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.
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.
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.
First of all, and although it is not easy, we must try to do everything possible to clear the unknown in the equation and, in short, to know as much as possible about the visitors that are hidden under this invisible traffic that the professionals of the sector claim can reach up the fourth of the total visits on blogs or the half in the case of generalist webs. How do the dark social members access to websites? Although the shared content via private channels, like social network chats or email, implies an elevate percentage, users can reach this content thanks to other actions like writing the URL directly in the browser, accessing through a link saved in favorites, use safe browsing or make an organic search in a specific browser such as Google.
A good strategy to get the audience to share the content, and at the same time combating this dark traffic, is precisely to make the task easier for users. If on many occasions, they end up cutting and copying links, it is because they do not have a simpler or, at least, more intuitive function for sharing content on hand. Making social buttons available cannot only prevent them from copying the URL to share, but also push them to do it more. Another way to get rid of the mantle of mystery that covers dark social is to shorten the URLs in such a way that visitors can be identified then by using these short links, or to integrate the social networks or blog posts in the emails inserting an embed code.
Dark social does not have to be just an enemy. No one can prevent users from copying and pasting links, at least, for the time being. If invisible traffic is only conceived as a rival to take down, this will be a lost battle. However, trying to focus on it, exposing it, studying its behavior, following it up and understanding what makes it grow or decrease, can be very beneficial to achieve a successful campaign. In addition to this, if the majority of the visits that come from dark social are the product of a recommendation, these users are more likely to opt for purchasing a product or contracting a service.
According to a Nielsen study, 83% of people trust on the recommendations made by their friends and family, 66% of them even trust in the recommendations from people who are not part of their immediate circle. In fact, a large part of the influencer marketing success can lie precisely in the strength that the advice of other people have for masses. Therefore, the social dark phenomenon can turn into a great hidden ally. The more relevant they are, the more attention they attract and the more quality the content has, the more "shareable" they will be and this invisible traffic based on recommendations will be able to help pushing the campaigns. Like the sixteenth president of United States, Abraham Lincoln, would say:
<Do not I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?>