There’s no denying the paradigm shift that social media has delivered to marketers. It delivers word-of-mouth marketing at scale. While our love affair — and media dollars — are pointed to social networks, we risk disregarding an online channel where millions of pieces of content are exchanged every day. A channel where thousands of purchases are influenced, the majority of content is shared and where products are recommended all the time.
How could we possible ignore a channel like this? Because we can’t see it. And we can’t measure it. So does it really exist?
A few years ago the term “dark social” was coined. Dark social refers to social sharing that occurs in private digital communication tools such as instant messaging, email, text messages, forum posts and growingly in apps like Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp and more. Research shows that 59% of sharing takes place on dark social. In fact, dark social represents three times the sharing activity as Facebook.
You’re on it, and so am I. Just an hour ago, a food brand I like posted a recipe on its website using its product. I’m not going to share that on social media, but I copied and pasted the link and shared it with my group of friends over Gchat and they loved it.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize there is a whole universe of online conversations that we cannot see. And it’s not all scary. Sharing among these circles is effective. This kind of communication is primed for conversion — it’s most likely to be seen, it’s exceedingly relevant and unquestionably trusted. In fact, recommendations from these relationships prompt the highest level of action.
So how do you combat a gap that exists in a world in which you cannot actively participate? I think we have to stop ignoring these channels and embrace them. While there are new technologies looking to overcome the challenges of dark social, I urge marketers to also remember that one of the best ways to ensure your brand is taking advantage of these unseen channels is to foster real connections with consumers, regardless of channels. Here are three things you can do.
Identify reasons why people share and recommend your brand.
Why do people like your brand? It’s important to not make assumptions here. Instead, ask your consumers and listen to them. Focus on areas from both positive and negative dialogue. Turn it around and ask yourself why you recommend the brands you do to others. Was it quality? Was it price? Was it what the brand stood for? Hone in why someone would praise your product to his or her friends.
Build a home for advocates.
Advocates are different from fans and followers on a social networking site. Advocates are willing to endorse your brand and they are willing to encourage others to purchase your products. Additionally, they will share your content and will let others know about your promotions. Make sure you have an easily accessible portal for happy and vocal consumers to find out more about your brand. This could be through a loyalty program, a VIP network or a branded community.
Understand that your best advocates might not be social media stars.
A whopping 91% of Americans regularly share information via dark social methods. Remember that while you can see tweets and Instagram photos. The person who sends a Snapchat with a prime product placement or an email with a link to a piece of content you’ve created is still important. Make an effort to surprise and delight happy consumers. Create personalized experiences that leave a meaningful impression. Give consumers something to talk about, and leverage your “home” to let potential advocates be the first to know.
I’ll admit it; I don’t think dark social will ever fully “see the light.” Marketers will never have open access to certain channels of communication and frankly, it’s one of the reasons that consumers gravitate towards them. The hidden channels of online word-of-mouth and brand advocacy can be overwhelming. However, it’s important to always remember and practice the basics and foster brand advocacy regardless of the channel.