Let's talk about "dark social": what it is; how it occurs; what to do with it; and why it is so important. Despite its rather clandestine moniker, it is one of the most pervasive forms of communication around today. Why?
We live in a world of sharing – billions of articles, items and links are shared every day. However, when people think "sharing", they immediately think Facebook and Twitter. This is a mistake, and an even bigger mistake for marketers, as sharing on these networks is just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook and Twitter account for around 25 per cent of all shared items, and this is easy to measure. However, the question is "what about the other 75 per cent?" or, as we at RadiumOne refer to it, "dark social".
Dark social refers to instances where there is no referrer data – for example, when a user arrives in your store but you have no idea how they got there. This can happen via e-mail programs, instant messaging, an increasing number of mobile applications and whenever someone is moving from a secure site (https://mail.google.com/blahblahblah) to a non-secure site (http://www.interestingstuff.com). In essence, this huge pool of potential customers is invisible to most analytics programs and, therefore, not accessible to marketers who need to connect with these increasingly fragmented audiences.
This is why dark social has to be front of mind for marketers. The biggest challenge for them is reaching their audience, no matter where they are, and understanding what they do in multiple places across the internet. Joining the dots and harnessing dark social is the key to achieving this.
Dark social is here to stay and will drive greater understanding and more profitable outcomes
So how can we shine a light on this dark activity? Smarter tracking of shared content and how it is shared across social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn is required from the outset. Marketing teams must also consolidate the data and track the volume of shares and referrals that occur, and discover which sharing channels are the most effective source for driving new customers.
Dark social is here to stay and will drive greater understanding and more profitable outcomes for businesses everywhere. By not addressing it, marketers will not have an accurate view of their connected audiences, which means lost opportunities and revenue.
The good news is there are already tools available to make sense of this previously unknown quantity. The Football Association, for example, has implemented measures to gain more insight from its customers to improve the way it interacts with them and bring more commercial value to its sponsor partners.
So there is no need to be afraid of the dark. It is time for all brands, agencies, publishers and rights-holders to step into the light and discover their entire potential audience.
Rupert Staines is the European managing director at RadiumOne
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