We’ve always been conversational creatures, us humans. We have an innate inclination to discuss and share ideas in small, familiar, and familial groups. Before social media, there were few opportunities or technologies that allowed an individual to project their thoughts to a wide audience, and only a select few were able to take advantage of them.
Yet, the most prominent version of social media—epitomized by the largely open feed-based platforms of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—work on the premise that people want to broadcast. However we’re seeing an increasing volume of people deciding they don’t just want to be heard by anyone, they want to be listened to by those few that truly matter to them. People want to converse, not broadcast. And it’s ironically in these more closed social spaces that people are being be more open and sharing more frequently.
The term "dark social" refers to the site referrals that originate predominantly in messaging apps and reportedly constitutes as much as 3Ž4 of all social content sharing. Despite the scale, dark social has remained largely a neglected blind spot for marketers. This is partly due to the lack of traditional advertising options to reach these consumers, and partly due to the difficulty in measuring and tracking such engagements. Subsequently, brands are prioritizing known measurement over potential effectiveness, preferring a low impact to many over high impact to few.
It was clear that Facebook realized and future profitability of dark social and messaging when in 2014 they acquired WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion. Its importance was reiterated again a year later when it was reported that the top four messaging apps had overtaken the top four social networks in Monthly Active Users (MAUs).
People clearly love to chat and share. People interact in order to move and be moved—emotionally, physically, socially—and messaging services are subsequently adding functionality to help us do all of these things and more.
Taking cues from Line in Japan and WeChat in China, messaging apps such as Kik and Facebook’s Messenger are working to adopt a sort of lightweight app-within-an-app model allowing users to seamlessly call upon hundreds of connected services. Currently you can you’ll be able to seamlessly transfer money, book a dentist appointment, check film reviews, and get AI style advice, all from different companies—all without leaving your messaging app of choice. Facebook Messenger’s integration of Uber, and the gradual additional "magic words" on Slack and Peach are signposts to what is coming.
These new developments warrant a rethink by integrated marketers. Creating broadcast films and associated shareable content is only part of the system. We need to consider what is happening—and what can be happening—in the dark.
- Be true to your consumer. Deeply understanding what your user wants, and wants to share is paramount. The ad they see on TV is probably not the video they wish to share with their friend, or the AI bot they want to query.
- Be true to your brand. From TV to touch screen, your brand and it’s values should remain the same. Clearly defining what you stand for will help you be of the most value to those who engage with you in chat.
- Measure what you can. Things like link and referral tags, content AB testing, platform audience insights and brand effects studies can reveal a lot of what is happening with your brand and your content outside public social metrics.
The future of messaging is an exciting contradiction. It’s both brighter and darker, a more progressive social and a revert to an innate mode of communication. It is both more and less human. It’s definitely more closed, but lets people be more open. One thing is for sure: messaging and dark social is a huge part of the current state and future of social media.
Tom Hyde is the Social Communications Strategy Director at Droga5, and is responsible for helping clients build integrated social approaches to create influence. With a love for technology and the new, he revels in creating effective ideas that collide insight, creativity, technology, culture, and humans.
Tom began his career in London as an early member of the U.K.’s first social agency, Jam (now Deep Focus). He then returned to his hometown of Melbourne, Australia to establish and expand the social media division of The Royals. He is a graduate of University of Melbourne with a bachelor’s in Cultural Studies/Critical Theory and Analysis and holds a postgraduate degree in Advertising and Applied Communication from RMIT University.