Closed Communication: A shift from public to closed media environments

What is closed communication?

Closed communication describes the exchange of information and conversations via private channels and platforms that are only accessible to selected people. These are usually messenger services where people can chat with each other, send audio messages or share media content. Instead of using a newsfeed, the exchange takes place one-on-one or within specific groups.


Five reasons why closed communication has increased:

  1. Changing patterns of media use due to the impact of the mobile internet, social media channels, and messaging apps. According to the ARD/ZDF online study, almost everyone in the 14- to 49-year-old age group uses messaging services at least weekly. This is in sharp contrast to phone calls: The New York Times and Forbes magazine write that Gen Z often don’t even answer calls because they perceive it as crossing a line.
  2. The evolving media landscape thanks to the internet and mobile devices, media products and services are now available anytime and anywhere. The rise of paywalls, growth of non-journalistic channels and shifts to closed networks might be the reasons why trust in media is declining. Fragmentation along the lines of specific interests and opinions can also encourage people to exchange information in communities with people who share the same interests.
  3. Concerns about data privacy
    » The social media industry is divided among just a handful of players. Due to the series of security leaks and data protection disputes with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, many users now seek independent solutions that put data protection and privacy first.

    » Messaging services in contrast offer more privacy in terms of data protection. For example, Telegram uses end-to-end encryption. Telegram, Signal, Threema, Discord, and Wire are mostly designed for data protection and data avoidance, unlike most competing products, they don’t require a phone number or other personal information to use them.
  4. Deplatforming describes the permanent exclusion of users and groups by deleting the profiles of those who have violated platform rules. The aim is to remove the reach and thus the influence of individuals or groups. Criticism: Those concerned simply move to a new digital home (e.g., Telegram) and their supporters follow them (Rogers, 2020). Besides that, freedom of expression is being stifled and that those involved will become further radicalized in private (Urman & Katz, 2020).
  5. Hotbed for Covid-19 denialists
    COVID-19 denialists and also far-right groups have discovered the benefits of closed communication platforms to cite unreliable sources and spread fake news. This is possible and goes unsanctioned due to the confidentiality of the messaging service Telegram. Since the company is based in Dubai and its server locations are unknown, legal infringements cannot be punished by national jurisdiction.






“If you think about the trend towards closed communication even further, it would mean the end of the public sphere as we know it. And that’s a huge challenge for our profession.”
Prof. Christof Ehrhart, Executive Vice President Corporate Communications & Governmental Affairs, Bosch



Recommendations for communication experts

What can corporate communications do to cope with the rise of closed communication groups? How can stakeholders be reached at all given the increasing shift to closed communication environments?

  • Enhance community management. Stop targeting your content exclusively to journalists, social media influencers, or the general public. Instead, use closed groups where like-minded people can share and interact with your company.
  • Accept the privacy of stakeholders. Once people have adopted a position, they prefer to stay loyal to it rather than be persuaded by facts and arguments. Accept that your internal and external stakeholders exchange information privately on a messaging app or discussing the latest products in closed forums.
  • Utilize opportunities for the company. On many public platforms it’s difficult to coordinate interaction between stakeholders in such a way that all the players are involved and everybody gets a positive return. As people hope for stronger connectedness with like-minded people, you can offer corresponding closed environments that promise better conditions for active stakeholders.
  • Try to 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? It will be your task to find new ways to stay in touch – may it be with humor, irony, or simple imagery to get through to this community.


Further Topics: 


Key Facts about the 5 trends

  • Language Anwareness: Linguistic diversity such as gender sensitivity is increasingly discussed in society today. This shifts the focus of discussions from the actual content to the choice of words and phrasing. Communication managers will have to meet the expectations of different stakeholders and cultures while keeping in mind content and usability.
  • Closed Communication: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the retreat into the private sphere. Private messaging services like Telegram, Signal and Threema are popular examples of closed communication using partly hidden platforms. As a result, media use is shifting from public to private media environments. For communicators, more and more interactions between stakeholders are becoming invisible.
  • Gigification: The division of projects and large tasks into "gigs" works for companies in the gig economy such as Uber, Lieferando or Fiverr. The demand for gigs is rapidly increasing due to remote work, digital nomadism, and globalization. Corporate communications can outsource various tasks as gigs; for example, creative tasks, text layout, presentation design, and software development can already be performed as gigs.
  • Synthetic Media is no longer a futuristic scenario. The underlying technology has recently matured to a level where the content produced appears highly realistic. It will become relevant for corporate communications as organizations can use e. g. avatars to revive the own history or to enhance the customer experience. How can this risky technology be useful for communications?
  • Cybersecurity: The number of Cyberattacks is rising rapidly every year. Cyberattacks are “the new normal” and can cause substantial financial and reputational damage. Organizations become more vulnerable due to the increased digitalization or the introduction of unapproved software in the workplace. What can communications leader do, to prepare the organization against cyberattacks?


  1. Sources & screening: First, information sources which provide relevant insights into the professional discourse in the areas of management, technology, and society were monitored and screened. These sources primarily include recent publications from scientific journals and conferences in the respective domains, but also selected newspapers (e.g., Economist Science and Technology), magazines (e.g., Harvard Business Review, Wired), social news sites (e.g., Reddit Science), blogs and websites (e.g., ReadWrite, The Next Web), whitepapers, and corporate trend reports.
  2. Trend profiles: Each potential trend was systematically documented in a trend profile consisting of a brief description and several criteria estimating the trend’s relevance to corporate communications. Specifically, the research team assessed the impact of the trend on the corporate communications function, processes and management.
  3. Scoring: Based on the criteria detailed in the trend profiles, a scoring method was developed that was used to rate each of the trends.
  4. Selection: These trends were first discussed among the Communications Trend Radar team during a workshop. Each team member then voted individually for the top trends in the areas of management, technology, and society. We proposed five trends for 2022 (depicted below) based on the outcome of this process.
  5. Reflection: These trends were examined further and later discussed with communication leaders during an online workshop in November 2021.
  6. Report: All trends were analyzed and described in more detail in our publication - the Communications Trend Radar.

Research team

The Communications Trend Radar 2022 project was conducted by a research team of the Leipzig and the University of Duisburg-Essen.

from left to right:  

  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor for Digital Communication and Transformation Professional at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A. is a research associate at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Sünje Clausen, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Digital Communication and Transformation at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany.