Five things marketers need to know about dark social

Dark social has moved from email and messaging apps to closed ecosystems such as WeChat. In this guest post, David Tiltman from Warc reveals the top five marketing strategy and information considerations of dark social...

At a time of ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ the term ‘dark social’ seems – on the face of it – a bit sinister.david-tiltman-head-of-content-at-warc-cropped
And maybe it is to some. Dark social – online conversations that are not trackable by marketers – is sometimes portrayed as a threat to social marketing. But dark social  is no more than a reflection of our basic desire to share information and ideas with people we know.

We’ve always done it – but for a few years the way we did it was in the open, on platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

The reason dark social is becoming an issue that marketers need to understand is that the platforms we share our information on are changing.

The rise of mobile-based chat apps is changing the social landscape – and in Asia, home of WeChat, that transformation is happening more quickly than anywhere else.

As ‘closed’ platforms, chat apps make it harder for marketers to analyse conversations around their brands and their categories.

The rise of ‘dark social’ has two major implications for marketers. First, there may be an impact on social listening techniques and the quality of information available from monitoring ‘open’ social platforms.

Basically, what is being said out of your earshot? And second, there is expected to be a move away from ‘real time’ social strategies towards conversation-based approaches.Abstract geometry background

Warc looked at current thinking around dark social in its recent Toolkit 2017 report, produced alongside Deloitte Digital. Here are some things we learned:

Levels of ‘dark social’ vary by category
According to a RadiumOne research study, 84% of social sharing happens via dark social platforms such as email, copy-and-paste links in instant messaging apps and texting.

However, 90% of social marketing investment is on public platforms – making dark social a potential area of opportunity for marketers. Dark social sharing by consumers varies wildly by category with the automotive category ranked the highest at 82.4%, followed by finance (72.1%), FMCG (61%) and retail (56.3%).

Brands may be missing out on ‘dark social’ insights
Dark social may be a better reflection of a consumer’s true feelings than comments posted on public platforms where a consumer may be presenting a particular persona or image.

As such, it is becoming increasingly challenging for brands to build a holistic understanding around key buzz topics in the category they operate in, as well as picking up direct buzz around respective brands, products and campaigns.

Link shorteners are a low-tech way of testing dark social activity
There are various steps brands can take to track sharing in dark social channels. Shortened URLs can encourage people to share using trackable links. And ‘cross-comparing’ spikes in dark social with popular content themes might offer new insights regarding the subjects that attract the highest number of shares, as well as identifying the topics of particular interest to online audiences.

Chat apps are moving social marketing toward conversations
Chat apps – one of the drivers of dark social – are becoming more than CRM platforms, they are increasingly able to answer consumer questions at all stages of the customer journey.

And, in the case of China’s WeChat, it is becoming an entire ecosystem of product discovery, payment and customer experience. This is, in essence, a very different social marketing approach to what we’ve seen on platforms like Facebook.

Chatbots raise new data questions for brands
Designing chatbots for conversational experiences will require a completely new approach to branding combining complex data management, artificial intelligence and a brand’s tone of voice.

The chatbot industry is growing at a rapid rate, with many ways for marketers to design and implement this type of CRM.

Marketers will, however, need to consider their consumers and industry when designing their approach to chatbots.

For example, it remains to be seen if consumers would trust a chatbot on Facebook with their bank details versus using a bot on their bank’s website, or the website of an established retailer.

David Tiltman is the head of content at Warc


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