Exactly ten years ago the world was introduced to Gossip Girl; a TV series about a website, of the same name, that ran anonymously and ratted on the secret lives of New York’s elite. Day in and day out, across episodes, we watched the characters behave like pawns in a complicated and vindictive game of chess. And we were all riveted witnessing the kind of control this website and the person behind it had over people’s lives, their decisions and the consequences. It was fascinating and at times anxiety-inducing. It was also an eye opener.
Can people really be wired to be so affected by, and dependent on, a site or platform, regardless of who runs it? Can something that had no big names, brands or funds behind it still be an influencer? It sure looked like it on the show. And it seems it took very little time before reality started imitating ‘art’. Soon ‘secret’ and ‘closed’ groups started showing up on Facebook, usually fueled by gossipy whistle blowers, dishing out gossip on anyone dirt could be found on. To explain further, ‘secret’ groups on Facebook cannot be searched using the Facebook search option, and only those can join who have been invited by other members. On the other hand, although ‘closed’ groups can be searched via the search option, membership is again restricted to only those who have been invited by other members.
The women who run these secret or closed groups (admins and prominent members) are the new influencers online. They invest time and energy in curating the group’s members, the content and what gets advertised and promoted.
Pakistan also was quick to tap into the closed and secret group phenomenon. Some of the most influential and effective groups on Facebook are closed/secret and run by women – from food groups (for example, SWOT’s Guide to Restaurants and Cafes) to beauty (Lahore Beauty and Fashion Forum, Reviews) to ‘confess-all’ women-only groups (Soul Sisters, Soul Bitches), there’s a group for everyone. The foodies get to review and read reviews of restaurants and home-based businesses. The beauty ‘queens’ get all the local salon, makeup and style hacks and tips from a group dedicated to everything local beauty… then there’s a group (Sheops) that empowers women entrepreneurs to use the platform to further their businesses and serve as a marketplace. The most controversial by far would be the groups that claim to serve as safe spaces for women to anonymously air their personal grievances and source advice and guidance without the risk of judgment or exposure.
The women who run these groups (admins and prominent members) are the new influencers online. They invest time and energy in curating the group’s members, the content and what gets advertised and promoted. They’ve built a following and audience any brand would kill to have access to. They’ve figured out how to make the group an integral part of a user’s daily lifestyle and have earned their trust. What they say or do is the last word. And getting on their wrong side means losing out on a community of like-minded people. The moderator, as an influencer, can control requests and invitations as well as the posts and information in the group’s feed. One wrong move and you’re banned from the group. Also, unlike many local blogs and Instagram accounts, these groups have constant engagement and a system that allows you to experience instant redemption for your efforts.
Although secret or closed groups have a limited number of members compared with regular brand pages/open groups, what works in the former’s favour is the exclusivity and the targeted audience offered. For example, if a group admin endorses a brand (which is usually done very subtly), the brand may just have hit a jackpot. Brand team members can aim to join these groups by using their personal influence/connections and then approach a group admin/influential member by simply messaging them about the product/service. Another way is to start a conversation on the group and get honest, organic and unfiltered opinion about a particular product/service from the members.
So while there are still the ‘Gossip Girl’ type groups out there, which often do more harm than good, it’s also reassuring to see that there are enterprising people out there who can be utilised by brands to explore new dimensions of interacting with the audiences.
Khizra Munir is CEO, CoPakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org