Don't Be Afraid Of Dark Social

03/31/2017 10:57 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2017

What is dark social? No, it’s not some evil underground global network run by Russians. Dark social is the conversation you’re having outside the public realm. Instead of tweeting or sharing everything on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, people are connecting more and more through private channels.

As a digital marketer, I’ve noticed that even the social media content I produce day-to-day has been more private lately. I mostly use iMessage (iOS), WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with friends and family — sometimes I’ll use the Instagram and Snapchat message feature to communicate with colleagues or other marketers. At work, I’m logged into Slack every day and connecting with other social media and marketing professionals, co-workers, and catching up on news feeds. I’m definitely “going dark” more often and the trend is only growing with less publicly shared information across social networks.

In the digital marketing world, obviously sharing is critical to the success of a campaign. Dark social is the next communication layer we need to figure out. Chats and messaging are not brand new platforms, but they have evolved and there now too many choices and tools for consumers to choose. Social media and digital marketing campaigns are influence-driven, which means they need engagement and sharing to be successful. How can we as marketers adjust to the growing dark social space, but not interfere, or be considered an intrusion into private conversations? A study by RadiumOne in February 2016 showed 84% of social media shares were done via dark social with only 9% through Facebook and 7% elsewhere.

We marketers need to provide a more personal, real experience for our audience — we need to be authentic, adapt the messaging on the user's terms. By creating branded emojis and emoji keyboards, or offering branded sticker packs in the iMessage store, or creating friendly, knowledgeable chatbots to establish a more personal, one-on-one relationship, dark social can be our friend.

One of the best brands on dark social right now is Dunkin Donuts. As Nick Dunham, Director of Media at Dunkin Donuts mentioned at South by Southwest this year, “Stickers allow us to be conversational and fun... and it's designed for mobile.” Distribution-wise stickers and emoji apps are the same as any social media campaign, but more personal. If you’re texting a friend to meet for coffee, Dunkin Donuts still wants to be part of that conversation, so they provide tools to allow consumers to still talk about the brand, even on dark social.

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