There is a growing body of evidence to show that consumers are increasingly sharing content privately, for example through messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, rather than on publicly accessible social networks where brands can more easily listen to, and track, what is being said about them, and what is being shared.

The second report in our Marketing in the Dark series, Dark Social, explores the impact of this growing phenomenon, and looks at how companies can interact with consumers appropriately and effectively in a world where consumers increasingly like to communicate in private.

The research, produced by Econsultancy in partnership with IBM Watson Marketing, is based on an extensive survey of more than 1,000 marketers.

The key findings of the report are as follows:

  • Marketers are underestimating the impact of dark social.  Only 4% of all those surveyed for this study regard dark social as a top-three challenge, suggesting that most businesses are blissfully ignorant of a growing problem.
  • More brands must start harnessing technology to mitigate the challenge of dark social, and to scale their customer interactions. Even among leaders, defined as companies where marketing teams outperformed against their top business goal over the last year, it is only a small proportion of companies that are using software such as voice technology / interfaces (25%), computer-powered chat on site (23%), computer-powered chat on social media channels and messaging apps (21%) and product recommendations powered by chatbots / AI-powered chat (19%).
  • Outperforming companies are more likely to be using WhatsApp and similar apps for AI-powered conversations. Leaders are significantly more likely than their mainstream counterparts to be using social networks and messaging apps for computer-powered conversations. Outperforming companies are around twice as likely as mainstream organisations to be using the WhatsApp messaging platform (39% versus 20%) to engage in dialogue with consumers.
  • Companies must continue to prioritise personalisation. Three-quarters (75%) of ‘leaders’ are personalising conversations based on tone and sentiment, compared to 60% of mainstream companies. While it is important to tailor marketing and messaging to individuals, companies must take the utmost care in how they approach one-to-one marketing. At a time when consumers are becoming more distrustful of brands that routinely collect data about them, marketers should focus on a persona-based approach that allows them to be highly relevant without needing to utilise data that personally identifies people