Many marketers focus their energy on how people share content through the social networks we can all see and access.
However, a recent study from research agency RadiumOne suggests that what we can’t see is not only larger, it’s potentially far more important–if only we can figure out how to tap into it and track its success.
The global study, entitled “The Light and Dark of Social Sharing” (PDF), reveals that worldwide 69% of all sharing of online material takes place behind the scenes through “dark” social channels, such as email, instant messaging, and online forums.
In Australia, sharing across unseen social networks is 3.5 times bigger than Facebook sharing. Dark social accounts for 75% of all social sharing, versus 21% on Facebook. Moreover, 95% of people in Australia who share content do so through dark channels.
This is bad news for companies that have poured their marketing dollars into measuring online traffic patterns and optimising “traditional” social channels.
What Is Dark Social?
More specifically, dark social refers to content sharing where consumers copy and paste links or content into emails or instant messages and selectively share with their intimate social networks–friends, family, and colleagues–rather than posting on public social networks.
For each dark social share, the content and people with whom it is being shared are selected for a very specific reason, explained Kerry McCabe, RadiumOne’s Asia-Pacific managing director.
“This data is incredibly powerful, especially when merged with mobile-targeting capabilities and real-time media buying,” McCabe said. “Marketers today are rightly investing heavily into owned and earned media channels: their websites, apps, production of social and branded content, promotions, and eDMs. But they are not yet connecting these assets to gather cohesive, first-party data and activating this to directly inform paid advertising investment.”
The technology is “well and truly” here for dark social to fuel the effectiveness of paid media, McCabe said. Dark social activity can now be measured through intelligent sharing tools and URL shorteners that capture all social sharing. For those brands that have taken the plunge into dark social, the results are definitely there, McCabe added.
For example, during its launch campaign, iflix, Southeast Asia’s fastest growing video-on-demand service, saw more than half (52%) of all new subscribers converted through targeted marketing that was informed by data from dark social sharing.
“The tools CMOs use to collect data should not only look at inbound traffic to a site or clicks on search links,” McCabe said. “They should give a full agnostic view of all the ways consumers engage with and share brand content and offers–for example, across all sharing channels.”
Dark social is of great interest to the marketing communications sector due its sheer volume and relevance. However, according to McCabe, it requires a huge mindset shift to increase expenditure on dark social channels or to move budget away from the unchallenged dominance of big social network players.
“But this is a necessary step if brands are to truly gather and activate their first-party data to improve the effectiveness of their paid media investment,” he said.