Can you remember the last few posts you shared with your friends? Did you systematically tweet them one-by-one, or post them as Facebook updates?
Let me guess - instead, you shared them with someone particular via message, or in one of the WhatsApp groups you belong to. As digitally inclined as you are, it’s okay if you don’t want your social sphere to know every. Single. Thing you find amusing.
And you’re not alone - the top 4 messaging apps have now surpassed the top 4 social networks in terms of active monthly users. This change in online behavior presents companies with a new series of challenges. On one hand, they’re putting more effort into creating evermore personalized experiences for their customers – namely through one-to-one conversations and artificially intelligent bots. On the other, they're having a difficult time properly measuring the link shares and impact that these private conversations are having on their brand reputation.
Such sharing is called ‘Dark Social’, and it's rising in importance for social media marketers.
What Is Dark Social?
Dark Social describes the activity occurring in private media, including as messaging apps, email, and text messages. Such activity is not properly captured by analytics programs and social monitoring tools, thus becoming “invisible”, or “dark” to those looking to track it.
Why Should Dark Social Intrigue Us Marketers?
Dark Social is attracting more and more attention as the use of messaging apps and bots continues to grow exponentially.
The way customers and brands are using social media to share and interact is fundamentally changing, and many marketers are pulling their hair out trying to make sense of the traffic coming from Dark Social.
But another issue concerns all the chatter about their brands that companies are completely unaware of – there’s no possible alert for when a customer is praising or complaining about a product on private media, making it difficult for brands to intervene and better manage their customer service and reputation.
The rise of messaging apps fuelled by chatbots
Today’s brands are seeking to build much more targeted, effective and intimate relationships with customers than ever before.
Once they’ve initiated a private conversation with a user, they’re empowered to learn about their interests and send them more targeted promotions. The value lies in authentic one-to-one interactions. Add a good amount of artificial intelligence, and human powered chatbots could be the true key to success.
Here are a few figures about the Big Four messaging apps (as of September 2017, according to Statista):
- 1.3 billion monthly active users on Facebook Messenger;
- 1.3 billion monthly active users on WhatsApp;
- 963 million monthly active users on WeChat;
- 260 million monthly active users on Viber.
As noted earlier, since 2015, these apps have surpassed the Big Four social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn) in terms of monthly active users: roughly 3.823 billion vs. 3.195 billion as of September 2017.
Brands are now looking to grasp the opportunities provided by messaging apps, by integrating them into their processes. For example, Dutch airline company KLM uses Messenger to handle their customers’ requests 24/7 (even to change seats) and send out travel details. All that in a conversational and private manner – plus the friendly tone (emojis included, but not too many, of course).
How to measure the traffic coming from Dark Social?
Dark social activity is like a visitor appearing out of nowhere. If a customer loves your content and decides to copy and paste the link into a private message, instead of using your sharing buttons (oh, the horror), the tags that should have traveled with the link are absent, ruining your website’s analytics. It all goes downhill from here: if you can't make sure you’re collecting the right data, you have less capacity to make informed business decisions, less insight into where to spend your budget, and most importantly, less data to help make sense of what works and what doesn’t with your customers.
But there is a way to shed some light on your Dark Social traffic: by diving into your Direct traffic.
In your analytics program of choice, go to your ‘Direct Traffic’ segment and narrow down the results to web pages with “hard-to-remember” URLs, and which have no tags. To do so, you'll need to exclude all “simple” URLs such as your homepage and the first degree sections of your website (e.g. /login, /contact, /blog, /about, /product, etc.).
Exclude as many of your “simple” URLs as you can. What’s left becomes your de facto ‘Dark Social’ audience segment.
At the same time, you can also minimize the volume of Dark Social traffic by implementing better sharing buttons to your website (think of tools like ShareThis or SumoMe), which do have messaging apps among the sharing options in addition to the common social networks. If a customer uses your sharing buttons, instead of copying and pasting like they would do in the absence of your plugin, your analytics program will then be able to point out the traffic source to be “WhatsApp” or “Facebook Messenger”, etc. correctly.
While this is not quite an exact science given the manual work required, it does give you some idea of your own Dark Social traffic. Try it out - you might be surprised by the volume.