Wisdom.Applied Wednesday: Internet Moving Back to Anonymity

The world of social media is constantly evolving. What’s commonplace today was unimaginable ten years ago. So how can marketers and social media gurus keep pace with whatever happens next? The answer to that question may come from Reddit.

Reddit, which bills itself as the “front page of the Internet,” displays content based on users voting up or down what they like. This has made the website something of a viral natural selection engine that drives a good deal of traffic (6% of online adults use Reddit). That success is a surprising anomaly, given that the site itself is something of a holdover from our pre-social media days.

The site was founded in 2005, years before the Facebook revolution that taught us to mirror our social circle digitally by using our real names online. Before that, the Internet was a place where you were completely anonymous, which could be freeing to explore your interests without fear of social repercussions. And to an extent, that’s still possible (Catfish has proven that). But most people’s daily interactions on the web these days come from services like Facebook, Google and now even YouTube that encourage you to use your real name and simulate real life on the web.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian illuminated what makes Reddit different and successful in one quote: “Facebook makes me hate the people I know, and Reddit makes me love the people I don’t.” Most people can sympathize with the first half of that sentence, as everyone knows someone who shares too much or gets too personal with their status updates.

On anonymous services like Reddit, you get to interact with people who have different points of view you might not encounter in your social circle and you can drill down to interact with people with similar interests. This is not unlike the chat rooms and forums that pre-dated even Reddit. Reddit’s popularity may point to the fact that people crave these types of interactions after so many years spent replicating interactions with friends online. Reddit’s anonymity comes with a price, however, as the site has generated controversy by hosting content that pushes the limits of free speech that users would likely not post if the accounts were connected to their real identities.

This could be a boon to marketers, where instead of reaching consumers based on their social circles the way Facebook’s ads make recommendations based on what your friends like, they could reach consumers based on their interests. This could lead to people seeing ads they wouldn’t have seen before, just as interacting with anonymous Internet users opens you up to recommendations you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

Cover Photo Source: Gil C / Shutterstock.com

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.