What is dark social? A how-to guide for marketing in the unknown

By 15th November 2018Social Media
What is dark social - a how-to guide for marketing in the unknown

Are you afraid of the dark social?

I don’t know about you, but hearing the term dark social being thrown about with wild abandon for the last year has been giving me chills. I’ve gone from trying to guess its meaning (something to do with deep web pirates having parties?) to drastically misunderstanding and distrusting its methods (here’s looking at you, Cambridge Analytica). Finally, I’ve landed somewhere close to a working understanding of both its meaning and its method.

The movement toward dark social advertising is not trying to mine your private end-to-end encrypted conversations for yet more data to sell to companies. Do you feel reassured? I certainly do. For now, the endless memes you DM to your friends about The Office or cats or moths or whatever is floating your current boat are still private. That’s all yours to keep, and you won’t suddenly start getting sold moth-themed goods!

I am toast if my parents see this - Dark Social - Engage Content Marketing Agency DublinWhat will happen though, is what we at Engage Content deem the holy grail of marketing – quality content! Before we get to that, let’s speak plainly about what dark social actually means.

What does ‘dark social’ mean?

Dark social is the act of sharing through ‘private’ platforms. When you copy a link and paste it into an email/group chat/telepathic wavelength, you are doing the dark social, like you do the Macarena at weddings. You may have promised yourself that you will not further the agenda of big business by posting to your Facebook timeline, but when you send that link, you are furthering someone’s business. It’s happening, and it’s not likely to stop anytime soon.

At last count, 84% of social media sharing is dark sharing, and this fact used to drive marketers insane because they didn’t know what you were saying behind their backs. They saw it as a return to the dark ages of unquantifiable conversations, when it in fact just meant that we wanted a bit of our privacy back. Apps like Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and even email are the central hub for this type of exchange.

Dark social advertising is big business

People are still sharing, and conversations are still happening, but it’s hidden from view. These conversations are more valuable to your business in the long term because when people share in private conversations, rather than on social media feeds, it has a more intimate audience with a greater impact. For instance, I’m much more likely to trust my group chat than I am someone I went to school with but haven’t spoken to in 10 years. The important question is, how can a business capitalise on this? I’d advise you to create something worth sharing, which could be helpful, funny, surprising, informative, or all of the above.

While I’ve been trying to figure out what people were talking about when they were talking about dark social, a lot of businesses were getting on with doing it. Whatsapp Business is designed for small businesses, rather than behemoths, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some inspiration from the bigger industry players. Are you ready to be wowed?

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise rocks dark social. Who knew?

Picture this: you get home on a Monday evening, you still have leftover meat from Sunday’s roast, and a bit of rice from Saturday’s Chinese in the fridge. There’re a few odd vegetables in the drawer at the bottom of the fridge (which needs a cleaning if you’re honest, but you’ll deal with that later). None of it appeals to you, but you promised yourself you wouldn’t order in again this month. You head to the Hellmann’s website, enter in your phone number, and get a Whatsapp message from a chef asking to see your mishmash of ingredients. That chef then talks you through making them into a bona fide delicious meal and will even remind you to take it out of the oven.

Hellmann’s mayonnaise ran a 10-day campaign in Brazil, spending only $900 on advertising. 8,000 people enrolled, 4,000,000 people were reached.

Hellmann’s are a giant, with enough brand recognition to fuel a jet plane, but that doesn’t take away from these results. Nor does it change the drive behind those phenomenal figures. What they did was ask what people needed, and then provided a solution. This campaign was a stroke of genius, and that’s coming from someone who hates mayonnaise.

Whatsapp Business is where it’s at

On a smaller scale, customer impact is much easier to achieve. Whether you provide goods or services, you provide solutions. With Whatsapp Business, you can set hours of availability, so people know whether to expect a reply or not, and you can leave it in the office instead of getting notifications at 2 am. Most importantly, it is where the people are. In my opinion, tapping into dark social with Whatsapp Business seems far more useful than a chatbot, because even though the initial message a customer receives may be an automated reply, overall there is a more personalised feeling to the interaction. Until AI gets better, I have no interest in a conversation with a robot.

For the moment, some services are unavailable in the EU, such as a click-to-Whatsapp button on Facebook’s paid advertising, or a paid alert for messages that have been read – which is limited to the larger companies. Neither of these is necessary if you are a running a small business.

How to tap into dark social for your SME

So, you’re wondering how to start applying dark social to your business? Well, there are plenty of small practical ways you can generate conversation online and lead people to your website or shop. On Instagram and Facebook, you can be THE TOPIC of conversation. Your posts on these sites are easily sharable in private conversations, but they have to be worth sharing. Having helpful or inspiring content is a start. Businesses involved in fashion, food and design have cornered this market to date, but that shouldn’t stop you from moving in. Your SME can be a leader in its field by posting answers to frequently asked questions within your industry.

What content is valuable to your customers?

Here is a list of the 1,000 of the most asked questions on Google, globally. This handy list also includes their cost-per-click so you can monetise your content.

TL;DR – People are incapable of remembering measurements! While the list may be mostly impractical for businesses, there is gold there if you have the patience to mine it. If you are following this plan of attack, you will also want to optimise your content for sharing. Provide practical answers to these questions, but also be engaging and entertaining. When you are speaking to potential customers on social media, speak the way you would to a friend, minus the expletives.

Tracking that traffic

If you are invested in knowing where your traffic is coming from, you can add UTM parameters to your URLs. These are simple formulas that can be attached to any links you are sharing on social and are great for tracking the success of the variables in a single campaign, or multiple campaigns. Hootsuite has a solid guide to get you through the process.

SnapChat filters

On Snapchat for Business, you can build your own filter overlays very easily. Geared at a younger audience, this will work for you if your target market survived the Tide Pod challenge and you’re seeking brand awareness. A simple roll-out for this type of hype would be to select a time and place that is relevant to your company. Is there a convention coming to town? A gaming competition? Any kind of event where people will be taking pictures will serve you well. You can select a specific time slot, say from 10 am to 2 pm, as well as a radial circumference, i.e. the venue and its surroundings. It’s cost-effective, controllable and most importantly it is measurable.  This means you can track how many people use the filter, and in turn how many people see their photos. While you can simply use your logo for this, it will be worth your time to be a bit more adventurous. If you make people laugh, they’ll use it AND remember it.

Still a bit confused? Or ambivalent? 70% of brand referrals happen through dark social, so it is worth considering if you can afford to stay out of this arena. Get in contact with us today, and we’ll be happy to answer all of your burning questions!

Justine Durnin

Author Justine Durnin

Social Content Addict at Engage. I research, create and implement content for online communities. My passions are reading, writing, Photoshop tricks, seeking out the absurd, finding new quotes, niche cultural critiques, and eating good food with great people (or vice versa). Motto: Everything in moderation, including moderation.

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Engage Content - Dublin, Ireland