Why marketers targeting sports fans should try their luck with dark social

Our research reveals that 97%* of audience sharing around the Six Nations rugby championship is via 'dark social' – the sharing of online content across channels that cannot be measured by traditional web analytics, such as URL and video links sent via email, instant messenger platforms and online forums.

Advertisers could be targeting an even more engaged audience, bolstering their offering by looking at innovative ways of serving up content such as video retargeting and harnessing the value of dark social. When consumers share content in their own network this can be a better indicator of intent and ultimately conversion to purchase. The ad tech industry has the opportunity to take off the blindfold and tap into dark social.

Reassess your audience

Most marketers would argue they use sophisticated tools and insight to determine their audience and how to target them. However, there still tends to be a reliance on stereotypes. For instance, popular belief is that the Six Nations targets a largely male audience or so it would seem with the brands that advertise against it. However, our research reveals that women make up nearly half (48%) of Six Nations fans. Interestingly, over a third (36%) of fans are also aged 18-34.

This type of insight is invaluable and brings with it a whole host of new opportunities for other brands and sectors. Brands that aren’t typically associated with a sport may want to review their strategy – there’s a huge opportunity to target an engaged audience before, during and post matches. Our findings also show that the best day of the week for advertisers to target consumers is the Thursday prior to a big game on Saturday, due to the surge of click-backs.

Armed with this knowledge, brands can realign their strategy and ensure they’re not missing out on opportunities by relying on misleading insight.

Reaching an engaged following that shows intent

We believe that dark social remains predominately untapped for many brands due to the lack of technology to track this type of information. As a result, brands often opt for a fail-safe plan and apportion large amounts of budget to popular websites and search engines to cover off a mass audience. Ultimately, this means they may be missing out on a wider, more engaged customer base that is a better fit for their brand.

We believe brands should also take note of the amount of URL sharing via Dark Social. Not only does it dominate in this channel but people sharing content privately on personal channels can be a better gauge of customer intent, helping lead to a higher chance of conversion.

For brands, harnessing this data means advertisers can help cover all bases – there will be fewer blind spots across any channels and devices.

Brand safety worries could push people further into the dark

When trust is in question, consumers often revert to the privacy of encrypted channels. Our study shows that 74% of all sharing activity takes place across email and instant messaging, so having the tools to analyse this trend properly will be of increasing and ongoing importance.

Digital brand safety is an incredibly complex area and one that advertisers should look closely at when allocating their media spend. It pays for brands to know exactly where people are looking for content, and endeavour to leverage this in a safe and engaging way.

By utilising dark social and taking stock of the game’s widening footprint, brands can better understand levels of intent, in turn helping make brands more meaningful, and crucially, relevant. Forget the preconceptions around the ‘average’ fan – start using ‘dark social’ data to get to the real fans.

Craig Tuck is managing director UK at RhythmOne

*​​RhythmOne tracks users sharing and engaging with content across multiple platforms. Via its first party data collection tools, it collected insights on 350,000 Six Nations fans from 7 Jan-8 Feb 2018

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