The anonymous social media trend is forcing marketers to innovate to win consumers’ trust

Anonymous social apps are on the rise. A recent rumour that Facebook has offered $100m to purchase Secret, an app allowing users to share messages anonymously, is unconfirmed, but it is a sign that the social network is taking the trend – and people accusing Facebook of intruding into their privacy – seriously. Other signs include the company’s plans to display a ‘privacy checkup’ message for users who share their posts publicly and to give users the ability to log into third-party apps anonymously. As we’ve previously discussed, internet users’ privacy concerns are increasing, meaning that marketers will have to adapt the way they advertise to appeal to the privacy-conscious consumer.

Part of the appeal of instant-messaging service WhatsApp was the company’s promise not to collect user data. The US Federal Trade Commission recently warned Facebook  that, although the social network is acquiring the company for $19bn, “WhatsApp must continue to honour these promises to consumers”. However, since the acquisition was first announced in February, users have been sceptical that WhatsApp will keep its promise.

More and more anonymous social apps are being produced to appeal to people who are reluctant to share their personal details. According to eConsultancy, 89% of British internet users are concerned about online privacy.

This suspicion of data collection explains the popularity of apps such as Secret, which raised $8.6m in funding last month. Similar apps include Whisper, PostSecret and Yik Yak, which allow users to anonymously share messages publicly, as well as tellM and rumr, where messages are also anonymous but only sent to the users’ friends. Cloak goes a step further and warns users, using GPS, when they are near to people they know, but want to avoid. Snapchat, which deletes photos once they have been seen, is another app which has benefited from people’s desire for more privacy, its success leading to a $3bn acquisition offer from Facebook in November last year.

There are several consequences of the anonymous social trend for marketers. As users spread themselves over a range of networks, they are harder to find. They also produce less trackable data for marketers to use for tailoring specific campaigns. Moreover, the apps themselves give them a platform to choose their ‘social environment’, which may well be one which excludes most, if not all, advertising.

Marketers will need to innovate to reach anonymously social consumers. Some brands have already begun experimenting with targeted advertising which does not require tracking user behaviour data. In-app advertising is one way of reaching consumers who avoid open social networks. For example, Gap has claimed to be behind the first marketing post from a brand in Secret. The anonymous post “This is the first Fortune 500 company to post on Secret. Guess who?” was heavily commented on by users trying to answer the question. More and more brands will tailor their marketing for individual apps in digital, while in retail, they will likely experiment with iBeacons, to produce bespoke advertising without the need to track personal data. Native advertising matching the format and style of the content the user is consuming, made popular by Buzzfeed’s ‘partners’, will also continue to grow.

The anonymous social trend will present new challenges to marketers, but also new opportunities. Brands frustrated by poor returns on trackable online marketing such as banner ads could do no harm in experimenting with marketing for the anonymous social consumer.