Six challenges dark social presents for your brand in 2018

It’s 2018. Do you know where your website traffic comes from? Chances are that, even if you’re the most sophisticated Google Analytics user, you don’t.

The reason?

The rise of dark social.

Dark social refers to any channel that your business can’t track through traditional analytical means. That means any links shared through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Whats App or even more traditional tools like email aren’t attributed properly in your marketing mix.

But dark social is a much bigger deal than a little bit of unattributed website traffic.

It’s shifting many of our traditional beliefs about how to use social media for marketing.

Here are six challenges dark social will present for your brand this year.

Unattributable traffic

Knowing where your website traffic comes from is essential.

It’s the only way of knowing which of your marketing channels are and aren’t working for driving traffic to your site and, ultimately, getting users to convert.

If you don’t know where your traffic is coming from then you can’t replicate success. It also means you can’t diagnose your failures when campaigns aren’t up to snuff.

Dark social channels are outside your control

One of the great things about social media marketing is the channels are under your thumb.

You decide when you want to post on Twitter.

You decide what gets said on your Facebook account.

You decide which landing pages you want to drive traffic to on LinkedIn.

But with dark social, all of that is outside of your grasp.

You have next to no control over how your brand is perceived and discussed on channels such as Facebook Messenger and private text message.

No clear way to drive consumer action

There’s a reason why marketers put so much effort into defining a clear call-to-action.

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In dark social, the call-to-action is run through the filter of whoever is sending the message. That affects the way you’ve planned your entire user journey.

Let’s say your public social media post has a clear call-to-action, but your landing page doesn’t.

That means that if your content is being shared via dark social, there’s going to be a missing step in the user journey.

The rise of dark social means you’ll need to reconsider your marketing funnel around the notion that not every user experience is going to proceed how you think.

We just don’t think a lot about channels outside our grasp

Let’s face it. As digital marketers, we’re just not used to having online tools that are outside our control.

We can choose how we want to spend AdWords budgets down to the penny.

On Facebook, we can get as granular as targeting distinct area codes in our city.

And that’s one of the biggest challenges that dark social represents: The need to get our heads around the idea that not everything is under our control.

Dark social really is a challenge that’s unparalleled in digital marketing, where so many of the tactics involve some newfangled tool that allows us to attribute revenue in a new way.

Instead it’s a distinct kind of issue – how to get people to discuss our brands in the way we want them to on private channels.

In digital marketing we’re just not used to thinking along those lines.

It’s difficult to attribute

One of the big advantages of digital marketing is how easily trackable it is.

With a click of a button you can get easily customizable up-to-the-minute metrics for nearly every facet of your marketing organization.

It’s a level of sophistication that marketers 30 years ago could only have dreamed of.

But that also means we have a big blind spot for anything that isn’t easily trackable.

Dark social is a problem for brands because we not only like to know where our traffic is coming from – we depend on it for making key business decisions.

You can’t see what is being said about you

One of the big advantages of social media is the venue it provides for gathering audience feedback.

If there’s a problem with your brand that needs your attention, chances are you’re going to hear about it on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

With dark social, that conversation is entirely hidden from view.

Maybe your audiences dislike your customer service. Or maybe the price is too high.

If they choose to communicate these concerns one-to-one through private dark social channels, chances are you’re not going to hear about it.

The mediums are hidden

One of the advantages of proper attribution is that you can stay on top not just of your top channels, but any channel at all that’s driving traffic to the site.

For example: Reddit may drive a small percentage of traffic to your business, at least in comparison to major channels like Facebook. But at least you know that it exists.

Perhaps a look at your Google Analytics data starts a conversation along the lines of “Reddit was a small source of traffic to our site this month. Is there any way we could use it further build our following?”

Dark social takes that away.

There could be a popular new private messaging app that hits the market tomorrow. Since it won’t show up in your analytics, you’ll have no way of knowing that it exists.

Solving the challenge of dark social

How to solve these problems is very much up for debate.

But one thing is certain: Dark social is a challenge largely unparalleled in the relatively new field of digital marketing – one that is just waiting for an innovative brand to conquer.

Mark Brownlee is a Digital Marketing Strategist with Banfield.

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