Digital marketing: Everything you need to know about dark socials

InsightFeatures Wed 22nd Nov 2023 by Katrina Bell

Digital marketing: Everything you need to know about dark socials

Digital marketing: Everything you need to know about dark socials

Feature by Katrina Bell | Wed 22nd Nov 2023

Katrina founded boutique digital agency Aardvark Multimedia in 2003, and has been a B2B journalist for over 25 years. She was the author of the Web Dr column for Essential Kitchen & Bathroom Business magazine focussing on online marketing strategies for KBB businesses. More

So how do you go about quantifying dark socials – those 'invisible shares' about your brand that happen through text and via email? Katrina Bell suggests 4 strategies you can adopt that can help.

The familiar question 'How did you hear about us?' has just got a lot more interesting. Picture yourself, perhaps with a dedicated social marketing team or maybe an enthusiastic practitioner. You’re clutching the log-ins to your post scheduling and analytics software, eager to get your weekly ‘reach’ updates and monthly reports.

That is, until you find out that around 95% of traffic around your brand is completely elusive to you. How can this be? Blame dark socials, which are thankfully very different to the so-called dark web.

The term dark social has been around for at least a decade and yet it is only now marketers are paying the idea enough attention – and so should you be.

All the activity hidden from you is precisely the output you need to be measuring, and yet your usual analytics and listening tools aren’t quite equipped to listen into these crucial conversations your customers are having about your brand.

How much is debatable. For the dark socials – the emails, direct messages etc – are exactly where your customers are sharing and communicating the most, and yet you can't see it. It’s the Slack channels, WhatsApps, Snapchats, closed Facebook groups. Even podcasts and YouTube events. Due to its unique set up, TikTok remains impenetrable. So you can’t currently know who is clicking on your brand.  

Then if you factor in ad blockers, our understandable distaste for cookies and stringent GDPR hoops users have to jump through, aggregating marketing has become a nightmare.

Here are 4 easy steps you can take to shine a light into dark socials.  

1. Remember when the easiest way to gauge which of your marketing was working was by asking the simple question ‘How did you hear about us?’. The options may have expanded beyond print, word of mouth, etc, to incorporate your digital ad spend and your social media presence, but even with dark socials coming into the mix, the question remains the same. Ask anew where the conversation about your brand and products started, but expand the questions to these unregulated spaces. Send out post-completion surveys that specifically ask about those conversations your customers are having privately, away from the usual channels.

2. Double-down on sharing buttons from all your website’s screens, product descriptions or apps. That way you never miss out on seeing which platforms your customers are using to spread your message beyond the reach of traditional analytics. In addition, keep on top of new channels that need to be added, such as Threads and Bluesky

3. Social listening tools will continue to get cleverer at tracing this private activity – you can pair this with incentivised surveys and feedback questionnaires even before a sale has been made to initiate an insight into the dark social sphere.  

4. Ask about implementing something called unique URL tagging. By giving individual web pages a unique address (URL) this can show how effective your targeted campaigns have been. Think of it as an AirTag that follows the information around the channels.  

Tags: insight, features, digital marketing, dark socials, kitchens

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