Dark Social Drives Greater Engagement

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

It’s estimated that 84% of social sharing takes place within “dark social.” Dark social consists of information that’s not shared publicly, but is instead shared with an intimate group through direct messaging, email or text. 

Marketers are increasingly aware of how difficult it is to follow customers on their path through dark social as well as the new challenges of keeping track of customers across traditional pathways. For example, our online trail is becoming increasingly fragmented as we bounce around between different devices and as we cycle between different apps (instead of using the browser). We’re also seeing news articles indicating that Google Chrome is getting rid of third-party cookies and that “uncertainty is the new digital advertising reality.”

Before talking about what marketers can do about dark social, let’s consider the underlying reasons for why people use different forms of communication. 

One reason that people are hesitant about using public social media platforms is fear of judgement from friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and even future partners. As a result, people are very risk averse about what they put on social media, and the awareness that they’re being watched actually affects how they act. 

The notion that our behavior changes when we’re being observed is called the Hawthorne Effect, and it has important implications for marketers. Marketers are interested in understanding the genuine, authentic beliefs of their audience, yet these beliefs tend to be expressed within settings that are private and difficult to observe. 

To learn more, check out this video titled, Your Online Self (And Growing Up With Social Media)

What can marketers do about dark social? One thing they can do is they can go in and communicate with their audience through these same dark social channels. 

Some examples of people and brands effectively using dark social methods include Ryan Leslie, who developed a superphone app which manages and keeps track of information from the many thousands of fans that he’s text messaging, Daniel DiPiazza, an entrepreneur and rapper, asks his fans to respond to his questions through text message, and Gary Vaynerchuk has his phone number printed on a t-shirt so he can communicate with his fans over text. 

One company that has used this approach is Hellman’s Mayonnaise. They asked their audience to send them a text message of the contents of their fridge, and then Hellman’s sent them a recipe for something that they could make (involving mayo, of course). 

One of the main considerations with communicating over dark social is that you have to be more personal, and more engaging, and you have to provide value. It helps if you can recognize a problem that people have and communicate with them through text to help them solve that problem. From this perspective, the shift toward dark social might help create more meaningful conversations between brands and customers. 

Finally, in addition to companies and brands using dark social to communicate with their audience, there are also ways that they can measure and understand how much traffic comes through dark social in Google Analytics. They can use separate phone numbers for separate platforms to determine which platforms drive engagement, and they can use dark social tracking tools like AddThis, ShareThis, and GetSocial. 

As consumer behavior keeps changing, companies will need to stay on top of how they can stay aware of changes in dark social use, how they themselves can appropriately communicate with their audience through these channels, and how they can measure traffic through these channels. 

To learn more, check out this video titled, What Is Dark Social? The Magic Behind Deeper Customer Connections