Dark Social as a Marketing Opportunity

With the continued growth and increasing popularity of social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) as well as private messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, Whatsapp, and WeChat), digital marketers must always be aware of the latest marketing trends and challenges. And if you have never heard of dark social, you might be missing out on a lot. But don’t worry, it’s never too late to catch up!

What is Dark Social?

It probably isn’t what you think it is. What dark social is is the act of sharing content through private channels – more specifically, messaging apps. For instance, when one finds good content online and decides to copy the website link to share it with their friends via Messenger or Whatsapp, that’s dark social.

Dark social is not new. The term was actually coined back in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal, editor of The Atlantic. He discussed how sharing on Facebook and Twitter is easy to measure but highlighted how a lot of sharing actually takes place via dark social. At the time, that referred to sharing content over email and IM. Activity carried out on those channels were more difficult to measure because the social media traffic generated is untraceable and not attributable to a known source. Hence, the word ‘dark’.

Every marketer knows how important sharing is to get the audience engaged. And dark social is a dynamic platform that presents both opportunities and challenges on how to better understand the people we want to reach.

Dark Social vs. Light Social

Now that you’ve gained some knowledge about dark social, perhaps you’re thinking of what social media channels to use when promoting your brand and business. Which will make your marketing campaign more successful: dark or light social? And which of the available channels will give you the most engagement with your audience?

Every social media channel has a tangible impact on your business. Unique content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will attract a wide demographic which will, in turn, compel followers to share your posts. Hence, any increase in traffic, audience engagement, and conversions could be measured by parameters such as likes, shares and retweets.

This particular type of social media sharing is called light social. It undoubtedly influences your brand awareness and the number of conversions you get. And above all, it is easily trackable. These interactions are visible and can be measured with analytics. Dark social, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.

Social media provides exciting opportunities for you to interact with your customers and target audience. Dark social provides the same opportunities. However, while it is still a venue for people to interact and engage with others, such activity is done privately, which means it’s untrackable. This is the dilemma of every marketer. Given that sharing over dark social media platforms are not traceable, is it still advisable to promote content via these channels?

What Industry Experts Say

Not convinced yet on the bright side of dark social? Let’s see what experts in the industry think about this trend.

RadiumOne, a digital advertising company, defines dark social as “social sharing that occurs in private digital communication tools such as email and instant messaging”. In 2016, it published a report clearly stating that consumers’ dark social activity is too big to ignore with 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing happening via dark social and private channels. This isn’t surprising as most messaging happens nowadays on mobile devices. Another noteworthy point in the report is the assertion that the content people share via dark social channels achieve greater interactions.

Charlie Bailie, RadiumOne’s Southeast Asia director, said during MediaCom’s Blink conference in Singapore that dark social has had a higher penetration in this region than anywhere else in the world. He added that, in Singapore, instant messengers like WhatsApp are now very much part of the fabric of society as they are used for both business as well as personal purposes.

Dark social has been a significant issue since as early as 2015. Former Salesforce Head of Digital Strategy, Jeremy Waite, stated that dark social is another hurdle to engaging fans and building a community. Waite also mentioned that 77% of brands in 2015 said consumer behaviour linked to anything emotional in their lives takes place within private messaging apps. And although the concept has been around for some time, the rise of messenger services signalled the arrival of a bigger problem for brands. This is because, as mentioned previously, activity conducted via dark social cannot be measured.

A place for Dark Social in your Digital Marketing Plans?

Today, messaging apps are more than just a communication tool – they’re shaping digital marketing trends and the way marketers and businesses show off their brand. Companies like Adidas, Coca-Cola, and Quartz have taken advantage of this opportunity, and it’s about time that you embrace this change and upgrade your marketing strategies. Dark social is happening more quickly in Asia than anywhere else. Don’t let your business get left behind.