You’ve just spent a boatload of time getting really proficient at these “dark social” posts, which appear in the newsfeed of audiences depending on targeting criteria. They enable you to send the best-fit offers to the right people at the right time without enabling other prospects (or existing customers) to see the details of that offer or message.
The posts are ready for delivery and creative testing, and now it seems all these clever marketing tactics will need to be rolled back because at least one social media platform has pledged full transparency on paid media.
Do we simply declare it 2014 and begin again? Or have we as an industry become wiser, more able to reap the benefits of what we’ve learned, and embrace these new ad standards to take success to a whole new level with this new requirement of transparency?
Standards are hard to get excited about until people (and companies) start optimizing for the lack of standards.
Leaving politics aside, I had become increasingly concerned as I observed many brands shift as much as 80% of their paid-media budget to dark social — high on the fact that their competitors couldn’t see their messaging — and convinced that they were somehow more “optimized.”
Without any clear company-level benchmarks, a general disregard for competitive measurement circa 2012 emerged, coupled with the unfounded belief that each company was somehow “winning” with dark social.
In most cases, they weren’t. Here are some examples of what was happening:
Companies were creating hundreds of post permutations and targeting dark posts against them, with little to no visibility into what was working due to the difficulty in reporting back results and taking into account each permutation. Imagine that each of the following needed to be combined together for optimization: Audience target, image or video, accompanying subject line for post, accompanying text of post, efficiency of CPM vs CPC, unique links on each ad to track not just the click rates but the downstream conversions, to name a few.
Companies were creating wonderfully detailed target audiences, then sending the same creative to each because in the end, no one knew which creative to show to which target (and in many cases, the creative budget had already been spent).
Companies stopped competitively benchmarking altogether because they didn’t trust that they could get much of a competitive view and began operating in the silo of just their own company. They disregarded competitive messaging, the spend of competitors, and missed subtle but important shifts in consumer behaviors as a result.
All three of the above lulled many into a false sense of security that things were going well because there was really no way to be proved wrong in that belief. It is massively dangerous territory in a world as fast-changing as ours and with consumers as fickle and fast-moving as they now are.
The benefits of dark posts have always been the ability to target different consumers with different messaging depending on their location, demographic, interests, or what they’ve already purchased from a marketer in the past--in the case where the marketer has uploaded their customer database and is targeting on this basis.
The benefits to consumers is that they see only ads that are relevant to them. Potentially, these targeted ads lead to better deals than those for the broader market because of a consumer’s desirability or past online behavior.
Marketers will need to embrace global pages with local-market breakouts for location/language differentiated messaging, which will not help US geographies but will be helpful for international ones. Then they will begin to re-visit organic social as a way of copy testing and understanding creative messaging and consumer receptivity to different types of content.
The good news is organic social is still an amazing real-time focus group and even with relatively low reach, a lot can be learned about what works and what doesn’t for different audiences.
The downside of dark posts has always been the complexity, need for multiple creative executions, lack of transparency to the consumer and the lack of transparency to the marketer on what are reasonable industry statistics at the competitor level — industry norms, perhaps, but no true competitive intelligence.
Consumers also miss out on deals or offers based on some unknown criteria. This lack of transparency means they are unable to understand the full gamut of brand offers and cannot do more research because it’s hidden in social media.
In the aftermath of “fake news” and Russian trolls, simply relying on the digital fluency of the average consumer is clearly not enough, and more protections are needed for consumers to make decisions with confidence and full information.
Eliminating dark posts is a good thing for our industry because it results in more accurate measurement, but it also is better for consumers who should ultimately have the benefit of knowing all the options on offer.