Why do we Whisper?

I work in the world of Social Media and am fascinated with the way we communicate and share content, but as excited as I am for the future of the industry, I am also sometimes ironically bitter and apprehensive when new networks come to fruition, especially when I know I can’t ignore them anymore. I get over that apprehensiveness pretty quick though (or I’d have no career).

Screenshot of the Whisper user interface. Take note to the various types of posts.

Given that it has come up in various conversations with particularly well-versed colleagues, again in a recent job interview and of course the 1.5 billion page views a month and $36 million in fundng it just received, the realization of the last couple weeks was that I can’t ignore Whisper anymore. I’m clearly a little late to the game, but I wanted to test it for myself and make my own initial judgments. Whether or not we can find a way to use it for our brands is another topic. For now, I’m just exploring.

For those who don’t know, Whisper is an app complete with a web component that allows users to superimpose text onto images and post them anonymously. You can further privately message people with the same anonymity. Using it feels like a mix of Pinterest, Twitter & the older Post Secret, but presented in a modern, sleek way — oh, and in an app. Its competitors are the likes of Yik Yak, Secret and Confide.

Needless to say, I had to test it out for myself and see what all the hype is about. Its target demographic is the same as the brands I work with after all. I’ve had it for about a week now and I think I’m starting to understand its appeal, though admittedly, I probably won’t stay on it. So without further ado, here is are my thoughts!

1. It gets real, quick.

We know there’s safety in anonymity. One will admit a lot more when there’s no fear of being judged. It’s the basis of all our care hotlines, AA, NA, etc.

Given the app’s fun meme-like UI, I was surprised by the amount of shockingly personal posts on topics such as: suicide, virginity, incest, bad relationships, etc. The replies I could see were encouraging and sweet though.

I tested one VERY light post simply saying ‘I won’t go into fast food joints alone’ (I won’t. Sorry, McD’s, if it’s not social, it’s not happening). The private replies were so adorable: first they (the people that replied) asked probing questions to find out my gender and if I didn’t like it because was I was embarrassed or scared. They followed up with reassurance and encouraging me not to worry. If I get that type of ‘support’ for a harmless test post about fast food, I can only imagine what those posting intensely personal ‘whispers’ are receiving.

Of course these are juxtaposed with the light-hearted, quirky ‘I secretly collect marbles’ posts, but I guess everyone hides different parts of themselves.

2. There’s instant gratification

I tested 5 different ‘Whispers’ of varying sorts. Regardless of what or when I posted, there were responses either in the form of ‘hearts’, ‘replies’ or ‘chats’ within minutes. I suppose it’s cool to know others can relate to how you secretly think or feel. This response rate can be quite addictive. On the other hand, if you are one of the people posting about something more serious, those quick, encouraging responses may be just what you need.

The responses are so gratifying however that it may invite people to troll and post inflated ‘secrets’ or straight-up lies just for the engagement. The same phenomenon is common on Reddit. Users get accused of posting things they know most Redditors would like just to get Reddit gold. The danger of course is that stuff like this happens — straight-up lies are believed as truths and make the news!

3. There’s dangers in anonymity

You can’t always know how people will use new networks, but leave it to teenagers to find the worst way possible. Because these apps allow location-based searches within a small radius, you can see what people are posting right around you. High school students decided this would be the perfect way to divulge the secrets of their “friends” and/or to bully those who don’t make that title. Thus these networks are being blamed for various cyber bullying incidents.

One of those well-versed colleagues I mentioned earlier captured my feelings about this perfectly in a tweet:

As a higher ed pro, anonymous messaging apps like Yik Yak trouble me. But as a digital/social media pro, I understand why they exist.

There was clearly an unmet need and companies like Whisper and Yik Yak filled it. Easy. Done. Obviously, the other side of me is still worried for the future of humanity. What else is new…

4. The rules for ‘strangers’ still apply

Because Gen Y is so used to being exposed online, I think many of us have just become accustomed to it. I had some chats quickly turn the way of “Oh so you live in Toronto, where in Toronto do you live?” I’m conscious of that, but why can I only imagine that one situation where a naive young user will give their location and it ends up being ‘not who they thought it’d be’. As you’ve heard a million times, BE CAREFUL ONLINE.

5. It’s not a dating app -__-

I guess this kind of behaviour is expected. There’s immaturity everywhere. Alongside my serious personal chats, there were also the “Are you a girl or guy?” “Girl” “Want to hook up?” -__- [Back > Delete Chat]

If you’re that person, just don’t. You’re annoying. Hit up Tinder.

[I’m sure I’ll add to this list eventually]

Why are they so popular?

I think with the rise of social media and online profiles in the last 5 years, we have all worked so hard to make sure we do have an identity. Everything is about how we’re perceived. No one posts their actual day-to-day — they post the coolest parts of their day-to-day — the things worth ‘sharing’. With social media, and really the online world in general, you can be the architect of that ‘perception’. You ask yourself subconscious (or conscious for some of us) questions and the answers are reflected on your profiles:

What do your want your life to look like?
Post photos and status updates on Facebook that align with that vision.

What do you want future employers to think of you?
Make sure your LinkedIn has only the jobs and projects you want them to know about, oh and don’t post pictures of you doing illegal things.

Do you consider yourself and artsy type? A hipster?
Your Instagram pictures probably reflect that (unless of course it’s too mainstream for you now).

By curating exactly what you want people to see, whether that’s an article you choose to retweet or a selfie you decide to post, you are manufacturing a carefully constructed identity (i.e. Basic Personal Branding). But in deciding what will be a part of that identity, you are simultaneously rejecting other parts of yourself — the parts you don’t necessarily want publicly associated with you.

These are the parts of you Whisper capitalizes on.

After shouting to the world WHO WE ARE for some time now, there’s clearly a noteworthy amount of us looking to shout that other part and see what people think, even if those people don’t know who’s shouting it.

So there are my initial thoughts on Whisper. Now that I’m getting its native language down, I need to go figure out if there’s a way to leverage it for our brands.

Bailey Parnell
Bailey Parnell is the Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp and was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016. Bailey is a 2x TED speaker with over 3.5 million views, an award-winning internationally-recognized entrepreneur, active humanitarian, and one with a talent for helping people develop the skills they need for success. Her work and expertise have been featured in Forbes, Good Morning America, CBC, FOX, and more.

For speaking, media, or a quick chat, reach out to Bailey today.

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