The Whats, The Whys and The Hows of Dark Social Monitoring
84%1 of all web content and social network shares are private shares. Whether through message applications or even during an exchange in a forum, how can you truly trace the underbelly of social media?
How can you gather consumer insights when internet and social users don’t always share them publicly? How do you identify industry trends if they’re online going through private discussions? How do we deal with the data that eludes us? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Dark Social?
A Simple Definition of Dark Social
Multiple terminologies refer to dark social, from dark social media data, dark traffic, or even dark funnel. While they all sound very ominous, and you may have probably heard of them once before, what do they essentially mean?
The term "dark social" describes the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be tracked by web analytics software. Often it refers to some social media, private messaging applications, and online communities. However, in a broader sense, it could also include online or face-to-face events. Let's break down some aspects of these channels, explaining why they could appear untrackable:
- Social media: the common route for social media monitoring is to track keywords. But there will come a time when content shared in a video or photo is also needed. Visual content or data would be more complicated to collect and analyze effectively. Also, if a hashtag is about your products but doesn't mention your brand, you'll have difficulty analyzing them yourself.
Examples: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest...
- Private messaging apps: these data exchanges are private, from one person to another. If your brand is mentioned, what is said about it cannot be collected because it belongs to a direct conversation.
Examples: Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp, Zoom, DMs...
- Content platforms: how do you know if your brand is mentioned among all the existing podcasts if it is not tagged in the description?
Examples: Spotify, Apple Podcast...
- Communities: to access a social group's discussion, you must be part of it. These are closed, private groups, where you must apply for membership to access the shared content.
Examples: Discord Servers, Facebook Groups, work channels...
- Events: media sharing also occurs in in-person gatherings and online conferences. For example, you may be sharing a video on your phone. On the other hand, you could quickly disseminate a link in a private chat virtually.
Examples: virtual or face-to-face event, webinar, conferences…
Graph representing the percentage of Dark Social content
Suppose you want to get an idea of what this loss of information represents for your business regarding the actual volume of conversations and users. In that case, you need to look at a specific region. For instance, chat apps are more likely to be used daily by Asian consumers than social media sites. According to a TNS study, 61% of Asian Internet users use chat apps daily, compared to only 43% who use social media platforms daily.
All of these examples illustrate how much data marketers are missing, leaving more to be desired when it comes to benchmarking data. If pieced together, these mentions in the dark represent many unaccounted-for users, traffic, and conversions. What are the negative impacts?
Disadvantages of Dark Social
As you will have understood from our definition of dark social, the central problem of dark social is being unable to determine the origin of your traffic. It will be classified as "direct" or "other," but you will not have more information.
There will be bound to be limitations because it is more beneficial to understand how new users arrived at your content, yet this path is not traceable. The result means you can't identify your prospects.
The problem with dark social is, then, strategic. The web data fed to your organization’s decision-making is not as reliable as it could be. Even more troublesome, if that traffic leads to a sale, it cannot be attributed to a channel or activity.
So how can you shed light on dark social?
Dark Social Opportunities for Brands
Dark social represents a gold mine of information that it would be a shame not to know how to exploit. It is, therefore, in the interest of companies to look into this practice to better understand their social data.
Given that social data represents a significant proportion of the company's data, knowing how to collect it, sort it and complete it with data from other sources will allow your company to:
- better understand your prospects’ behaviors,
- identify your prospects’ needs (and therefore propose new products or services, for example),
- refine your cross-channel marketing campaigns,
- increase the ROI of social marketing campaigns.
And what is the difference between a dark social interaction and a social audience? The user's trust!
The interactions on dark social have more weight than a comment shared on traditional social networks as netizens who forward "dark" content (article links, image or video sharing) could have stronger closer ties to the community.
People are looking to share a piece of information or even an emotion. By sharing a funny video on TikTok with a friend, we are not looking to collect likes or comments: it is a disinterested sharing.
That's why brands increasingly prefer User-Generated Content (UGC) for their branded content strategy. Partnering with well-known influencers and celebrities could be less effective in landing the desired impact when viewers realize it is sponsored content, resulting in less trust. As opposed to user-generated content created by everyday netizens without a "partnership" label tend to appear more trustworthy and credible.
For instance, in 2021, the “sky-high mascara” trend from Maybelline, a New York Cosmetics label, became viral, generating thousands of UGC videos. The hashtag ‘#skyhighmascara’ has more than 800 million views on TikTok, not counting videos that did not feature the tag.
Example of UGC content - Maybelline’s mascara campaign in 2021
To have a more scientific look at the hidden opportunities of social, here are eight statistics that will help your brand in discovering the dark social cog:
- #1. 79%2 of people believe UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions.
- #2. Compared to influencer content, consumers find UGC 9.8x2 more impactful when making a purchasing decision.
- #3. Millennials trust UGC 50%3 more than original brand-generated content.
- #4. Only 16%4 brands have a strategy regarding UGC. What about yours? 👀
- #5. 74%5 of consumers rely on social media to inform their purchasing decisions.
- #6. Content shared by employees receives 8x6 more engagement than content shared by brand channels. Yes, even your salespeople can be considered a UGC creator if they regularly post on LinkedIn!
- #7. Consumers are 2.4x2 more likely to say UGC is authentic compared to brand-created content.
- #8. 56%7 of internet users say they find out about products from friends or acquaintances while 32% rely on customer reviews.
Many of these figures show the importance of UGC data that only a handful of companies leverage. But how can you keep track of it?
A Tool to Light Up Your Dark Social
To be alerted of what is being said about your company online, including missing mentions of your brand, seek a modern solution such as social media listening and monitoring software, allowing you to access critical dark social data easily. Thanks to the power of artificial intelligence, it is even possible to recognize your logo or sign on a photo or video. Using such software would allow you to stay informed on this side of social.
Think about all the future potential that dark social could bring you. It's an area of potential for brands, and marketers should start taking advantage of it as soon as they can. The most important thing is ensuring you have access to the right data. You can only make intelligent decisions about your marketing budget if you have a complete picture of what works and what doesn't.
Find a proper strategy for your brand and get started on the dark side of social! 💡
- 1: RadiumOne - Dark Social Study
- 2: Stackla Studies - Consumer Age Report
- 3: Smartbrief
- 4: Merkleyandpartner - How to Connect with Consumers via User-Generated Content
- 5: SocialMediaToday - Is Social Media the Biggest Influencer of Buying Decisions?
- 6: Social Media Today - From Employee to Advocate: Mobilize Your Team to Share Your Brand Content
- 7: Statista - Sources of inspiration for new products in the U.S. in 2022
Written by Léa BOUTRON
Léa is a French native with a double technological and managerial background who, in addition to being passionate about new technologies, loves working in an international environment. That's why, after professional experiences in the Netherlands or Spain, she joined Digimind Singapore to work on the APAC market.