Are Anonymous Apps The New Confessional?

I was recently interviewed for the Adweek article, “Anonymous Apps Like Whisper and Secret Have A Dark Side — Abusive Language and Bullying Have Brands Proceeding With Caution” My rant was longer than what appeared in the pub, so I’ve posted the other questions and answers here. I’d love to know your thoughts on this one since it’s a fairly polarizing topic. Please feel free to comment.

1. In general, what’s your view of apps and services that allow people some level of anonymity when they communicate?

First, I should tell you that I have 13 year old boy/girl twins so I’m acutely aware of these apps and the risks associated with them. Chief among them is the potential for bullying. However, at the risk of coming across pollyanna, I prefer to see these apps as more liberating than dangerous (for everyone but my kids ;-). Of course, social media creates great opportunity for both good and evil. Apps and services that allow people anonymity demonstrate a shift among Millennials from hyper-curated profiles and content to real, authentic, and grittier musings that convey a sense of vulnerability. This audience wants to show the world fully formed online personas and narratives, replete with sad and happy thoughts, silly faces, and no make up selfies — a shift from the lopsided, ‘happy’, stylized narratives we’ve become accustomed to online. But, not everyone is ready to associate their names and faces with their raw and candid thoughts. It’s an evolution in social media (which always come with some risks) and apps like Whisper, Secret, Truth and Ask.fm are helping people move along the continuum.

2. Have any of your agency’s clients run campaigns in anonymous apps?
No.

3. If one of your clients wanted to appear in one, what guidance would you give? What are the pros and cons to consider?

As with every platform, we’d make sure our clients thoroughly understand how the app/service works, how people are interacting with it, the rules of engagement, dos and don’ts, an analysis of like-services, brands who are currently integrating with the platform, what if any opportunity exists for their brand, and the most effective way(s) to leverage their brand in the desired platform. We’d underscore the risks of insinuating a brand into one of these apps — especially at this embryonic stage in the lifecycle of this particular ecosystem. My guess is few if any corporate brands would go for this right now, but SS+K does significant advocacy work and these clients might consider a test and learn approach.

4. Perhaps Whisper, Secret, Ask.fm, etc. are great venues for some types of brands, but bad venues for others?

Correct. Brands with a high threshold for risk (e.g., media and entertainment, spirits) seem well-suited to test and learn their way into these services. Also, pro-social brands with broad permission structures, specifically geared towards advocacy could take advantage of important issues of the day being discussed anonymously on these platforms.

5. What advice would you give to a client that advertised in an anonymous app, and the next day a news story broke that a teen was bullied in that venue and committed suicide? What should the client do?

This is a tough question. It’s not just clients, but everyone should ask the logical questions about what better precautions can be instituted without impinging on freedom of speech. It’s a very significant issue for all of us. As I said above, social media creates great opportunity for both good and evil.

6. Is digital anonymity here to stay? Will the category grow? Do you think the risks — bullying, possible libel, etc. — are just the risks we have to take?

There’s a sense of liberation and freedom that comes with expressing your thoughts openly and honestly without judgement. As more people discover this they’ll contribute more and more often to these platforms. I think the category will grow if apps like Whisper, Secret and others continue to demonstrate a sincere respect for privacy, a path towards growth and a bridge towards marketing. The risk of bullying and possible libel have existed since the early days of social on virtually every platform. Being able to do it anonymously will certainly add velocity to these threads but my hope is that communities will continue to self police and extinguish these hateful rants with positive dialogue and a no tolerance policy that ensures there’s very little room for the behavior.

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