What you need to know about the dark art of dark social

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And the opportunities it presents
By Caroline Faucher, contributor. 11 April, 2017
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The rise of dark social creates new marketing opportunities for finance brands, and shouldn't be ignored.

First referred to as dark social in 2012 by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal, the term is now widely accepted to describe the sharing of content that cannot be traced. This type of content is essentially shared via any platform that eludes Google's powerful analytics tentacles such as Messenger apps, chatbots, text messages, emails, and anything that occurs behind a login including forums, as well as sharing conducted via secure browsing.

For Mark Middlemas, Communications Director at marketing company RadiumOne, "It's the biggest blind spot in online marketing with up to 84% of consumers using it to share content online, based on our most recent study in 2016. Effectively, this means brands can be missing out on a hugely lucrative audience."

Understanding dark social habits

While the RadiumOne report shows dark social is on the rise and represents three times the sharing that occurs on Facebook globally, Middlemas says the role Facebook and other social media platforms play in dark social by creating walled gardens isn’t that significant. In fact, the study states only 9% of dark social is shared through Facebook and 7% through other social channels. “If you think about your own social sharing behaviour these figures make perfect sense – you tend to share more content via email & IM than any other route and our research backs this up.”

This ‘behind the scenes’ sharing is definitely the preferred method for sharing personal finance content. "Essentially, most online content sharing in finance will be done implicitly with those friends and family you trust and very much via dark social," Middlemas explains. "As you’d expect, it’s not a topic for public sharing to lots of people socially when you're discussing stocks and shares, banking, and insurance."

Using the right tools, such as analytics suites that can track dark social is key

Dark social as marketing opportunity

By far the biggest opportunity that arises from dark social is customer insight. Many marketers agree that what is shared privately may give a more accurate picture of a consumer’s real interests. But measuring and harnessing dark social is a challenge, believes Middlemas. “We've made great strides in making brands aware of dark social, but too many still aren’t aware of measuring and harnessing it,” he says, adding that using the right tools, such as analytics suites that can track dark social is key. With a better understanding of who customers are, their interests and online sharing habits, brands can create deeper, more personal profiles which allows for better targeting with online advertising.

What about privacy?

As concerns about data privacy mount, marketers are looking at ways to adapt. "Advertising helps make the internet exist so it’s important there is an exchange [of data], but the value exchange has to be better,” acknowledges Middlemas, who goes on to mention the upcoming enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation. It seeks to set some clear boundaries about the way personal data is tracked and harnessed by companies across the EU.

While it was thought it may only be a matter of time before other governments followed the EU lead, the recent repeal by the Trump administration of Obama's internet privacy regulations shows the tide doesn't just flow one way.

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Caroline is a Canadian-Australian writer and online communication strategist with over 10 years experience in media, not-for-profits and government. Now based in the seaside city of Newcastle, she enjoys the variety of topics a freelance life offers and the challenge of turning complex ideas into simple messages.