By Mick Entwisle, CEO and co-Founder of Genero
The term 'Dark Social' might seem like a reference to some sinister Darth Vader fanfiction, but in fact it is just the 'ordinary route' most people take when they share content online. Put simply, anything shared over a private form of communication - be it email, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and not through a direct URL brand link or ad click - is considered 'dark' because it cannot be tracked.
According to a report, 77% of content is being shared via Dark Social, compared to just 23% on public social networks. This represents a huge gap for marketers placing an increased focus on data and analytics, as they're unable to track what content is being shared and who is sharing it.
Attempts at a breakthrough
While Dark Social represents a major challenge for marketers looking to better measure and understand the different elements of their marketing, it also represents an opportunity for brands innovating in the space.
Last year, Quartz relaunched their iOS app to reposition news as a Facebook Messenger-type conversation, where all content was pushed straight to mobile through in-app notifications. This way, Quartz was able to effectively track which stories were shared while adding to the ways users can get their "reporting, perspective and voice."
Adidas went a step further with a new form of 'social listening', with dedicated 'squads' (groups) being contacted to learn, test and optimise its Dark Social media during the Copa America football tournament in June 2016. Members of the group were contacted directly through WhatsApp by the brand and also received news, event invitations and access to Adidas' ambassadors and athletes before anyone else.
Create the content consumers want to watch
A brand's content will inevitably end up in Dark Social in some form, but using it effectively requires the content to be engaging, entertaining and shareable. People won't share content they don't care about. And when a person shares content with a friend or loved one, the chances are that that person is more likely to engage with it - word of mouth is the most valuable form of marketing as, according to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.
Video is an extremely powerful tool when marketers are looking to harness the power of Dark Social. It's becoming more imperative for brands to be using video on social media as the format gets more real estate on Facebook, Instagram, Google and obviously Snapchat. And as the most engaging form of content, video is more likely to be shared than other forms of content - a recent Digiday study showed video was shared 7 times more than links.
Keeping up with shifting sands
Most brands know they need more video content as part of an effective marketing strategy, but with increased pressure on marketing budgets brands are looking for more cost-efficient approaches to video production. But brands also need to ensure content is more authentic, engaging and entertaining as it is increasingly mixed in social feeds on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
If a global brand in London is targeting Japanese teenagers on social media, naturally the person creating the content will need to deeply understand the culture and audience - if the creator is actually part of the target market themselves they will naturally have an affinity that can't be manufactured through research. There are brilliant creatives within every agency network, but nothing can replace that deep understanding when trying to create content that resonates with local cultures and audiences.
Tackling Dark Social the right way
The plethora of emerging channels and platforms means that more than ever, brands need to better understand what platforms are worth focussing on and investing in. A lack of analytics to track Dark Social though poses a challenge that will likely remain for many years to come. So brands need to focus on what they can control - by creating more video content and ensuring it is video that users actually want to watch and share, they will give themselves the best chance of maximising their effectiveness and enlightening the world of Dark Social!