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Marketing Dark Social Experiential Marketing

Four marketing tactics to build and maintain consumer trust

By Harry Wright | Creative

April 6, 2018 | 9 min read

Trust. It’s difficult enough to build at the best of times and these most certainly aren’t the best of times. Especially for brands. And especially for brands on social media. Indeed, no matter how high you, as a business, manage to stack the Jenga blocks of consumer trust, you’re forever building on a foundation of sand – one mistake and you’ll soon have the world dredging up parts of your past that you’d long since forgotten.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

/ Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Now, Facebook is usually a strong representation of how the social media landscape lies and this has never been more true than it is today. It would be an understatement to say that the social monolith is no longer the shining star of social media. For brands, the algorithm change to unclutter news feeds from branded content was, understandably, greeted pretty negatively. And with good reason. It has since caused entire companies to shut down and jacked ad prices up with no real discernible change to our feeds. For the general public, on the other hand, the news that Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook’s data to help sway the outcome of monumental events, such as the US election, Brexit and the X Factor*, has caused worldwide uproar. And rightly so.

However, it’s important to note that the scale of the outrage that these changes have caused is indicative of the modern zeitgeist, built predominantly around transparency, trust and gluten intolerance. The reason why the upcoming GDPR is so important is because 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone but the last time we had a reform on data protection was over 20 years ago. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that people are currently a little distrustful of brands who only engage with their audiences through targeting on social media.

To put this into perspective, a survey by Lithium Technologies found that over half of Gen Z and millennials were limiting, or entirely cutting, their social media use due to the way they were being served ads. Although this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Who doesn’t find it a little odd when you congratulate your friend on their new baby and you start getting bombarded with ads for prams and baby clothes, almost instantly?

Another example of how brands are perceived to have deceived consumers came in the form of influencers. Remember when brands first started using them and product placements were so patently obvious that you knew it wasn’t authentic? Incidentally, if you did buy a product based on one of these ads, shame on you. However, pretty soon marketing bods cottoned on to the fact that integrating a brand into an influencer’s way of life was less obvious, more impactful and had a commercially surreptitious effect on the audience. Unfortunately for marketers, consumers won’t be fooled for long and they demanded more transparency – thus the hashtags #ad and #sponsored became a staple part of influencer life. The illusion was shattered and its impact diminished to the point where Collective Bias has found that only 3% of consumers now care about high-profile influencer and celebrity endorsements.

If you’re currently thinking that the above is all well and good but that we haven’t actually covered how you, as a brand, can maintain trust with your audience, you’d be right. In a world where people no longer take things at face value, a brand’s authenticity is only as strong as the people it works with and how direct and personal it gets with its customers. And if that isn’t the most ambiguous statement you’ve ever read I’d be very surprised. It’s got to be top five at least. Don’t worry. The detail is coming.

Dark social

84% of content sharing happens through dark social. Although impressive, the relevance of this statistic may be lost on you until you realise that the purchasing decisions of 70% of millennial consumers are influenced by recommendations from friends and family. According to RadiumOne, this micro level of dark sharing, between friends and family, is highly trusted resulting in 70% of all online referrals with this figure rising to 75% in the UK. With this in mind, the first way to minimise consumer doubt is by creating shareable content, whether it’s emotive or informative, which is relevant to your target audience and is easily shared through dark channels. If this means your brand needs to create a WhatsApp channel to directly seed shareable content to people, who’ll then show it to their friends and family, then so be it.


By now you’re probably well aware of micro-influencers already so let’s not labour this point too much. Unlike the celebrities and influencers of old, micro-influencers haven’t been corrupted by brands and are influential purely because people love the passion they have for their craft. They’ve usually got between 10,000 – 90,000 followers who are equally as engaged and passionate about their shared interest. This passion could be why 82% of consumers would act upon a recommendation by a micro-influencer, according to Experticity. Not only that, but micro-influencers’ opinions are more trustworthy given that they build knowledge of products themselves with only 15% gathering information about an item through friends, family and the brand itself.

Audience to advocates

If the thought of using micro-influencers seems daunting to you, don’t panic. You have everything you need to make a mark on the social landscape through your current audience. Whether it’s cars, jackets or even chicken nuggets, people are constantly uploading images of brand products for free. If your followers aren’t, give them a reason to. Bearing in mind that 75% of people feel user generated content makes a brand more authentic, turning your followers into advocates is an ideal (and cheap) way to boost confidence in your brand. And it’s not just a source of authenticity. UGC is great for engagement rates – ComScore found that combining brand content with UGC increases engagement by 28%. In addition, heroing your audience and building a personal relationship with frequent UGC uploaders can give you an unlimited resource of content saving time and money on shoots.


Experiential activations are the best. They’re fun to conceptualise, they’re fun to design and they’re fun to experience as a consumer. However, they’re also a great way to authenticate your brand in the eyes of your audience. EventTrack found that 65% of participants believed live experiences helped them to understand a brand or service better. On top of that, an in-person event gives 74% of consumers a more positive view of a brand. Additionally, experiential activations are incredibly shareable to the point where 71% of consumers tell their peers about their experience. And finally, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, 98% of users feel more inclined to purchase after attending one of these activations. So, in short, experiential activity builds trust, inspires word of mouth awareness and gets you out of the office.

All four of these tactics can be used individually. However, the most effective way to use them is in conjunction with each other. For example, if you aren’t aware of the 1% rule, only 1% of social users actually create original content. An influential 9% then share it with their network. Then the rest of us 90% see it and share it with each other. You can probably tell where this is going. If brands seed incredibly emotive or useful content to micro-influencers, or invite them to an experiential activation, they will share it with their followers who will then spread it among themselves, probably through dark social, using UGC. Isn’t that fascinating?

Arguably the most interesting part of all this is that each of the aforementioned factors need the integration of advocates in order to work. Brands can no longer afford to preach from a pedestal and tell people how ethical they are or how great their product is. They need to get personal with their audience and consumers in general. To summarise, make meaningful connections, hero your community and shift the spotlight onto those who exemplify your core brand values, without the commercial undertones.

*There is no evidence to suggest that Cambridge Analytica has interfered with the X Factor. Although, if it had, the show would probably be more plausible.

Harry Wright is an art director at SHARE. Follow him on Twitter @hazmccaz

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