by Vicki Jeffels | 13 June 2017
Are you afraid of the dark?
Many marketers, even social media marketers are.
I don’t blame you at all, we all fear the unknown, but the wise amongst us will rise above our apprehension and embrace it, ideally as soon as possible, because digital marketing in 2017 is heading along a very dark path.
Before you get carried away thinking about Tor and peer to peer networks and secret internet spaces where you can conduct furtive business I need to step in and say – not that kind of dark!
No, we’re not talking about the dubious internet, we’re talking about the fast-growing practice of dark social media. Various sources say that Dark Social is a rising trend and looks like it will continue to rise rapidly, especially if we look to the East and note its presence in WeChat and other Chinese messaging apps. The East often leads the way in all things digital, and dark social is no exception.
So, what is it?
Dark social refers to social media sharing that is conducted away from the gaze of Google Analytics or the other search engine spiders and robots.
Dark social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics programs. – explains Techopedia.
You can conduct dark social on your WhatsApp, Slack or Facebook messaging applications. You can conduct dark social on private closed forums and groups. In fact, you probably are spending considerable time each day shifting into the dark by copying and pasting links to share with your significant other in emails or by private messaging.
What’s bad about it?
There’s nothing essentially wrong with dark social it’s just that marketers can find it challenging to measure it, outside of the usual analytical gaze of Google, Bing and others. And this is an even bigger problem when you consider that dark social is rapidly increasing. Why? We’ll get onto that shortly.
But firstly, it has been reported that over 84% of all outbound links (currently) are in the dark as Hootsuite’s blog post reveals.
It goes without saying that with percentages that high, digital marketers need to get onboard the dark social bus and start learning how to evaluate and ultimately measure dark social traffic. Whilst that’s not an easy thing to do, there are ways around it. Here are some of the ways that digital marketers need to employ to keep ahead of those who play in the dark.
- Consider measuring using Google Analytics or any other analytics programme whenever something changes in your marketing programme, and then apply common sense logic. If you have recently published something on your Facebook wall for example, and there is a huge rise in traffic coming onto that page but not directed by Facebook, it is highly likely the two events are connected. You just need to connect the dots.
- Use shortened links like Bit.ly links or Owl.ly These programmes specialize in deeper analysis of where links originate and where they achieve engagement. Not to mention these links just look better in a tweet or on a Facebook page.
- Try the psychological approach. If you make it exceptionally easy for people to share your links by clicking on a social sharing button (one click versus copying and pasting) you can easily watch where those links turn up. Don’t forget that there are essentially two kinds of social buttons – Follow Us buttons that direct the user to the company’s social page and Share This buttons – which enables the user to share the link to their own social media pages. The latter is considerably more useful.
- Use highly advanced analytic platforms. These types of platforms are increasing and whilst they offer tremendous service and insight into your dark social traffic, they can be a bit pricey. This is a great option for a large organization who really needs to get on top of this traffic.
- UTM shorteners and fragments – This is a relatively new area and somewhat complicated to set up as Tagmanager Pro details in this blog post. It’s essential reading! Of course the other thing is that UTMs are hideous, long stings of techy gooblegook which are not terribly useful where space is at a premium. Eg/ Think Twitter
These are just a few of the ways you can get on top of your fear of dark social, and I have no doubt that as it increases and overtakes social traffic, smart digital marketers will devise an easy-to-use programme that can help us to analyse and track this kind of traffic.
So why is it increasing? No one knows for certain, but I’m willing to bet that as social networks become more moderated, even censored, users are striving to take back a sense of privacy on the internet. Yes, this privacy can be used in nefarious ways, but in the main, it’s just men and women who wish to share news, jokes, views and ideas between themselves.
Whatever the why, one thing we do know is that digital marketers must embrace ways of managing and analyzing dark social, because if the trend continues the trajectory it’s on, by the end of 2018 we might all be on the dark side.