Dark Social marketing: the elephant in the room

When Elliot Boucher, co-founder of Paris-based start-up Edusign, contacted me last July to talk about Dark Social marketing, I thought I’d heard “Darth Social” and that he wanted to tell me about a new Star Wars episode. Then he explained to me what it was all about and it seemed to me I’d known everything about it even though I had never heard the name before. Here are a few sound and useful concepts that will be instrumental in designing better B2B content marketing strategies.

Dark Social marketing: the elephant in the room

Dark Social
Seeing what’s going on in marketing that’s hard to track: that’s the essence of a true content strategy according to Elliot Boucher and that’s what Dark Social Marketing is all about. In a way, spotting the elephant in the room when it’s dark!

Rest assured, Dark Social has nothing to do with Darth Vader.

Dark social marketing is about finding all these hard-to-track weak signals. It’s like being in a room with the lights turned off and trying to find the elephant in there, that you cannot see

Dark Social Marketing
Dark Social Marketing — shedding a bit of light

Tentative definition of Dark Social Marketing

The term “dark social” was coined by American journalist Alexis C. Madrigal as part of his work for The Atlantic. Dark social consists of recommendations through Internet content that are not made public on social networks. These recommendations can be considered “dark” because on the one hand they are not visible on social media, and on the other hand, they are not always tracked.

Dark Social under the microscope

Dark Social
Elliot Boucher, founder of Edusign and author of the podcast formation/innovation

Dark Social marketing, therefore is made of things like:

  • an exchange on a Facebook group,
  • a WhatsApp conversation,
  • a LinkedIn message,
  • an email,
  • and all those signals that you can’t track even though they are very significant.

At the end of the day, social media exchanges are just the tip of the marketing iceberg, Elliot told me.

A feeling I already had intuitively when I designed my word-of-mouth marketing course years ago.

Dark social marketing tip: do not optimise your content solely for the sake of visible metrics

This concept of Dark social is not as trivial as it sounds. Somewhere along the line, it is even the foundation of (good) content marketing.

Dark Social marketing is a concept that is far from being trivial according to Elliot Boucher

Optimising your content solely to generate leads misses out on Dark Social and its huge impact

As a result, according to Elliot :

You have to transform your metrics and stop optimising your content for the sake of vanity metrics.

A content strategy should not seek an immediate and direct impact on sales

Refrain from creating content just for the sake of capturing someone’s email, Elliot tells us. Do it for the sake of creating good content in order to make a big impact on dark social.

All things being considered, Dark social marketing, one might think is just good old word of mouth, but Elliot contradicts me on this.

Being obsessed with metrics will lead you nowhere

‘You can’t measure dark social directly,” says Elliot. You can’t advertise on someone’s WhatsApp, or quantify conversations, for example.

On the other hand, when someone comes to you, feel free to ask where they’ve heard about you or your business

That would have been music to Andy Sernovitz‘s ears.

Elliot also sends a clear warning against the infamous last-click attribution factor. A misconception that often leads to exaggerating Google’s weight in digital content distribution.

Beware of the legendary “I saw you on Google” phrase, Elliot says, because “in fact your visitor may have seen you or your brand 50 times before he even arrived on Google”.

Information comes from many sources, Google being only one of them.

Don’t forget about newsletters and podcasts. It takes five or seven touch points on average to convert a visitor into a customer with digital marketing. Forget about the last-click or first-click attribution models and focus on what happens in between, this is where it all happens

Dark Social has nothing to do with the Dark Web

Dark social and the Dark Web are two horses of a different colour. It’s not something which is dark or bad. It’s just something you can’t see. You could call it “invisible social”, it would be just as good, explains Elliot.

Dark social is not word of mouth either

Word of mouth is about people you know,” he explains, “whereas dark social can be about strangers.

We can interact on a post from someone who hasn’t exchanged with us directly. Yet, we have no impact on that post as a marketer and we can’t track it,” says Elliot.

B2B marketing tips for a good content marketing strategy

Elliot gave us his three tips for a successful Dark Social B2B content marketing strategy:

  1. Shift from a lead generation-based attribution model to a demand generation model and therefore make sure you measure the right things;
  2. Create good content for good content’s sake, rather than optimising your content for lead generation;
  3. Get to grips with Dark social marketing and make sure you measure all actions as a whole, not just those you are able to track.

With these tips in mind, you can now get down to business and work on your Dark Social marketing efforts.

Yann Gourvennec
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