Remember the days when you used to have conversations on your friends’ Facebook walls? That was back when writing on someone’s ‘wall’ (for anything other than their birthday) was even a thing.

Now, most conversations take place within the walls of dark social. 

This phenomenon refers to any type of social sharing that can’t be tracked, or in other words, the activity that takes place in private messaging channels such as Messenger, WhatsApp, or Snapchat. 

But what does this changing behaviour mean for brands? Econsultancy’s second Marketing in the Dark report, published in association with IBM Watson Marketing, delves into this question. Subscribers can download the report in full, but in the meantime, here’s a snippet of what you can expect.

Marketers are failing to take dark social seriously

The report comes from a survey of over 1,200 brand marketers. One of the biggest takeaways is that just 4% of respondents regard dark social as a top-three challenge.

This is a small percentage to begin with, but is perhaps more surprising considering that the research also suggests the vast majority of consumer outbound sharing from company websites takes place via dark social.

From this, it's clear that the majority of marketers are failing to take dark social seriously. Either that, or they’re unaware of the complexity and scale of the challenge itself.

Marketers need to mimic user behaviour

Another interesting stat from the report is that outperforming companies are around twice as likely as mainstream organisations to be using WhatsApp to engage in dialogue with consumers. 

This shows that, instead of tempting users away from dark social, the best tactic is to recognise and embrace it – and to optimise strategy accordingly.

We’ve already seen a number of brands begin to use WhatsApp for marketing. Naturally, marketers might face an uphill battle, mainly due to the fact that consumers are used to having natural, personal, and emotional conversations with people they know. However, with consumers also eager for communication about utility and customer service, the channel holds big potential for brands that are able to get it right.

(WhatsCook by Hellmans)

Is AI technology the way forward?

Chatbots are one way that brands have increased presence in dark social channels. It’s not a full-proof method, of course. Bots can do more harm than good if they fail to provide any real value to users.

That being said, AI-driven technology can be one of the most cost-efficient ways to improve customer service. And when it comes to how consumers want to interact with brands in private channels, there’s a lot to learn from the best examples.

Don't forget to download Econsultancy's second report in the Marketing in the Dark series, Dark Socialin full.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 27 February, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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