Everything You Need To Know About Dark Social

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Dark social has become the new controversy of the marketing world, and it’s potentially the future of online marketing. But is dark social as bad as people think it is, or are there some benefits for businesses and consumers alike?

What is dark social?

A lot of the controversy surrounding dark social is stirred up because of its unfortunate name, reminiscent of the “dark web” or “black market.” But dark social actually refers to social platforms where businesses are left “in the dark.” This deals with all private messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram direct messaging. The definition is expanding to include text message and email as well. The dark aspect is where consumers can converse with one another without the prying eyes of businesses (for now).

News feeds have become hot spots for businesses and brands. Social users are seeing more and more sponsored posts, losing their friends’ information in the process. As news feeds are moving more towards business and entertainment posts, the sharing aspect of social media is moving toward private messaging platforms.  

Studies show that almost two-thirds of internet users share content with their friends through private messaging platforms. This is where users are doing the majority of their sharing and engagement. And businesses want in.

How are brands using dark social?

Some businesses are already starting to see some potential with dark social. Starbucks, for example, has begun using dark social platforms as online focus groups to better understand their consumers. They’re looking to Facebook groups to measure brand sentiment, gather customer insight, and analyze purchasing trends. This offers a two-pronged purpose: a channel for marketing and consumer data for product and development.

Messaging platforms are also more personal and conversational. Users are sharing content and recommendations with their friends, rather than their followers. This means they’re more likely to be transparent, upfront, and direct about their recommendations and opinions. People feel more comfortable being themselves when sharing through private channels.

Basically, those real conversations about brands, products, and lifestyle are happening behind the scenes through peer-to-peer messaging. That age-old word of mouth marketing is moving to private platforms, and smart businesses are sitting up to take notice.  

Are there privacy concerns with dark social?  

Consumers have moved to the private messaging platform for a reason… they want to maintain their privacy. So does it invade consumer privacy for businesses to encroach on these private conversations? Maybe… but only if businesses don’t do it correctly.

Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Facebook is going to pivot more towards private messaging services, like expanding their Messenger platform. With Facebook’s notorious data marketing and collection, it’s anticipated that they’ll also open up Messenger to businesses looking to market and collect data. That means these messaging systems likely won’t be so dark anymore.

But consumers are hesitant not to lose their messaging escape. There will likely have to be some sort of barrier to entry with regards to marketing to uphold consumer trust. We anticipate there will be a way that consumers can opt-in to have certain brands as a part of their conversations, or brands may start to incentivize this sort of interaction. It’s unlikely that businesses will be given access to private conversations without permission. This means it may become a balancing act between privacy and consumer trust.

Read: 6 Marketing Quotes To Live And Strategize By

What does dark social mean for me?  

If you’re a consumer, it’s time to be aware. Your data and conversations are not private, even on private messaging services. Businesses wake up anytime they hear their names. In fact, Amazon and Google have both admitted their voice speakers are constantly “listening” for their robot’s names… which means they’re on and “listening” while you’re having your conversations as well. It’s going to be hard to fight this invasion, but it’s important to be aware and take precautions to protect your safety.

In the same vein, though, dark social really isn’t to be feared. Businesses aren’t looking to catch you in the act or judge your personal conversations. They care only about how you’re purchasing, what you think of their brands, and how they can better market to you. This level of personalization will allow you to be exposed to more products and services that directly match your interests and needs.

As a business, you’ll want to acknowledge that dark social is going to become a new marketing channel. But until the rules are well established, it’s best not to jump onboard if you’re a small or medium sized business. You don’t want to get into issues of liability before there’s some sort of precedent. Besides, it’s also challenging to evaluate the return on your investment with something as nuanced as messaging marketing, so you’ll want to establish clear marketing goals and KPIs before even considering jumping into the dark pool.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to start building strong consumer relationships and establish trust within your industry. If and when the day dark social becomes a popular form of marketing, you’ll want to already have a transparent message so consumers feel comfortable allowing you into their private conversations.

So how do you build customer relationships? Content marketing! Content marketing is the best way to establish your brand as a thought leader within your industry. It allows you to interact with consumers in a more transparent way, transforming your marketing into a two-way conversation. Creating a content strategy today will help you connect with your clientele in a more authentic manner, especially if you put a face on your content strategy.

Learn more about the relationship with the article: Creating trust through content.

The future is dark

There are a lot of potential rewards for consumers and businesses alike when it comes to dark social. Product development will likely skyrocket, and customized marketing will become part of our everyday society. Right now, dark social is a waiting game. Before it’s established, consider implementing a content marketing campaign to start building brand trust and authority.

Contact Palm Beach Content Co. to get started with a content strategy that will bring marketing success.

Allison Hess