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Dark Social: the dark side of social networking? 🥷🏾

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Welcome to the « dark » side of the force… 😅of social networks: the dark social, which is increasingly in the news. Let’s explore the tip of the social media iceberg.

Dark social: what’s it all about?🤔

Let’s start with a bit of history😅… The term « dark social » was coined in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal in his article « Dark Social: the whole story of the Web is wrong ».

Indeed, dark social refers to all content sharing carried out privately, i.e. not visible to the public, search engines or marketers. These are private conversations on social networks (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), by e-mail, via messaging applications (WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc.) or even by SMS.

In other words, Dark Social Media, Dark Social or Dark Traffic refers to the sharing of content on private channels, without digital signatures or references for tracking purposes. The notion of dark refers to the fact that shares are made without any possibility of traceability, statistics or analysis – at least until now. It’s a kind of digital word-of-mouth.

Dark Social is like the dark web, isn’t it? 🤔 Not at all with that little explanation.

Dark Social, a thousand miles from the dark web  😈

While the anglicism « dark » has a tendency to find its way into expressions of the unsavory digital landscape, this is not the case with dark-social. There’s nothing « dark » or illegal about the latter, like the dark web, net and other data.

If it’s in the shadows, as its French translation implies, it’s in reference to the tracing difficulties involved in certain interactions on today’s digital sphere. Dark-social refers to the fact that the sharing of content hosted on the Internet is difficult, if not impossible, to trace, and therefore to measure, due to the methods of communication used between users.

It’s a clarification that concerns us all, and one that is the bane of professionals looking for precise performance indicators. Dark-social is the idea that, unlike the Darknet (or Dark Web), there is a whole range of activity on the Internet that cannot be traced or measured. The latter is the stuff of many fantasies and urban legends. Dark, seedy alleys reserved for informed users, zones and places for illicit transactions and activities.

Why do we talk about Dark Social?

The origins of dark-social lie in the evolution and flowering of various social networks and e-mail and SMS exchange platforms.

Over the past ten years, communication platforms have become increasingly diversified. This has led to a growing mass of users sharing a wide variety of content across different platforms, making it almost impossible to identify them all.

When you see an interesting article or funny video, do you share it on your Facebook feed or instead with your friends or family via SMS, WhatsApp or Messenger ? If you’ve chosen the second option, welcome to the dark side of social networking.

People who choose to share content privately via messaging apps like WhatsApp or online communities are considered part of the « digital word-of-mouth », « dark social network » or even a « dark funnel ».

To compile statistics on shares, impressions, views, reactions. (Like, Comments, Shares), etc., social media platforms and websites use markers, cookies or other tracking forms. So when a post is made on social media, you can follow the statistics in real time. When a user clicks or shares content on the web, it can be tracked.

But if you take a screenshot, upload a photo or video, or copy/paste content into an SMS, WhatsApp or email, you’re outside the classic sharing and tracking framework. Your action is no longer included in the statistics. You go into the dark, the black. That’s right!

When Dark Social rhymes with Dark News: A phenomenon difficult to contain

Quick question! How many times have we saved photos or other content to share on WhatsApp? How many times have we taken screenshots to send afterwards? Well, we’ve all done Dark Social Media in one way or another.

The social impact of these Dark Social shares has sometimes been very negative, particularly in terms of spreading false rumors, disinformation, intoxication and so on. In some territories, such as India, this has become a major issue, forcing WhatsApp to take a number of measures, including limiting the number of shares to 5 users at a time and marking messages that have been shared as « Forwarded ».

However, if word-of-mouth is one of the unmeasurable sharing interactions, today it’s the little « share » button we all click on regularly that’s at the heart of the dark social issue. It’s not necessarily controllable and consultable by the owner of the shared content. As a result, they can’t systematically know who has shared their content and how many times. It’s this kind of phantom activity that gives rise to dark social.

Example: A user could discover content on Instagram, then send it to a loved one via SMS, two office colleagues could exchange Tweets via email, and so on. All these interactions are invisible in content performance results, and their indicators can only be partially known. These actions take place in what is known as the dark world of dark social.

How to make the most of Dark Social?

  • Create content that makes people want to share

If your content is interesting, it’s bound to make someone want to share it. Technology has a tendency to drive people apart, but it hasn’t yet succeeded in removing our natural need to socialize, with our desire to share what we experience, what we feel, what we see, what we like, but also what we don’t like.

  • Follow and react to what’s being said about you on Dark Social

One way or another, positive or negative content about your institution or brand will reach you. When it’s positive, share it. When it can destroy the community’s sympathy for you, react. Deny it. Display yourself publicly by creating and disseminating the right information in social media (social networks), and arrange to have these messages disseminated in the Dark Social Media.

  • Create content intended solely for Dark Social Media

Socionauts like to see content that resembles them, with which they can identify, in other words, with their centers of interest. On the other hand, they don’t like content where brands or companies are openly displayed. This works better with stars and celebrities. You can create photo, video or text content that solves this. The way you tell the story is such that if someone follows, they see you shine through without actually seeing you.

Messaging, the dark social channel par excellence

And what about brands? How can they stand out in this social dark? Be present where the conversations are happening?

Indeed, it may be appropriate to invest in certain private channels and create groups to develop your community. On this subject, it’s interesting to note that the Meta platform has begun to focus on messaging, whereas it previously put all its efforts into its news feed and algorithm.

Since this year, Meta has enabled brands and creators to create channels on WhatsApp, as well as channels on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. Brands can also create channels on Telegram. Companies are well advised to take a closer look at this dark social phenomenon, which could well gain momentum in the years to come, as Internet users look for ever more authenticity!

In conclusion, Dark Social is invisible, difficult to measure and yet it certainly represents a large part of the traffic to your products or services. So it’s vital to pay attention to it. And if increasing your sales is important to you 😄

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and found something new. We have, because it’s a term we’re discovering and would like to share with you.

Feel free to leave comments.

Sources: The Altlantic, BDM, Digimind

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