The Secret Life Of Social Media

Shhhh, don’t tell anybody anything (even though I just posted this secret online for anyone to see).

It has been brewing for some time, and it’s a difficult trend for businesses not to understand and embrace. As much as our social lives are now made public in everything from 140-characters of text on Twitter to long-form videos that we post of ourselves on YouTube, there is a growing mass audience (and developers behind them) that are creating an entirely new (and private) layers to social media. And, if all goes according to their plan, it could very well be the proverbial needle to pop the balloon of how brands have attempted to market to consumers using modern technology.

What’s the hottest thing happening right now?

It’s Snapchat, of course. Isn’t it? Lauded by the younger generation because they can send each other photographs/mini videos via smartphones and tablets that are incinerated once viewed (leaving no trace for parents, etc…). The app has become so formidable, that Facebook offered to buy them late last year for a reported $3 billion, which Snapchat turned down. Turning down $3 billion dollars buys a lot of attention and street cred. The private online social network continues to grow, as brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Acura and others have been jumping on board to figure out if Snapchat’s community of 30 million-plus users (and growing) cares to get this type of micro-disposable content from brands. Maybe, it’s not Snapchat that is the hottest thing anymore. One could argue that the hottest thing happening right now, is the fact that Facebook bounced back from this rejection and managed to acquire the cross-platform mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for an astonishing $19 billion two weeks ago. With close to 500 million users and growing, WhatsApp is, in its purest form, BlackBerry Messenger (which, of course, is now available for Android and Apple users as well) that works on any mobile device and any mobile carrier. In fact, the deal was so massive that it completely over-shadowed the fact that a similar messaging platform, Viber, was also recently acquired for $900 million by Rakuten (a Japanese online commerce platform).

Think about it: private pictures, videos, messages and more. That doesn’t sound very social, does it?

While companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter monopolize the growing areas of online social networking, what we’re beginning to see is continued growth and interest in private online social networking. The types of content, conversation and sharing that is done outside of the public limelight. Sometimes anonymously. Sometimes between two friends. It just doesn’t feel like the place that brands can insert themselves to monetize a growing user base, does it?

I have a secret to tell.

While they have not been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars (yet), the San Francisco based startup Secret (that was founded by two former Google and Square employees) is getting tons of attention, followers and fans. In short, you can write anything that’s on your mind, add photos or colors to the background and customize this content while being able to share it – free of judgment – and without attaching any of your personal information or profile to it. It feels like a more modern, mobile and more social version of Post Secret (where individuals physically mail their anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard to a group that then scans and shares the most creative ones online). While Secret isn’t the first or only app like this, it is currently getting the lion’s share of media and consumer attention. Do you really want brands to share secrets with you? Does that even make sense? Secret follows in a long line of increasingly popular platforms that are moving towards more private, restricted and personal interactions. Path (which launched back in 2010) seemed like a more mobile version of Facebook with one major distinction:Path only allowed a maximum of 150 connections (which followed Dunbar’s number theory that human beings can only maintain a total of 150 true relationships). Small stuff, right?

What matters most to you: Public life? Professional life? Social life? Personal life?

What we’re now seeing is motion away from all of this publicness that we have been experiencing at the hands of social media for the past decade, or we’re simply seeing the mass development of a completely different type of private online social networking. In fact, if you look at where the venture capital dollars and user growth is currently happening, we could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could substantiate this (why wouldn’t they want to own both the public and private online social networks of consumers?). So, while Ellen may have broken Twitter with her a-list selfie stunt from the Oscar’s, we may be at the nascent stages of seeing a brand new type of social media play that is small, intimate and, seemingly, impermeable to brands, advertisers and media companies. A place where twerking could well find it’s perfect home… behind closed doors and not out in public.

Are private online social networks the future of social media? More interesting will be how brands will react and engage with this new reality. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


Thanks To Breaking Bad, There Was No Internet Last Week

Every morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and digital me…

What It’s Like To Drive In A Driverless Google Car

Every morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and digital media. The good folks at CHOM 97.7 FM are posting these segments weekly to SoundCloud, if you’re interested in hearing more of me blathering away. I’m really excited about this opportunity, because this is the radio station that I grew up on listening to, and it really is a fun treat to be invited to the Mornings Rock with Terry and Heather B. morning show. The segment is called, CTRL ALT Delete with Mitch Joel.

This week, we discussed my test drive in Google‘s driverless cars, the new Apple iOS 7 update (get it!), the downward spiral that is BlackBerry and Jordan Bank‘s new global role at Facebook (congrats, Jordan… you make us all proud!)


The End Of Work-Life Balance

We have a problem when it comes to work-life balance. There is no such thing.

This past month, I attended a conference in New York City called, Mirren New Business. It’s about as niche of a conference as they come. This one is solely focused on the role of business development for marketing and communications agencies. Along with learning new skills to build and win the perfect pitch, the hallway chatter is second to none. You can sidle up against some of the sharpest ad agency people in the business (our modern day Mad Men) and ask them the questions that your agency has been struggling with. There is no shock in knowing that the marketing agency business has a terrible reputation when it comes to burnout. In leading up to a big pitch, it is not uncommon for certain agencies to break out the folding beds and have people bring their toothbrushes and towels to hunker down for a handful of days/nights that would make cramming for a high school exam seem like a trip to the movie theaters to catch Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX 3D. At the conference, I approached the global chief creative officer from one of the world’s hottest advertising agencies and asked him what he does when asked for feedback from his team when the client presentation is the next day, and there is little time for changes to happen? This was his answer: “If they come to you at noon and the presentation is at 11 am the following day, they still have eleven hours to fix things… that’s plenty of time.” 

Technology makes this even more complicated.

It started with the pervasiveness of cellphones then took on exponential growth with the popularity of the BlackBerry, and now smartphones and tablets have created a blurring between the work that we do and the lives that we’re leading. There are currently studies looking at people’s “time to device,” or how long it takes you from waking up to make a reach for your mobile. As you can imagine, we have shifted from touching our spouses last before bed and first thing in the morning to our devices (and this includes the people who are still married). The bemoan of many to unplug, shut it down and take a break is often squelched by our desire to respond to every ring, beep, chirp, buzz and ping on our devices. We reach for these devices with the same Pavlovian reaction as those conditioned dogs. What’s a Type A personality to do?

Find your blend.

Patrick Pichette  is the Chief Financial Officer of Google. While attending a private function, a few of his former colleagues from Bell asked Pichette what his work-life balance was like at Google. Without missing a beat or batting an eye, Pichette said: “you don’t take this job for work-life balance.” Later in the evening, I asked Pichette to elaborate on what he meant. He believes in “blend” and not in work-life balance. He went on to explain that while attending a meeting in London, he would tag on a few days to spend with his family, or he may duck out of the office to grab a workout and then play catch-up later in the evening. In short, work is no longer something you do during the day – especially if it’s something you’re passionate about. Work isn’t something that resides outside of life, it is an integral part of it. How many hours a day do you work? Is it simply predicated on the standard industrial complex of nine-to-five or do you find yourself more and more connected to the work that you do (both physically and technologically)? How do you make this work?

How do you find your blend?

There are many layers to blend. Along with running a digital marketing agency, I blog every day, podcast once a week, contribute a bi-weekly column at the Harvard Business Review, and for Huffington Post, remain fairly active in my industry and community and have a very young family. It’s not easy, but I have also spent a large chunk of my time prior to making any of these commitments to establishing my rules for blend in a world where the work that I do is a massive part of who I am. Blend can best be defined by using the visual of a three-legged stool. Each leg stands for something:

  • Leg Number One: Family and friends. Without a focus on your family, extended family and friends, you will never have the support you truly need to be successful.
  • Leg Number Two: Profession. Whether it is the job you’re doing to pay the rent or the work that you were meant to do, having a profession that makes you satisfied – in however you define your satisfaction – is critical.
  • Leg Number Three: Community. Locally, nationally and internationally. You must be an active contributor to both your community and your industry. Without a strong community, there will be nothing to support the infrastructure of the company that you serve.

The secret to blend…

If one of those legs on this three-legged stool is unbalanced or out of check, the stool with topple over. Forget work-life balance and focus on your blend. Ensure that all three legs on this stool are balanced. Have the humility to know when things are falling out of place and react – as quickly as possible – to correct course. Understand that without you sitting on top of the stool (with a good posture), everything crumbles as well. This means that you have to ensure both a strong mental and physical state of mind. No, this isn’t some kind of motivation piece or the type of thinking or hyperbole you will usually find coming out of an Anthony Robbins book. All too often, we think of work-life balance as if our work should fall outside of our lives, when – in our new digital reality – it’s just about finding the right blend. And, always remember that workaholics have no balance… or blend. They just work and there’s a whole lot more to life than the work.

And furthermore…

It’s a topic that Jonathan Fields and I discussed in-depth during our Good Life Project conversation:


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