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The Power of Dark Social in Digital Marketing


Despite the mysterious ring to its name, dark social isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. At Spark Social Agency, we like to think of it as a hidden treasure trove of social sharing and chats that fly under the radar of usual tracking tools like web analytics. This kind of sharing – whether through messaging apps, private social media spaces, or emails – makes up a big chunk of how we interact online. For marketers ready to explore dark social, there’s a wealth of insights waiting to be discovered, deeper connections to be made, and, ultimately, better outcomes for businesses and their clients. It’s all about turning the unseen into an opportunity for connection!

What is Dark Social?

Dark social might sound like the latest tech trend, but it’s all about privacy. It refers to the sharing of content or brand mentions that occurs in the digital space shielded from analytics tools. Whether it’s a link sent over a private message, an article discussed within a WhatsApp group, or a product recommendation emailed to a friend, dark social interactions are those intimate, untrackable conversations happening away from the public social media feed. The term was coined in 2012 by the journalist Alexis Madrigal. 

Understanding dark social is a bit like uncovering a secret society of online chatter – it’s all about the massive, yet hidden, conversations and shares that happen away from the public eye. It is believed that over 80% of online sharing occurs through dark social media, highlighting the significant volume of privately shared content. If we, as social media marketers, overlook dark social, we’re missing out on understanding a huge part of how our audience interacts online and the real reach of our content. It’s a nudge for marketers to see the bigger picture of online sharing and consumption.

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Creating highly engaging content

The nature of dark social—rooted in private, trusted networks—suggests a deeper level of interest and engagement with shared content. This intimacy gives marketers a golden opportunity to craft personalized and targeted marketing campaigns. By indirectly accessing insights through surveys or encouraging the use of trackable sharing tools, marketers can tap into the rich vein of engagement represented by dark social, enabling them to deliver content that resonates on a more personal level.

Recognizing the power of dark social pushes marketers to rethink their content strategies. It’s about encouraging whisper-like sharing among friends, creating super shareable content, urging private shares through calls-to-action, and customizing content for niche groups. These tactics help make sure the content not only gets shared more but also aligns closely with the audience’s preferences and behaviors in these private spaces. 

Taking the Next Step in Measurement

The elusive nature of dark social also encourages marketers to innovate in measuring and understanding the impact of their social media efforts. Employing advanced tracking techniques, such as trackable links in emails or social media posts, offers a clearer insight into the otherwise hidden dynamics of private content sharing. This insight is key to understanding the full picture of social media engagement and fine-tuning strategies for even better connections.

Create Powerful Customer Relations

For social media marketers, dark social presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Building customer relationships through dark social involves recognizing the personal and meaningful nature of this type of sharing. Marketers adept at navigating the nuances of dark social can leverage it to forge stronger, more intimate connections with their audience. A subscription-video-on-demand service partnered with dark social experts, Radium One, to dive deeper into their audience on dark social. The results were staggering, converting 56% of the platform’s first 1 million subscribers through paid media. It is clear that creating exclusive content that appeals to this specific type of content sharing within close-knit networks can significantly boost loyalty and enhance engagement, laying the foundation for long-lasting customer relationships. 

There are numerous ways that marketers should look to use dark social when developing social media plans, but here are a few of our top tips…

Embrace Trackable Sharing Techniques

While we can’t eliminate dark social, we can get clever about it. Introducing trackable links through social sharing buttons or embedded content lets us peek into conversations that were once invisible. It’s like leaving breadcrumbs for us to follow, gathering insights along the way.

Quality is King

The fact that someone chooses to share your content in a private conversation is a big compliment. It means your content resonated with them on a personal level. So, focus on crafting high-quality, engaging content that sparks conversations, answers questions, and aligns with your audience’s passions. It’s about creating something share-worthy that people can’t help but pass along in their private chats.

Direct Feedback is Your Compass

In the world of dark social, direct surveys and feedback are invaluable. Since tracking private shares is a challenge, asking your audience directly about how they found your content or what they love sharing provides a wealth of insights. This direct line of communication helps tailor your strategies to fit your audience’s preferences like a glove.

Blend Analytics for a 360° View 

To really understand the impact of your social media efforts, mixing measured data with a deeper understanding of your audience’s sharing habits gives you a complete picture. Recognize that while social media analytics tools offer a look into your audiences’ activity, by understanding dark social, you will gain a broader view of how different social strategies are performing. By marrying observable metrics with inferred behaviors, you’ll craft strategies that resonate more deeply and foster meaningful connections.

The Power of an Invisible Audience

Dark social might be elusive, but its impact on digital marketing is undeniable. By acknowledging its presence, seeking innovative ways to gauge its influence, and crafting strategies that respect the privacy and preferences of today’s social media users, marketers can harness the power of dark social. Ultimately, the goal is to improve engagement, glean deeper insights, and achieve better results, recognizing that the most valuable conversations might just be the ones you’re not seeing.

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