How to Get People to Gather Around Your Digital Campfire

It should come as no shock that when Canadians are online, they’re usually on social media. According to a forecast from Statista, Canada’s social network penetration is predicted to surpass 80 percent by 2021. This same report ranked Facebook as the leading mobile social media website in the country. This overload is causing young people to shy away from the large crowds gathered on social networking giants like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Now that their family members, teachers, and other authority figures have profiles on these sites, they’re looking for a safe space to be their authentic selves. 

This quote from a Harvard Business Review article entitled the Era of Antisocial Social Media sums up this movement perfectly: 

“To understand what’s driving this shift, you need only talk to young people. They’re saying that after years spent constructing carefully curated online identities and accumulating heaps of online “friends,” they want to be themselves and make real friends based on shared interests.” 

The author of the piece, Sara Wilson, has aptly named this private, intimate online experience the “digital campfire.” Many different online spaces qualify as digital campfires: “Finstas” or “fake Instagrams” (private accounts where people post more candidly for their close friends), Snapchats and Clubhouse, to name a few. Digital campfires are intended to be an oasis from the fake where people can garner authentic connections. Since there is such a broad array of these online havens, we’re narrowing them down to three categories and giving you tips on how to get people to gather around your brand’s digital campfire. 

Messaging Campfires

A 2019 poll by youth creative agency, Zak, found that 43% of poll subjects who were under 30 stated that large social networks like Facebook and Instagram have ‘too many people on them’ and 51% said ‘it used to be important to be seen to have a lot of friends online, now it doesn’t matter.’ Lastly, 47% believe that Instagram is all about ‘presenting an image to the world that’s not real. These findings drive home the point that young people are tired of creating and upkeeping an avatar to get likes and comments. Instead, the youth would rather use social networks for private messaging. They crave one-on-one conversations with their friends, favourite brands and celebrities. 

Some great examples of apps that have harnessed the power of private messaging campfires include: 

Text Rex  

This app is a members-only, SMS-based restaurant recommendation service from The Infatuation. Users send a text describing the vibe they’re going for and the area they’re looking in, as they would to a friend, and a real person will reply and recommend them a restaurant. To sign up for this service, members pay a subscription fee of $89/year and additionally receive event invites, promo codes for local restaurants and access to the Happy Hour Hotline, which functions similarly to the Text Rex services where users can inquire about the best wine to buy for their boss and how to make a cocktail using ingredients on hand. 


Community is another SMS-based app where celebrities like Paul McCartney and Jennifer Lopez can chat with their fans via text. Fans feel more engaged when they receive a text message from a celebrity making an announcement as opposed to seeing it on Twitter or Instagram. The app creates a dedicated phone number that celebrities give out. When fans text the number, they are asked to provide information about their age and location so they can receive specific relevant information like nearby tour stops. 


Private messaging campfires can be a challenge from a digital marketing perspective but launching an SMS-based app like The Infatuation’s or utilizing pre-existing apps like Community to build a more intimate relationship with your customer base is a great way to learn more about their behaviour, gain insights and build trust. 

Community-Based Campfires

This form of a digital campfire is defined by Wilson as an “interactive private or semi-private forum where people gather around interests, beliefs and passions.” A great example of a community-based campfire is a highly engaged Facebook Group or a Subreddit on a specific topic. 

Another great example is Glossier’s private Slack group. 

Private Slack Group 

Glossier CEO, Emily Weiss, has always had her finger on the pulse. It’s how she has taken her beauty blog and transformed it into a $1.2 billion valuated brand. In a 2019 blog post celebrating the brand’s fifth anniversary, she essentially gets to the crux of why young people’s online habits are more suited to digital campfires: 

“Let’s be clear: this has gotten much harder to do over the past few years. In 2018, nearly half of Americans said they sometimes or always feel alone or left out, and the adults in Generation Z (ages 18-22) were the loneliest segment of all. This is despite having more ways to connect than ever before. The ascent of social media and the democratization of, well, everything, presents a double-edged sword of opportunity and consequence: be an individual, and voice your opinion, but make sure everybody likes it. Try something new, be different, but don’t mess up. Be curious and learn, but choose a side. It’s easy to look towards the future and think, I’m going to stay in my lane. I’m going to find my people. I’m going to play this game of life not to lose.” 

Glossier harnessed the power of this shift to create a private Slack group of around 1000 of their most active customers. Slack is a business communication platform designed for work teams to communicate and collaborate. Their use of this platform is somewhat unorthodox, but it ended up paying off. 

The intention of this Slack group was for fans of the brand to chat about beauty and skincare, arrange in-person meet-ups, and, of course, review products. The brand actually credits the discussions in this group and their Instagram and blog comment sections with creating one of their top-selling products, the Milky Jelly Cleanser. This community-based campfire essentially morphed into a free market research group for Glossier to get a firsthand look at what their customer base was saying and respond to any positive or negative feedback. 


Community-based campfires can be tricky to organically find as they’re not typically advertised or indexed by Google. It may require some research to find a pre-existing group, chatroom or forum. If you’re able to find a pre-existing community-based campfire, the best practice is to partner with them in a way that provides value to the customers and isn’t too sales-y. If you aren’t able to find any, follow Glossier’s example and start your own. 

Experiential Campfires

In these digital campfires, people bond over a shared experience. People gather around this digital campfire as they would in real life; the only difference is it’s online, and they can be all around the world but in the same place. One great example of an experience-based campfire is Fortnite. 


During Fortnite events, there have been 15 000 000 active players on Fortnite at a time. The massive success of this online game might not necessarily be in line with the smaller, more intimate gatherings we associate with digital campfires, but 50% of teen users say playing Fortnite helps them keep up with friends. Fortnite has become more than just a video game; it’s a meeting place with a messaging service. It’s also become a virtual concert venue for major recording artists like Travis Scott and Marshmello. Major brands like Nike, Marvel and the NFL have capitalized on this digital campfire by selling branded skins (weapons and uniforms for avatars) and recreating the limited-edition product drop (think kids lined up on the street for new sneakers) in the game. 


If your brand is looking to infiltrate an experiential campfire, you’re going to have to stay up-to-date with the features of the app or game and narrow down the behaviours of users. Learn what kind of people are using the software and what they like about it to determine how your brand can add value. A little research can go a long way when it comes to helping you give your target demographic a unique and engaging branded digital experience. 

Looking to Get People To Gather Around Your Digital Campfire? 

As traditional social networks become overcrowded, the move towards smaller, intimate pockets of these websites and apps will persist. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear guidebook for penetrating these digital campfires as it will be specific to your brand and the wants and needs of your particular target demographics. It will require some time, research and TLC to find the digital campfire that works best for your business, but once it’s been accomplished, it can lead to increased brand awareness, customer retention, trust and easy market research. Arnold Street Media, Inc. specializes in social media research and behind-the-scenes strategies. Visit our services page to see how we can get people to gather around your digital campfire!