7 conclusions for political campaigns about Zuckerberg’s vision for social media

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (whose business enterprise also controls Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) has laid out his vision for the Internet for the next couple of years. Since political campaigns rely quite heavily on the services provided by Facebook, his vision merits an intense look. How will it shape the digital toolbox that campaigns can use? In our analysis, we try to read between the lines and draw conclusions concerning the major impacts of the anticipated shift in Facebook’s strategy.

  1. The essay is more like a product roadmap for Facebook than a vision for the internet. It clearly stakes out the new priorities of the Facebook developer teams: messaging and private communication. In Zuckerberg’s essay, the word privacy can almost be read as a stand-in for “messaging.” When he writes that he “believe[s] a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today's open platforms,” what he means is that messaging products (Messenger, WhatsApp) will become more important than traditional platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

  2. The reason for this is clear and Zuckerberg’s explanation of his projection is the key sentence of his essay: “Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.” Although he does not specifically mention this, in fact the growth curve of traditional open sharing platforms such as Facebook is flat or even falling in certain aspects. WeChat is a success story in China and Facebook thinks Messenger and WhatsApp could evolve into something like that.

  3. To be clear: Facebook and Instagram will continue to be around, this vision does not really impact them. Political campaigns will be able to continue to use those channels. However, it is an alarming sign that even the owner of those platforms has lost faith in their long-term success. So, a clever political strategist should learn from this and start looking for new ways to reach out to voters. And again, Zuckerberg points the way in his essay: “In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network.”

  4. For campaign experts, the major takeaway here is that they have to invest resources (including their time to try and understand how this could work in their case) to stay ahead of the curve and include messaging in their digital toolbox. Right now, the best opportunity to be present in this segment of the communications market is to operate a Messenger bot-based channel for politicians. For a first impression of a typical voter’s experience when engaging a politician’s Messenger channel, try our demo politician bot: m.me/oliverthepolitician.

  5. Since we have launched and operated many successful political Messenger channels, our experience makes us ideally-suited for preparing you: it is not an easy ride. It is harder to get the initial attention of your voters and it is easier for voters to “mute” you if your messaging seems irrelevant. Despite these risks, it holds out some huge potential benefits. You cannot compare the intensity and intimacy of an interaction within a messaging app with that of engaging someone through a news feed. In a messaging app, you have the undivided attention of your voter and it is usually interactive. Thus, it is more challenging, but it is also superior to traditional social media. And as the whole Zuckerberg essay suggests, it is an up and coming channel.

  6. The different Facebook-owned messaging channels (Messenger, WhatsApp and Direct in Instagram) will be integrated into one experience and Zuckerberg aims to include SMS (and its expected successor RCS) in the mix: “We plan to start by making it possible for you to send messages to your contacts using any of our services, and then to extend that interoperability to SMS too.” However, it is not clear what services will be available in this integrated channel. As of now, Messenger makes it possible to reach your voters officially at scale, while the same level of access to voters is much more difficult to attain in WhatsApp (it is mainly possible through small peer-2-peer groups). It seems likely that this possibility will continue to be available. As the essay tells us, the way forward for Facebook engineers is to “focus on the most fundamental and private use case -- messaging -- make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.” In Facebook terminology, the category of “businesses” also includes politics and political campaigns.

  7. The Zuckerberg essay gives us some information about the principles he plans to build his messaging empire upon: private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability and secure data storage. What this means for political campaigns is that it will be possible to engage with voters on this channel, but it will be much harder to reach them here. Voters will have the right to choose if they want to connect with us or not.

As a conclusion, we can say that using messaging in politics will become a must fairly quickly. In the long run, it will be the most important channel for reaching voters. Any investment and effort in this area guarantees that your campaign will be among the first movers into an area you ultimately will have to get to know in detail. Our company, DatAdat has vast experience in this field. Senior DatAdat staffers have previously worked in politics and have years of high-level campaign experience under their belt, so we know what we are talking about. You can visit our product website winwith.me to get more information and do not hesitate to contact us, we are here to help.

If you are ready to learn more about messaging in politics, we are ready to help you. Our team has a huge experience in this field and we are happy to share it with you. Please contact us for a private consultation to find out how you could fit in messaging in the campaigns you are running.

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