Monday, 5 february 2018 | Brenda Rodríguez López
How can you value what you cannot measure? That is what many marketers ask themselves when facing the mysterious matter of dark social. Discovering who is behind this invisible traffic is not an easy task, although sometimes it is possible. Dark and gloomy, its name only indicates its opaque character. What at first glance may seem an invisible enemy is capable of becoming a great hidden ally. The challenge is how to turn around what we barely know?
Noelia and Pablo always wanted to visit the Brittany region but they never have time to plan the trip. Today, Noelia read a very complete article in a travel blog about cheap accommodations in some charming villages of this fascinating region. She did not take a minute to copy the link and to send it to Pablo by WhatsApp. Minutes later, and given that he had not seen the message yet, she continued to investigate and repeated the process with other similar contents from the webpage about possible routes by car and recommended restaurants in the area. At this moment, both are finalizing details on the trip to France without the slightest suspicion that this adventure has been forged in the dark social heart.
The seats in the shade
One of the great goals of the professionals who work in marketing is to get to know well who their audience are and how they behave to decide about what actions and strategies are appropriate and how to put them into practice next. But this task is not always simple. In the same way, the actors of an amateur theater company try to discover what happens in the seats hidden by the auditorium shade, web analysts try to get to know who is hidden behind the visits of their webpages that come (from Direct traffic) without leaving any other type of trace. The company members know that a large part of that audience has gone there by the word-of-mouth, they perceive that the room is full and even hear some ovations and laughters in the background. But, up there, on the stage, it is practically impossible to decipher who they are. They only recognize some faces in the first row, those of people to whom the light reaches.
In spite of the obvious differences and understanding that, after the show, the actors would have many ways of getting to know more things about their audience –if they did not run before the performance finished– marketing professionals face the same uncertainty. Dark social would be in this simile, that part of the audience that is hidden because the light does not reach them, an obstacle that web analysts must outcome if they want to understand who they are and how this audience really behaves. These experts intuit that the mysterious visits that webpages get, about which little else is known but they have come directly, have ended up there in large part thanks to recommendations. On numerous occasions, they are the result of an interaction via private channels like email or instant messaging where a link has been shared. That particular and personal communication cannot be traced.
If you tell me... I'll listen to you!
Whatsapp has a record level of penetration in Spain. The rise of this type of instant messaging applications in recent years has led to that dark social reaches increasingly higher figures. In fact, experts say that 84% of content shared on the Internet belongs to this invisible traffic. With figures like these, you cannot close your eyes to the evidence. Taking this phenomenon into account when developing any strategy in digital marketing can make a difference.
A distinctive characteristic of this traffic is that, as it happened with the word-of-mouth in the theatrical performance, it is usually generated as a result of a recommendation. For example, when Pablo clicks on the links that Noelia has passed, he is directly accessing to the website where the article is located without any trace of how he has managed to get that URL. However, as we know the history, we also know that under this behavior lies the influence of Noelia. Thousands of people have conversations of this type in private chats every day. This type of recommendations are a very strong stimulus for users, not only when they get to visit a page, but when they end up acquiring a product or hiring a service.