Are we shifting to anonymity? - Social Media Explorer
Are we shifting to anonymity?
Are we shifting to anonymity?

Anyone notice the ever-so-subtle shift that is happening right before our eyes? What was once assumed that the world was perfectly content living life very publicly – live tweeting lunch, sharing their location at any given moment – is slowly starting to change. And I believe we are on the cusp of the anonymity revolution. Don’t believe me, well then how about the recent headline: “Facebook Is About To Let You Go Anonymous For The First Time”. Dun-dun-duuuuuuunnnnnn.

And let’s be honest, if Facebook is getting into it, with their 1 billion users, there has got to be a reason. I am sure it started before Snapchat, but since then, there has been a pretty good shift toward anonymous/private content. Look at Whisper or Secret; people have a desire to keep some thoughts and opinions private. In fact, I wish some of my social network would consider their political updates as a Whisper instead…#justsayin. Even with Path, you select a small group of people to interact with. People you can trust to know who you are and get your jokes that others might find slightly off-putting. Because there is a demand and a need.

How do I know?


I have been learning a lot about rapid prototyping and lean methodology lately and what I have found is that if a shift is happening en mass, it is because someone had an idea and the people who they asked about that idea loved it and spread it around the world. Because nothing grows exponentially unless it solves an unmet human need. Think about it: we are now all very comfortable using technology to update people in the world about our current thoughts and conditions. But, what’s happened is that those thoughts are the thoughts we WANT people to know about us.

Our social presence is becoming an exercise in personal branding. And you know what? When people try to brand themselves, the focus is always on the aspiration of how they want to be perceived. Not who they actually are. And it is lonely. Because it is lonely and we do not want the world to know what’s really going on when we are not our “branded” persona, we need an outlet. There is an unmet human need to be heard in those moments when we are a scared child.

This is a boon to marketers

All of this private and anonymous content could be a scary trajectory for many social marketers. I mean we are just getting the whole social media/content marketing thing nailed. But, the shift to anonymous social and identity obscuring content doesn’t have to mean that our social broadcast outlets are going to shrink. I do not see a day anytime soon when people will stop using social channels altogether. Yes, the platforms will change, but the behavior is now ingrained in society. To me saying that anonymity will lead to the death of social is like saying: “Well, because I have Facebook I’m never call my mom or best friend again”. We will still have social media to attract and interact with customers.

The real opportunity is that with these new outlets, we can get a LOT more insight, albeit anonymously, into the minds and hearts of people who might be buying our products. Insights into our deepest customer thoughts are GOLD! Understanding their inner thoughts and quiet fears is better than any focus group ever done. Because no one sees who they are. They are talking in the dark with a voice modulator. People can hear them but have no idea who is making the sound.

Maybe we use tools like Whisper or Secret to study people to understand what they are thinking privately. We understand their fears and joys. When we understand our customer, we can create experiences and content for them that has a deeper, more resonate connection and isn’t that what we all want anyway, to feel connected to someone or something that understands me?

Gathering these types of insights was never before available so, it is entirely possible that we are not shifting, but gaining. People will continue to use social in traditional ways, but they are also going to use new tools to express who they are when no one is looking. It is an extra layer for our marketing and we should use it wisely.

About the Author

Tracey Parsons
Since 1995, Tracey has been developing digital solutions. Currently SME Digital’s lead strategist, she continues to be dedicated to bringing cutting edge, thoughtful and measurable solutions to marketers. With more than 15 years in digital, Tracey not only brings vision, but the tools and strategies to execute against complex next generation concepts. She has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to develop and devise cutting-edge social, mobile and digital marketing practices.
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  • Okay, I’ll open the discussion because there’s a big distinction that needs to be drawn: There’s a HUGE difference in privacy and anonymity. Snapchat and the like are more private social networks. You do share with people you know and they know you. Secret is a disaster waiting to happen — Who the hell wants to read anonymous rumors with no substantiation, etc.? I can’t see this one lasting.

    The reason is that anonymity is a community killer. Think about the social channels you hate – newspaper website comments sections, YouTube comment sections, some forums and message boards. Why? They allow for anonymity.

    While privacy and private social networks are very much the wave of the future … a natural market response to the consumer need to circle in who they share with … anonymity better not be or we’re asking for a universe of awfulness on the web and one that will not benefit brands in any way. It’s bad enough there are actual people with actual identities online that will claim you’ve damaged their family forever because their package arrived 24 hours later than promised. Remove accountability from customer service channels and you’ve got anarchy. Brands would likely retreat en masse rather than deal with that nonsense.

    I do see a future for private social networks, but I don’t see an easy way into those for marketers. People don’t want to talk to brands, at least not privately. Sure, there’s a customer service argument to be made, but I’m on Path where your friend circle is limited to 150 people. I’ll be damned if I’d ever let a brand be my friend there. It just makes no sense.

    Remember that social media channels emerged because consumers were running away from marketers and marketing. Private social channels will finally give them their closed-door social channels while the public ones remain for all the noise. The only challenge these networks will find is how to stay financially solvent without allowing the marketers in the door.

    • Tracey Parsons

      Thought provoking as always, Jason.

    • Kymberlaine Banks

      Even with the customer service argument, anonymity doesn’t help the interaction. Brands need to understand the impact their products and services are really having in their marketplace and who the customer really is and what they want. Anonymity creates an environment that is the opposite of trusting. Privacy yes, anonymity, absolutely NO.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Jason – I totally agree that anonymity and privacy are two things. However, it doesn’t matter if we like it or not, audiences are starting to crave anonymity to say things they can’t say as themselves. When I look at Secret, I see a lot of what you are talking about. There is a ton of negativity and it showing a side of your friends that you don’t really want to see. However, I think Whisper has hit on something really interesting. It isn’t about tapping into your existing social graph. It’s about sharing your inner most thoughts in an anonymous way. The functionality is limited to hearting something or sharing something. They just added private messaging, so that could change the dynamic a bit but time will tell. Brands don’t like anonymity because it is a veil that encourages trolls. I don’t think the type of anonymity I see on Whisper has a brand play from a publishing and engaging standpoint. However, I see a tremendous opportunity for brands to mine their customer’s private thoughts about them. Just do a search for McDonald’s on Whisper. There are stories of employees paying for a regular customer’s food who didn’t have enough money on her gift card and people buying McDonald’s and delivering it to homeless people. And there are terrible stories from employees giving a homosexual couple’s son a girl toy “because that’s what he’ll act like anyway”, people judging overweight people who eat there, and complaining about employees with accents. There is good and bad, but the reality is when you look at these conversations you see that overall it is an honest reflection of the kind of people in our society who are interacting with the brand and their inner most thoughts. That kind of knowledge can be extremely powerful for brands. And it can also be a needed outlet for people who feel like they are living a double life with the “real” self and the person they present in public. Anonymity in the wrong type of community is a community killer. However, I’m seeing an elegant solution with what Whisper has created. Just my two cents.

      • Tracey Parsons

        You get me.


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