Remember when we thought the entire world would be personally represented online? Or when Jesse Eisenberg, playing Mark Zuckerberg, said so in The Social Network and it seemed totally reasonable? It’s not distant nations that are unraveling that vision, but the members of Generation Z that are right in Zuckerberg’s backyard.
Why is Facebook losing its edge? When, a couple of weeks ago, I looked at what happens when creepy data marketing goes too far and upsets consumers, I found that’s a huge part of what’s going on. The rest of it is the fact that everything we post, say, like, or view is broadcast to everyone we’re friends with—a friend’s hip grandma, an ex-boyfriend, a whole lab group—and is attached to our names and likenesses.
Kids laugh at me because I have a Facebook, and the fact that twenty-somethings use it is a reason teens don’t. Millennials have begun to realize that leaving behind an Internet legacy with a name and face is unappealing. That’s not an indictment of my generation, but a look at what makes some apps succeed and others fail; we want to be able to share what we want with who we want, all without stating our names.
It’s no secret that apps like Yik Yak, Snapchat, and Kik have recently exploded in popularity. Their multibillion-dollar valuations are indicative of simple, anonymous social media apps’ reach and relevance. It’s not fancy features we want, but freedom from the pressure of curating an enviable, “likable” life for the Web.
The idea that global communication is not identity-dependent was proven by popular anonymous Twitter accounts and refined by the founders of Yik Yak. This creates unique challenges for advertisers. Profiles full of free consumer information are no longer the norm, which means that ads need to be more subtle and cater to a range of users rather than a ridiculously specific target (a la Facebook sidebar ads). This relieves the pressure of appealing to multiple niches, but adds the challenge of wondering who exactly your ads are reaching and how to place them without invading the sense of intimacy that streams of selfies on Snapchat and one-liners on Yik Yak provide.
Consumers have made it clear that they don’t like being targeted, and history shows us that nontargeted ads don’t work well. What are marketers to do? For one, don’t make mockeries of consumers by assuming that Jay Z and Dawn of the Dead make a compelling team for selling beer to Generation Y just because users clicked “like” for both. But beyond the rapid fall of creepy data marketing, the big trend to follow is the thirst for anonymity.
Overly specific ads often miss the mark because they stem from the very identity fatigue that is leading social media users to new platforms in droves. Social media is moving toward small circles of communication and away from large groups of followers with names and faces attached. It is impossible to advertise a company or product anonymously, so finding a healthy balance is essential to adapting to this trend.
If you can’t be anonymous, you can at least recognize new preferences and habits. When content feels like it’s based on data collection and focus groups, nobody wants it forced on them. Instead of mass broadcasts and sidebar spam, organically integrating into communities is the only way to capture these fickle, anonymous social media users. Snapchat has experimented with sponsored stories, which often feel more authentic because they’re still crowdsourced and contain human elements. Since these stories are inherently an opt-in experience, consumers have more agency over what they see. The new generation of social media advertising has to understand the way the new generation of social media apps work and how their users use them.
The new apps Secret and Whisper make no bones about their missions to let users tell secrets without being identified, which has led to their early adoption and success. This appeals to human nature on several levels, and also explains the rise of other apps I’ve mentioned in this post. We like being able to say things without fear of future consequences; it brings us closer to reality, where our words don’t become simple paper trails or sound bites. Next time you’re thinking about audience, don’t try to figure out who they are—think about who they don’t want to be.
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