Dark social: why agencies should be experimenting with the 'massively untapped' medium

Robin Shaw on why agencies should be experimenting with the 'massively untapped' medium

From Adidas using WhatsApp to build hyper local communities in cities across the world to Greggs turning to the platform for a niche seasonal campaign, brands are still firmly in the test and learn arena when it comes to dark social.

Despite these experiments, Robin Shaw, co-founder of creative events, experiential and cultural consultancy company Warm Street, believes that the medium is a "massively untapped" resource for agencies, noting its ability to shine a light on consumers' true interests.

Shaw works with Red Bull to help create unique cultural moments, and offers a significant insight into how to select the right agency partners to work with when working across a variety of platforms.

Next month he will join a panel of industry experts, discussing how to bridge the skills gap through agency partnerships for Pitch Perfect, The Drum's new business event, which is focused on helping agencies win new business.

Before that, he talks to The Drum about how dark social is incredibly valuable to brands and agencies and what attendees can expect from the panel session.

What are the collaborations/partnerships happening on dark social?

We work with our clients almost always through dark social channels and these are the same channels we use to communicate and gain insight from consumers and early adopters at a grassroots level. We can talk openly about ideas without having to set up focus groups or take people into an agency setting which can skew our findings.

The biggest attributes for us are the instant nature of communication and the comfort clients or partners feel when working on social channels like Facebook groups or WhatsApp.

How you think this will impact the way traditional agencies do business in the future?

Dark social is a massively untapped resource for most agencies (even though it amounts to 84% outbound sharing) and defies the rules of traditional advertising. Dark Social is for the people not for businesses and, with the rise of influencers, personal relationships are becoming more important and these channels cater for exactly that. It’ll be very interesting to see how this develops over time.

A key problem with dark social is the lack of measurement, how do you think this can be overcome?

This is where companies like ours come into our own as we can access this data in an authentic manner. When agencies get their hands on dark social channels the data within it will be a game-changer; it shows consumers’ real interests and is incredibly valuable.

How important is it to the industry to have conferences like Pitch Perfect?

We’re not a traditional agency and plan to keep it that way, so for us it’s a super interesting insight into how the industry works. Our sales generally come via recommendations or word of mouth and if we do approach a brand it’s because we really love their work as opposed to it being a purely a financial transaction. It will be great to hear how other people search out business or bring on new clients.

What can people expect from your panel?

The discussion will offer a great insight into the new age of open agency communication, I feel the days of white labelling are over as clients want to know who they’re working with and why it’s beneficial to their campaign.

If there is one message that attendees should take from your panel, what would it be?

Openness and honesty are key, collaborations should be celebrated for the insight and fresh lens they bring to projects. Also, agencies are not the all mighty fountains of knowledge they sometimes claim to be. We tend to find that a lot of staff have worked in the agency world all their lives and can lose touch with their consumers.

Why should agencies come to this event, and in particular, your panel?

To learn new approaches and get a grassroots insight into what’s happening in culture at this very moment in time, as opposed to jumping on the band wagon when a trend has passed.

Shaw is a panelist for The Drum’s Pitch Perfect event on Thursday 28 September. Tickets for this event are available to purchase now.

Sponsors for this event are: Winmo, The Drum RAR, Imagination and WARC.

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