15.05.2015 How should brands approach the immeasurable ‘dark social’?

You might not think that the ‘dark social’ sounds like something you’re involved in. But think again. You probably do it every day with your friends, family and colleagues too. We’re all at it.

It’s something most of us actively choose to do, and there’s a huge community of social media users doing the same. But despite its rather unnerving name, ‘dark social’ isn’t as sinister as it sounds. The term actually refers to the social media data that we can’t see or measure – and it makes up over an astonishing 74% of all exchanges.

We do it all the time, probably without thinking. Whether sharing an article of interest with a colleague via Whatsapp, or sending a Facebook message to a friend about a cool new restaurant in town, it’s a perfectly innocent and unassuming thing to do. But by engaging in that social act, we’re adding to a huge amount of data that can’t be measured by the brands desperately spending their marketing budgets to target us.

As marketers and PR professionals know, every action someone takes on social media, be it a Tweet, a comment, a like or a share, can tell us something fascinating about market trends and opinion. Virtually all big brands are monitoring social media channels in order to gather this vital information, but how much of it slips under the radar?

This is particularly relevant right now because as of April this year, Twitter has updated its policy on direct messaging, so that anyone can send and receive DMs without the need for a follow first. Although brands and Twitter users have the choice to opt out of this function, it does increase the potential for Twitter to become a platform for one-to-one exchanges rather than one-to-many.

Arguably, ‘dark social’ acts are actually amongst the most credible and valuable forms of sharing – people are passing on and receiving information from those they trust, for specific purposes. Sharers and recipients are therefore much more likely to click on a page or visit a website than they would be if they simply stumbled across it while scrolling through their newsfeed.

So what can brands do to tap into this immeasurable data?

Whichever way you look at it, dark social activity can only be a positive thing. If the content being produced is valuable enough for people to choose to share it or engage with it privately, then that can only be good news for brands. And equally if private discussions about a particular brand are negative in any way, then they are kept out of the potentially damaging public eye.

With this in mind, brands should focus on providing quality content and giving people a reason to share it, and then make it as easy as possible for them to do so. A simple ‘send to a friend’ button for email marketing, and a clear ‘share’ button for posts, videos and images can provide a traceable link for social activity.

Whilst, in an ROI-obsessed communications world, it’s frustrating being unable to measure this activity, it’s certainly worth knowing that over three quarters of exchanges on social media take place under the measurable radar. Because if businesses are doing well by targeting audiences through the visible social sphere, there’s a very good chance they’ll be doing well in dark social too.

After all, personal exchanges are all about the context within which they happen, and are probably motivated by all all sorts of emotions that we could never make sense of even if we tried.

So for the sake of focusing on what really matters, which is giving people a reason to share really great content, perhaps brands shouldn’t worry too much about breaking this particular data barrier.

Do you have any thoughts about what dark social means for brands? Feel free to share them as widely or as privately as you like!