Why leaked secret documents point to the future of social listening

Mark Schaefer
4 min readApr 17

The top headline in the U.S. this week was how a 21-year-old member of the Air National Guard was arrested for retaining and distributing classified national defense information through a social media community. This raised many grave security concerns, but there’s also a vital lesson here about the future of social media marketing and social listening platforms.

Let’s get into it.

The Rise of Discord

The first lesson about the future of social listening is that this leak occurred on Discord … and it was undetected there. While Discord is a mystery for many right now, it’s becoming the de facto meeting place for a generation. This 2023 study from Edison Research shows the remarkable growth of this platform among young people:

If you’re viewing this on a mobile device, the chart might be hard to see. It shows that Discord use among people aged 12–34 rose from 26 percent to 42 percent in one year. By comparison, more people in the age group use Discord than Twitter or LinkedIn.

Discord was introduced in 2015 as a chat application people could use to communicate with one another while playing online games. The platform was a niche product until the pandemic when young people were searching for ways to chat with their friends and join online communities. It currently has about 196 million active monthly users.

But Discord is very different from other social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. You can’t be easily found on Discord.

Implications of Discord

It’s likely that the leaked documents would have never come to light if they had just stayed within the Discord community. The documents were only discovered when they were shared outside of the group and spread into more mainstream channels, an event thoroughly documented in this Washington Post investigative report.

The popularity of this secretive Discord channel is an example of a marketing challenge I discussed with Sara Wilson on a recent podcast episode called…

Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!