Closed Communication: A shift from public to closed media environments
Closed communication is understood as the shift from public to closed media environments and is one out of five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2022. People are increasingly exchanging information and views in encrypted and private chat groups, for example on Telegram, with individuals who share similar interests. People’s retreat into the private sphere makes it more challenging for corporations to reach their target groups. At the same time, community management using closed goups or channels can create new opportunities for corporate communications.
The age of messaging services
Closed communication describes conversations and the exchange of information via private channels and platforms that are only accessible to selected people. These are usually messaging services such as What’s App, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, etc. The importance of messaging services has increased provably and is pulling audiences away from traditional media and from social media. We see five main reasons why closed communication is on the rise:
- Changing patterns of media use: Media use has changed considerably. Letters and phone calls are passé – chatting via messenger services is the way to go. It’s quick, convenient, and requires little effort. In particular the young generations have grown up texting instead of calling or ringing the doorbell.
- Low trust in traditional media: Trust in media, whether via search engines, traditional media, owned media, or social media, is at an all-time low (Edelman, 2021). The media landscape has become more fragmented serving specific interests and opinions. This has also encouraged people to turn towards closed communities where they can exchange their views with people who share the same interests.
- Concerns about data privacy: Lack of trust is another factor encouraging closed communication. Messaging services that offer more privacy in terms of data protection or by ensuring end-to-end encryption are in demand. Many users now seek independent solutions that put data protection and privacy first and turn away from Meta platforms (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp). Popular alternatives include Telegram, Signal, Threema, Discord, and Wire.
- The dynamics of deplatforming: Deplatforming describes the permanent exclusion of users and groups by deleting the profiles of those who’ve violated platform rules. Most recently, Facebook and Twitter have discarded numerous users, with Donald Trump being the most prominent example. These users often turn away and join closed communication platforms or groups.
- Hotbed for denialists: COVID-19 denialists have joined forces on unregulated messenger services such as Telegram to reinforce their beliefs. A study by the German sociologists Salheiser and Richter (2020) shows that closed communication environments are hijacked by far-right groups to spread claims of an elite-driven “COVID-19 dictatorship.”
A few thoughts on how communicators can cope with the retreat into privacy
- Enhance community management: Companies can expanded their community management approaches. They no longer direct content exclusively to journalists, social media influencers, or the general public, but try to reach “communities” – clearly defined, smaller groups of interested or influential people.
- Accept the privacy of stakeholders: Since humans are social beings who value privacy, the development towards closed communication is probably only just at the beginning. Once people have adopted a position (especially on controversial topics including on vaccination, the Ukraine war, etc.), they prefer to stay loyal to it rather than be persuaded by facts and arguments. Neuroscientist refer to this as the need for social integration and narrative coherence (Eagleman, 2020). Communications managers should therefore accept that their internal and external stakeholders exchange information privately on a messaging app or discuss the latest products in closed forums.
- Utilize opportunities for the company: Community management can also create new opportunities. Communicators can offer closed environments that allow stakeholders to interact with like-minded people without being “disturbed”. Likewise, communicators can apply polyphonic communication strategies (using many voices to be heard) to get accepted in closed groups (not their own ones). Since we are still at the very beginning of this dynamic development, more research is needed. To close this gap, The Academic Society has initiated a new research project on community management: For whom are closed communication environments worthwhile? Which platforms are suitable? What are success factors?
- Restore trust and credibility: There is clearly a growing number of stakeholders who aren’t interested in communicating with businesses at all. How can these groups be reached? Confronting them with facts alone won’t be enough, as the experience with denialists shows. Can they be penetrated with moral appeals? Can humor, irony, and simple imagery get through to this community? It will be a lengthy task to find new modes of communication that restore trust and credibility.
About the study
For the second time the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future.
The study analyzes changes in the areas of society, management, and technology. For 2022, the research teams proposes the trends Language Awareness, Closed Communication, Gigification, Synthetic Media, and Cybersecurity.
These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems, and Ansgar Zerfass from Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. Selected aspects will be further researched in in-depth projects. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guide decisions.