Anonymous apps are the latest craze. But what are they, and why are so many of them popping up?
First, of course, nothing online is guaranteed to be truly anonymous. Clever audience tracking, or just knowing which friend of a friend has the job they’ve talked about hating, means you can often trace content back to the original creator.
But the popularity of apps like Whisper and Secret is precisely because of their surface anonymity (Whisper is reported to have 3.5 bn views a month).
Whisper lets you post short, anonymous, messages, which anyone else using the service can see and reply to, while Secret lets you post anonymous messages to anyone on your mobile’s contact list.
One app, Cloaq, plays so strongly on its anonymity feature that it refuses to name the people working on it, and doesn’t require an email address or phone number to use it.
All these apps are incredibly popular with kids and teenagers, who can post what they really want to say, without having to worry about what their family will say, or what their friends will think of them.
Children and teens will always be drawn to anonymity. They are exploring their identities, trying new things, and working out how they feel about a range of things.
Sometimes that’s easier to do when you’re hidden. Safety is a huge issue here, and the developers of these apps have a real responsibility to ensure children are kept safe from bullying, and that there is adequate intervention when a child is at risk of self-harm. (That’s a post for another day.)
There’s nothing new about the ability to post content anonymously. People have been using pseudonyms online for years (even on sites that supposedly don’t allow it), and sites like ask.fm have long let members post anonymously if they wish.
Some commentators, like Bill Gurley, argue that these apps represent a new phase in online communications. Facebook was one phase, and now we have anonymity.
We’re at a point where people are starting to think more about the privacy of their data (as Google has discovered) and it will be interesting to see whether people believe their data is more closely protected because their posts are anonymous.
Investors are putting millions into anonymous apps because they look sexy right now.
The real decider for brands is whether these apps are going to be a good association for your company’s reputation. If you’re going to put your money behind the latest app, it must be well-managed and trusted, and not associated with the darker side of anonymity, such as bullying, or self-harm.
I always advise brands to really get to know an app before jumping in with a marketing campaign. Make sure someone on your team really understands how it works, and how people use it before you back it as the Next Big Thing.