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What Is Dark Social, and how can you use it to reach customers?

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Digital marketers are constantly told to measure, measure, measure to continually optimise strategy.  With 62 percent of the entire adult population on Facebook as of August 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, gleaning insights from social networks gives marketers direct insight into how people are responding to content, in terms of sentiment and sharing. But what about that other nearly 40 percent? And what about all the social network users who are social online in other ways, such as by emailing or texting their friends content they think is useful, by posting links in community forums, or by sending links to contacts via chat apps?

This “dark social” sharing is no doubt harder to measure because the links are shared privately and without referral tags, but it's still important to harness its power. Dark social sharing may actually be where the majority of your website referrals are coming from, as RadiumOne's November 2014 report on dark social stated 69 percent of all sharing activity happens through dark social. In Australia, the report states, dark social generates the most clickbacks on shared content, more than all public sharing channels combined. So, how do you put dark social to work for your brand?

Make content easy to share

Some people love sharing content on social networks, and some people simply use them as ways to stalk their exes. To allow content consumers to easily share your links across all channels and on any device, make sure you:

  • Design content responsively. Visitors to your website who can't read it on their smartphone won't be able to send the link to their buddies. Or, worse yet, they'll stop visiting your site altogether, since Google reports 61 percent of people quickly leave a site if they can't find what they're looking for. With the proliferation of social chat apps beyond texting, such as Google Hangouts and WhatsApp, being able to share your content on mobile has a positive effect on dark social efforts.
  • Allow users to share content instantly. Include sharing buttons on all your web pages so visitors can immediately alert their contacts about them with a few simple clicks. Make the buttons prominent, and make sure they include email sharing and SMS sharing options.
  • Ask users to share. Include a prominent call to action that incentivises users to share the content with their contacts, and point them back towards the sharing buttons.

Don't run away from dark social—embrace it as an integral part of your web traffic, and enable it to convert more business.

Implement all the tracking you can

Giving pieces of content custom URL's, is a powerful way to glean insights from dark social sharing. With short, custom URL's, you can insert them into specific types of content, ranging from emails to press releases. Short URL's, especially ones that are thoughtfully crafted to make them easy for users to remember, makes sharing content easier. Short URL's don't clutter up public forums or make users they're shared with, too overwhelmed to open them. Some may even be able to be entered manually, if they're crafty enough.

These short URL's also provide marketers a way to track their links' success, and examine dark social sharing patterns. Businesses may use dark social analytics to drive paid advertising, via SMS campaigns or mobile ads, as examples. Dedicating resources to creating engaging content, should also be prioritised to capitalise on the potential of dark social sharing.

Don't be left in the dark. scrmhub's powerful dashboards deliver your brand social data in real time. Learn more here.

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Posted by

David Fairfull
CEO & Co-Founder

David has developed deep marketing domain expertise and is passionate about shaping the the role technology is having on the marketing function. Formerly a Managing Partner of We Are Social (the largest global social agency), Regional Director APAC for McCann Erickson WorldGroup's digital business, and Managing Director of The Brave Group (an early pioneer in digital marketing), he is driven by the idea that technology can make marketing fun