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9 Steps to Implement Dark Social Into Your Marketing Plan

6 min read
May 1, 2020

There’s a quiet revolution happening on social media platforms that I’ll bet you haven’t noticed. 

Dark social, which is social communication that can’t be tracked using analytics platforms, is on the rise in a significant way. Think of it as sharing a link with a friend through email, SMS, WhatsApp, and some of the other mobile messaging apps. It’s also self-sharing, which can be texting yourself a link to remind yourself to make a purchase. In other words, it’s something that many of us do every day.

At the same time that dark social sharing is booming, interactions on places like Facebook are way down. From a marketing perspective, it’s critical to understand this trend. After all, how can you gauge the success of a marketing campaign if you don’t know where you’re traffic is coming from?

With numbers like those, it’s clear dark social needs to find a place in your marketing plan. With that in mind, here are nine steps to get your dark social marketing plan started.

1. Determine your dark social traffic

Examine your ‘direct’ traffic in Google Analytics. Exclude pages where it’s feasible that the URL was typed directly into the address bar and pages that are likely to be bookmarked. For the most part, the pages you exclude will be simple URLs and pages like your home page, contact page, etc. Every website is different, so you’ll want to tinker with what pages you exclude. Once you complete these steps, you can get an idea of your dark social traffic. It’s not 100% accurate, but it will give you more awareness about the traffic coming to your site through dark social.

2. Use share buttons with UTM parameters

Using share buttons will shed some light on where your traffic is coming from. Adding a share button, for say, WhatsApp will also make it easier for people to share your content. Additionally, by adding a UTM tracking code to the link the share button uses, you’ll be able to see exactly where the traffic came from. Of course, not everyone will use share buttons, and some will delete the tracking code from the URL. However, some insight is better than none. Such is the way of dark social.

3. Consider influencers

I’m not talking about the huge mega-influencers you might see on Instagram or Snapchat. I’m talking about smaller, micro-influencers. Micro-influencers are typically much better at connecting with people and starting conversations. Their audience is smaller and they share a common interest. You can use a variety of services to find highly engaged micro-influencers who are influential in your industry. Here’s a great example of how Adidas was able to do this.

4. Have conversations and scale them

Marketing campaigns must spread to WhatsApp and Messenger. Make use of chatbots and automation on these platforms. Build community. Create conversations. Figure out how your customers are communicating and what they want to communicate. Don’t interrupt. Let your customers direct the conversation and add to it when appropriate.

5. Focus less on sales and ROI

When starting a conversation is your goal, calls-to-action and ROI become less important.  Don’t focus on selling. It’s not about your brand/business/product. It’s about your audience and making a connection with them. Additionally, rely less on ROI. One way or another, the true reach of a digital marketing campaign won’t be 100% accurate. That makes measuring true ROI difficult at best. You don’t have to throw ROI out the window, but keep it in perspective.

6. Respect consumers' privacy and time

Don’t abuse your audience’s time and privacy. You don’t need to send multiple messages or try to maintain constant contact. In a sense, consumers are spoiled. They want it their way, they want it now, and they want to do it themselves. Unless there is a problem. Then they want help and to connect with a human immediately to solve their problem. There’s no point in resisting the tide of customers wanting an exceptional experience. They want their cake and they want to eat it too. They want the best of both worlds. Find a way to provide it.

7. Relationship marketing is your friend

Get to know your customer and build a relationship with them. To do so, you need to identify the different types of customers you have. Equally important is to have a deep understanding of your product and how it is viewed by your audience. Who is your customer? What is your product known for? What should it be known for? Relationship marketing isn’t just about sales, but if you build relationships with your customers the right way, the sales will come.

8. Embrace dark social

Don’t try to prevent your audience from using dark social. It’s tempting to try and redirect your customers to another way of communication that allows you more insight into their behavior. However, doing so will only alienate you and your business from them. Part of the reason dark social is on the rise is that consumers want more privacy and control over their data. For that reason alone, dark social is here to stay. Find a way to make use of it, and join the ‘dark’ side.

9. Reconsider your content/marketing plan

As you now know, an enormous amount of your direct traffic is most likely coming through dark social. That means you can’t track it. While it’s not ideal to have a foggy picture of your data and traffic, it’s reality. Without knowing this information, it’s possible to waste time, energy, and money working on the wrong things. However, there is a great deal of value to this kind of traffic. So, experiment. Try different things and don’t be scared to revise your content, messaging, or marketing plan.

Dark social is, well, dark, and seemingly mysterious. It’s difficult to get it right, but easy to do it wrong. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use these steps to get your dark social media campaign started. After you do, you’ll be well on your way to tapping into a market you didn’t even know you had.

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