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Brands see the light over Dark Social and the private sharing of content

By Kulvin Kailey, Data planner

March 22, 2016 | 5 min read

Instant Messaging and email - or dark social - are currently the most popular platforms for sharing content. (According to recent research by RadiumOne, 69 per cent of all content shared is done so privately.) Unsurprisingly, brands are keen to understand how they can utilise dark social and gain a truer representation of ROI and customer behaviour. The potential benefits to both brand and consumer are huge - and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Kulvin Kailey is a data planner at Hugo & Cat.

Kulvin Kailey is a data planner at Hugo & Cat.

Recently, Adidas has been using Whatsapp to serve users with exclusive content and news in return for engaging with the brand in the dark social space. In this scenario, ‘active’ engagement with the brand is rewarded in private, giving the user the choice around where and how to share their content.

Facebook are also opening up their Messenger platform to brands, enabling them to engage customers in one-to-one conversations. This opens up a whole new level of concerns around privacy and contextual ethics. Until brands fully understand the difference between how users share content privately and publicly, there will be a trial and error period - pioneers will be breaking new ground and testing user’s personal boundaries. Until new rules of engagement are established, brands will need to communicate what people are signing up for and how their data is being used.

Facebook’s decision follows an industry trend exploring the use of conversational interfaces to deliver content and services. Messaging is exciting new territory for brands and we’re already seeing a few experiments exploring the impact on content consumption - Quartz have developed their latest news app using this chat interface which allows users to tailor the information they receive. In the age of personalisation, this appears to be a logical step in offering users completely bespoke experiences based on their own requirements.

But let's bring this back to Facebook. Content served into the previously guarded messenger platform may be a new step for brands and consumers, but until the best-use scenarios for the channel have been defined, the benefits lean more strongly towards brands. Facebook is a business built on a complex ad network, so as long as they’re keeping brands happy, they keep making money, right? "Better attribution, more accurate ROI." It's certainly a step in the right direction from this perspective.

Traditional models of measuring social media campaign success use public-facing metrics, but this only represents 31 per cent of your true reach. Let's flash forward a year, and we are likely to see more accurate models that include dark sharing. These are going to have huge effects on marketing and content budgets going forward. How might brands adapt their tactics to drive engagement through dark social? Will we see campaigns straddle the two mediums or have distinctly separate approaches?

As a new concept to be explored, brands that jump on the bandwagon first may reap the most reward. Consider how strong advocacy for a brand or product would be if it engaged with you via direct message as opposed to it being publicly shared and appearing on your newsfeed - content strategists need to start taking note of the opportunities that are at play here, but they also need to be explicitly aware of how users perceive their brand within dark spaces. A misjudged approach could damage a customer relationship that may have only been skin deep, but still positive.

For consumers, a key step in the use of this channel will be the act of authorisation. For a brand that you already hold in high regard, you may use this as a tool to receive timely, personalised content in a place that isn’t already saturated with other things that are easily ignored. Unsanctioned content that is received without this onboarding process raises important questions around privacy and will affect brand perceptions in the social space - especially if users are able to ‘block’ future content. Without a clear opt-in process what’s to stop our personal messaging spaces turning into our email junk folders?

Kulvin Kailey is a data planner at Hugo & Cat.


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