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While marketers are justifiably attracted to the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, stats from Radium One show that nearly 70% of global sharing activity takes place in dark social channels.

These are channels in which sharing activity takes place out of public view.

But just because dark social channels are harder to work and track doesn't mean that marketers should ignore them.

In fact, there are now a number of dark social channels that are just as big – and even bigger – than Facebook.

Here's a run-down of these channels and how marketers can use them.

Email

Email is the most prominent dark social channel, and arguably the most powerful.

Although marketers in some industries, such as ecommerce, already rely heavily on email and appreciate how it can be used as a social channel, many others underestimate it altogether.

That's a mistake because although it's not the only game in town, email is still one of the most common ways individuals communicate digitally.

Gmail alone recently surpassed 1bn monthly active users.

How to Use It

Knowing that emails are frequently shared, marketers can, where appropriate, include calls to action that encourage sharing.

For example, some retailers incentivize subscribers to share with friends to receive discounts.

On the analytics side, with properly tagged email links and a proper analytics program, it's possible to get a general sense of email sharing activity.

And there are even email analytics services that can track specific activity, such as forwards.

To learn more about this channel, check out our range of Email Marketing Training Courses.

SMS

SMS might be the most underrated and overlooked dark social channel.

How underrated? Consider this: late last year, BuzzFeed revealed that SMS often generates the greatest percentage of shares in the company's iOS and Android News apps. 

While more sophisticated messaging apps have surged in popularity in recent years, billions of people around the world on mobile devices and platforms of all kinds have access to SMS.

Therefore it's not surprising that other publishers that have encouraged SMS sharing, such as Gannett, have also seen this dark social channel outperforming popular platforms like Twitter. 

Coupled with the fact that SMS messages are opened more often than emails, and quickly, SMS is a channel marketers are wise not to ignore.

How to Use It

SMS is one of the easiest dark social channels to take advantage of. All that's required to add SMS sharing is a link with the sms scheme.

On devices with an SMS client, links with the sms scheme function similarly to links that use the mail scheme.

WhatsApp

In 2014, Facebook acquired cross-platform instant messaging service WhatsApp for more than $19bn and less than two years later, WhatsApp has joined the billion active user club.

Much like SMS, some publishers have found that WhatsApp is a very productive social channel and, in some cases, it can even be more productive than popular channels like Facebook and Twitter. 

How to Use It

It's possible to create custom WhatsApp share buttons, and there is open source code to help with this.

Popular third-party sharing services like AddThis also offer the ability to include WhatsApp share buttons.

Future billion user club members

For most marketers, email, SMS and WhatsApp are the dark social channels most worthy of investigation and investment.

But marketers, particularly those active in Asia, should keep an eye on Tencent QQ and WeChat. These popular messaging programs are on their way to the billion active user mark.

And because they incorporate innovative features not yet seen or popular in the West, marketers able to capitalize on their growth may find that they have access to unique opportunities they don't yet have in other dark social channels.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 February, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2379 more posts from this author

Comments (1)

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

The key to dark social is to track the outcomes.

Of course, it can be difficult to track each link in the sharing chain on dark social but as long as you can track that X outcomes each worth $/£ came from that particular channel then you know the worth of the channel.

At Buyapowa, we use unique tracking links that allow customers of our clients to share on any channel they want, and much of that sharing comes from one-to-one 'dark social' like email, SMS and whatsapp, just as you describe in the article. But because we can attribute the sale to that channel and the person who shared the initial tracking link, we know the worth of the channel.

That might be hard for a social media marketer who wants to track vanity metrics like impressions, shares and retweets but when you realise that the only metric that puts food on your family dinner table is 'sales', then you should realise that not only should you enable sharing on dark social but you should also remind your customers that they can and should share via those channels.

5 months ago

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