Why You’ve Made A Costly Mistake By Ignoring Dark Social

What’s Hiding There?

Personally, “dark social” conjures up imagery of a sketchy figure on the corner dealing Facebook Likes from under a trench coat. In actuality, it refers to something more benign, yet slightly mysterious (to the untrained eye, anyway)…

Imagine that the shadowy figure embodies the “anonymous” and “referrer” traffic in your analytics reports–that chunk of traffic that doesn’t come from Facebook, Twitter, or any other of the major platforms; the shaded section that applies to 59% of all social sharing in North America.

Figures courtesy of Statista

It’s data derived from the most basic form of sharing; that which occurs via messaging apps, texting and emails–and it’s existed before any publicly-traded social media platform. It’s there, quietly comprising a large part of the activity in and out of the social media sphere, yet is rarely treated with the same amount of attention as the popular platform metrics are.

Embrace The Dark Side…

Why? The numbers– they’re huge! Dark social sharing is three times the size of Facebook sharing, worldwide. 80% of the time that a piece of Arts & Entertainment content was shared in North America alone, it was done so via dark social. This figure shrinks to 60% for news content and 59% for style and fashion, yet those still aren’t percentages that any successful brand should ignore.

It may just provide the Cinderella story your next campaign has been looking for, so don’t take the stats for granted. Dark social entails a more intimate type of sharing than publicly-shared content. Imagine how much more relevant your content is, when it’s directly sent to someone from a friend one who already knows exactly what they seek. It’s no surprise that in North America, 78% of career-related shares happened in a direct message of some sort. Who better to refer you to a position best-fitted to your personal skill level and experience, than a close friend or relative? There’s a high level of trust embedded in peer-to-peer messaging that social sharing can not compete with yet.

Figures courtesy of Statista

Sure, large-platform sharing via Twitter and Facebook is still an important part of any strategy, but let’s consider the success of messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and Kik. Take a look at how well parody accounts like @itswillyferrell (a personal fave) do. The rise of secretive messaging apps like Whisper and temporarily-private Snapchat are good indicators, as well. Despite the mass appeal offered by the social media giants, there’s still a huge market for anonymity and private messaging– and that’s where much of dark social will happen in the near future.

How To Do It In The Dark

We’ve taken away the mysterious aspect of it, but one might still be wondering as to how one’s next campaign can capitalize on the potential of dark social. Harnessing these powers is as simple as adjusting and adding to the ways in which you already distribute content…

One of the best ways to do so is to make sure you’re able to track dark social by using shortened links, like the ones provided by Bit.ly, Ow.ly, and Po.st. Not only will you be able to get better tracking and analytics for individual links, but you’ll be able to customize the url to fit your brand (studies show that branded shortlinks generate substantially more clickbacks). Some of these services also offer embedded widgets that provide deeper analytics, easier cross-platform sharing, and integration into programmatic advertising.

Get creative: use these tools in conjunction with a p2p messaging app for an activation campaign, for example. This would likely bode well for a customer service-intensive brand, where constant interaction is the norm and where a direct marketing campaign would thrive. It may benefit your campaign if some of the widgets embedded into your content were those of the popular messenger apps, as well. Who knows how many times someone has wanted to share your Bacon-tini recipe to Mom via Facebook Messenger– but didn’t– merely out of inconvenience?

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s up to your brand to respond in real-time and to capture the data necessary for possible remarketing. You wouldn’t want to be left in the dark now, would you? (HA!)

Let us know what you think of the Dark Social by tweeting us @boltwebs


Originally published at blog.bolt.digital on February 22, 2016.