In Social, Take a Walk on the Dark Side

Recommendations of family members and friends are the gold standard of purchase influence, are they not? It’s why you invest in social media marketing to begin with, right? You promote your special on chicken wings or your funny video about deodorant on Facebook in the hopes that people will share it with their friends. And friends are more receptive to suggestions from friends than they are from brands. Direct ROI figures from social media are sketchy, so what other reason would you have to be there?

Eric Bader now asks you to consider that some 69% of shares don’t happen on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. They happen in “Dark Social.” Dark Social is not like the Deep Web. It’s a term that was coined by Atlantic.com tech editor Alexis C. Madrigal to describe online traffic that Web analytics are unable to track. In the case of consumers sharing content, their “dark” activities take place via the everyday channels of email, texts, and instant messages.

Bader is CMO of RadiumOne, which has developed code that can track Dark Social shares through its Po.st sharing widgets, those clusters of social media network icons that appear with most published content. RadiumOne combined analysis of a month’s worth of Po.st sharing data with a survey of more than 9,000 consumers to arrive at a startling conclusion: The overwhelming majority of shares are not mass-transmitted but sent via Dark Social channels to only one or a handful of people. What’s more, 29% of Americans—nearly one third of your potential sharing universe—only share using Dark Social.

“Lots of brands and agencies are tracking what’s going on in Pinterest and Facebook, but there’s this enormous amount of data moving through Dark Social that’s not being tracked,” Bader says. “We do it because we find it helps us do our job better.”

For RadiumOne, a provider of programmatic ad buying software, that means better targeting. When a mom copies the link for a YouTube video about a certain stroller brand and emails it to two other moms for their opinions, RadiumOne will capture their contacts, analyze the context of the message, and place them in persona files for more targeted media placements.

You should consider taking a walk on the Dark Side yourself if:

You market to Baby Boomers. They’re the least likely to share your brand message on Twitter and the most likely to share via email. Close to half, 46% of them, share through Dark Social channels exclusively.

You work in the entertainment, executive search, or travel industries. More than 80% of social shares on those topics worldwide are executed in Dark fashion.

Your business is health, fitness, or science related. More than a third of people who receive shares on these topics via Dark Social click on the attached links.

“The reason we track these people showing this intent is that they convert better on ads,” Bader says. “That’s the net outcome. That’s why we bother to do any of this.”

As one famous space-traveling father said to his unbelieving son, “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side.”

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