How Whisper Mastered Facebook’s Algorithm and Sold Ads With First-Party Data

A super-social case study

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Twitter and Pinterest have Facebook pages, but they only typically get a few hundred likes and reactions per post. Whisper, to the naked eye for anyone scanning its Facebook page, clearly outperforms them, and the anonymous social app claims to average 40,000 likes and reactions while reaching 2.5 million people with each post. 

And consider this: Whisper has 30 million monthly users compared to Twitter's 310 million and Pinterest's 100 million. Last fall, Whisper started making Facebook engagement a priority—and that's clearly the difference when comparing it to other social networks—because it noticed that popular memes from its platform translated well on Facebook. 

What's more, Whisper's Facebook page has become part of its ad pitch to brands. This month, digital music marketer Pandora (May 13) and Universal Pictures' The Darkness (May 16) ran promos on Whisper and its Facebook page. 

In April, Facebook opened up the ability for top-performing page marketers on the platform to sell branded content against its social audience. Immediatley after, said Jay Rockman, Whisper director of marketing and business development, marketers showed interest in leveraging the company's Facebook reach, which totals 250 million consumers a month. 

"We really have built a competency around posting extremely relatable and highly engaging content," Rockman said. "Facebook seems to favor that, and as a result we have been able to establish a very large footprint."

It's fairly simple how his staffers have become masters of Facebook's newsfeed algorithm, which often beguiles many a publisher. They grab all the highly popular Whisper posts—often confessional or fun memes—and then run their Facebook analytics against the messages, ultimately only publishing the ones that make sense from a "curator" mindset. 

"We are lucky to have a large community within our app that shares unique content about themselves and about every topic," Rockman explained. "And we are able to pick the best out of that—what's highly engaged within our app—and then share in a more curated form with our Facebook community."

Whisper launched its Facebook page two years ago "just for customer service," he said, and it has since picked up 2.5 million fans on the platform. Comparatively, Twitter has 15.6 million Facebook fans, while Pinterest garners 4.5 million.

"As our page evolved," Rockman said, "we saw that certain posts were getting more engagement than others in the newsfeed. We then went about improving on the analytics and looking deeper into what resonated with our users in the app and on our Facebook page."

So, as two examples, Whisper started posting about religion on Sundays and about work-related stress on Thursdays.

"We saw a lot of interesting trends," Rockman commented. "When we took those data points and applied them to our curated Facebook feed, we saw our engagement rate go up significantly."

Whether the feed can significantly augment its ad business will be worth keeping an eye on. One thing seems apparent—it's helping grow its user base, which has gone from 10 million to 30 million in the last 12 months

Lastly, here's a couple interesting stats Rockman offered about Whisper's Facebook page:

  1. Almost half of its fans are 18-to-34-year-old women.
  2. 90 percent of the engagement occurs on mobile devices.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.