process. Not just Work or Friend contacts but refining that to Close Work Friends, Weekend Friends, All Coworkers, High School Buddies, Random High School Friends, Family, Close Family, and so on. It may even make more sense on a topical level, People Who Get My Sense of Humor, People Who Like To Read as Much as Me and Won’t Make Fun. Or maybe that’s too far?
Facebook groups and GroupMe/Beluga group texting embodies that idea. Create small groups of people from your larger network and communicate to them in a private way. That way you can more finely control what types of messages and information are public to what connections. This alleviates privacy concerns as well as relevancy concerns in one swoop.
From the Ad:Tech prespective I would take from this that you need to look for sessions that talk about how to de-silo digital strategy to bridge social, mobile, email, digital, etc, all together. And sessions that talk about the evolution of social networking - as social becomes more specialized, brands will have to focus on staying relevant and tapping into influencers who can carry their message from the social world at large into smaller, possibly private, groups.