Mobile Marketing Social Media

The Marketing Potential of Anonymous Sharing Apps

May 9, 2014

Ronak Sheth, Strategy Intern at 360i, contributed to this post.

You’ve likely read stories about the rapid growth of anonymous sharing apps Secret and Whisper, which are attracting attention from younger, tech-savvy crowds. The two platforms are distinguished by their template-based content outputs – each allows users to share images overlaid with short copy – and the nature of the messages shared (often quite personal and revealing).

Yet despite these similarities, Secret and Whisper differ in their core audiences and marketer implications. This post outlines why anonymous sharing apps are on the rise, how they deviate from more mainstream social networks and what brands should know about each platform before diving in.

Note: Scroll down to the end of this post for a comparison chart that explains the core differences between Secret and Whisper.

Why are people buzzing about these apps?

Both Secret and Whisper came onto the scene amidst slight controversy, as the nature of anonymous sharing can lend itself to bullying or abuse. For example, PostSecret, the original anonymous sharing destination, was removed from the App Store after just three months due to “abusive” content. Whisper has had concerns about teens being abused on the platform, while Secret has been used by Silicon Valley insiders as a conduit for revealing tech-world rumors.

In addition, both platforms are seeing a high level of growth and engagement amongst digitally savvy demographics:

  • 90 percent of Whisper’s user base is 18-24 years old, and the platform generates over 3.5 billion page views per month. (Source: Mashable)
  • Secret’s techy and more mature user base is primarily located in New York and San Francisco, and 90 percent of those who partake in a conversation on the app come back within the week. (Source: Business Insider)

Anonymous Sharing: The Antithesis of Facebook

Secret and Whisper serve an aim that is diametrically opposed to that of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and other platforms with which brands most commonly partner. Mainstream platforms often rely on public expressions such as Likes, Favorites or Shares. “We have gotten to a place where everything we say goes to all our friends associated with our faces,” notes Greylock Partners’ Josh Elman, “A lot of people feel pressure to perform or look awesome all the time.”

The very nature of anonymous sharing apps suggests that users should share something incredibly personal – and oftentimes this involves sharing information that an individual would never publish to mainstream platforms. As such, these apps pose an opportunity for brands, as there is the potential to connect with consumers when they are sharing their most genuine opinions and feelings.

When you think about the evolution of social media over the past several years, it seems somewhat surprising that the pendulum is swinging back to more private/anonymous forms of communication (Snapchat and CyberDust are two additional examples of this trend in action). There have been a few contributing factors to this movement:

  • Public social platforms are more about expressing positivity than reality. On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are rewarded for our positivity via Likes, Favorites and Shares. People often make fun of or avoid sad, aggressive or negative posts and comments. Secret and Whisper serve as cathartic platforms in which people can express a range of emotions without being judged by their friends.
  • There is a growing appreciation for “Perfect Imperfections.” The viral success of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign shows that finding the beauty in our seemingly “imperfect” lives is taking on a new appeal. People are enjoying the raw, visceral version of reality that many of these anonymous messages reveal in contrast to those that are carefully crafted (and filtered) in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.
  • The Snapchat Effect is making our private lives social. In this increasingly social world, people are finding creative ways to be private in public. As a prime example, Snapchat allows people to reap the benefits of their social popularity without the fear of being judged by the masses. Similarly, these anonymous sharing platforms allow people to share the intimate moments of their private lives in a social safe haven.

Secret and Whisper: Marketer Implications

Overall, Whisper is a much more open, flexible platform for brands to jump in on. It offers both image suggestions and search capability (neither of which are available on Secret).

    • Inspiring conversations: Hulu partnered with Whisper to offer images from “Deadbeat” (a Hulu Original Series) to users who were discussing topics around certain keywords related to the show. Users could then use those images as backgrounds for messages posted to the network.

  • Diving into a deluge of data: Alternatively, by using Whisper’s search tools, marketers can browse genuine and revealing conversations that people are having about their brand. This might be especially helpful for guilty-pleasure brands for which people might not want to publicly admit their passion. Here’s an example of such a post about Panda Express:

    • Informing social content: At the moment, according to Whisper’s T&Cs, brands cannot share Whisper content on other platforms, but we predict that this could become a possibility in the future or as a paid partnership with Whisper. For instance, the image below about Nike could be an effective conversation starter and way to get others to start sharing their “Whispers” or even other “secrets” to platforms both within and outside of Whisper.

  • Rewarding fans: Currently, marketers have not been able to reward fans via Whisper. Due to the ability to reply with photos and send private messages, however, there may be an opportunity in the future for brands to use Whisper to ask fans to create content or to reply with their most interesting secrets for a chance to receive a discount code or other promotions that maintain anonymity. This kind of promotion would need to occur in partnership with Whisper, and is not currently available.

As we’ve noted, there are key ways brands can currently activate on Whisper, and even more implications for partnerships in the future.

On the other hand, Secret’s branding potential is more of a work in progress. In fact, Secret Founder David Byttow has expressly stated that while the app will eventually partner with brands to create content fit for the platform, for now the focus remains on improving the product experience and assuring that high quality content surfaces.

Presently, Secret only allows users to share posts to their friend networks and to nearby users. If other users like your post, it will be displayed to their news feeds. Secret recently added the capability to share via Message, E-Mail, Facebook and Twitter. Although there is not much to presently work with, brands could:

  • Break big location-based or product news: A retail brand could “leak” their latest brand partnership or update, getting people buzzing and excited for the release.
  • Inspire Content Sharing: Similar to the Whisper + Hulu activation, there may be an opportunity in the future where brands can help design background images/colors while encouraging “Secrets” around a brand-specific topic to generate buzz and attention. For instance, an entertainment brand could spark a conversation around: “What’s your guilty pleasure TV show?”


While brand opportunities on Whisper and Secret remain nascent, the trend toward anonymous and/or ephemeral sharing is on the rise and something that marketers – especially those courting younger, more tech-savvy audiences – will want to follow.

Appendix: Whisper vs. Secret

 Cover image via CNN Money