This is when it became obvious to me that our success in generating attendees for our event should be attributed to our “dark social” much more than to the channels we traditionally measure.
What is dark social?
Dark social refers to website traffic whose source can’t immediately be tracked. This traffic keeps attribution software (and marketing teams) in the dark and usually falls under “Direct.” But let’s be honest. Nobody is going to directly type in a long URL like: https://learn.penguinstrategies.com/revops-june-meetup
Visitors will almost certainly land on a page via a link from one of our emails or social media posts.
But what if somebody copies and drops that link in a WhatsApp group or in their office Slack? We will be in the dark as to where any of this traffic came from.
Why is dark social important?
Dark social is important because it provides gateways for your audience to enter your funnel from places that can’t be tracked. This is why dark social can also be called Dark Funnel.
If you have something to sell, dark social can put you ahead of your competitors but don’t expect immediate results. Like building an SEO content plan, the rewards take time.
Dark social is about sharing information to be used off-the-grid. You, as the company, have to supply the right content that the right people want to share. It can be (trackable) links to great content or really valuable information that can be connected to your company. Eventually, you will become their trusted source of information and their first choice when it’s time to buy.
In Penguin’s case, we were promoting an event taking place soon to a very niche audience!
From Dismal to Hot Damn!
After a week of publicizing our event through the regular channels (organic as well as paid), we noticed uninspiring 40-something sign-ups.
What to do?
That’s when our C-Suite WhatsApped some of the targeted audience who they knew and asked them to share the link in relevant WhatsApp groups.
The next day, the registrations tripled.
Personal. Trusted. Untrackable—as far as the analytics go.
Where can you aim to leverage dark social?
According to Chris Walker, the dark social guru, people don’t necessarily go to a website or a blog for information as they did in 2014. Today, people turn to social networks: places–and people–they trust. Dark social is the 2020’s version of word-of-mouth advertising.
Where do you turn for information?
- Social media communities
- LinkedIn groups
- Facebook groups
- Podcast platforms
- Private messaging apps
- An influencer’s Telegram channel?
If the right person endorses your product, company, website, or specific URL, you can wind up with a huge lift in traffic, leads or conversions. . . and if you didn’t know about their mention, you’d be in the dark as to what happened all of a sudden.
What needs to be tracked?
I’m not going to lie: opinions vary. But if you’re spending time or money on a specific channel, it’s worth tracking to evaluate if it’s worth spending more time or money there. But don’t stop at that. You can’t stop at that if you’re leveraging dark social. Let’s get a little more sophisticated with what we are tracking. . .
Track sales velocity
Once you start leveraging dark social (keep reading for tips to leverage dark social) watch for improved sales velocity (the average number of days it takes to close a deal). Why? Your new customers or clients will have been moving through your funnel–your dark funnel–for weeks or months, learning about your company and gaining your trust. All without your attribution software recognizing them. When something compels them to buy, it will be a short jump to a conversion. Wow! (This is where demand gen campaigns add extra power to your marketing efforts.)
Our RevOps Meetup generated several opportunities and two closed deals! How long were they in our funnel? Only they know.
A skip away from deal closed are hand-raisers. These prospects express interest in your company by giving you their details, requesting a demo, or filling out a contact form. If you are collecting more hand-raisers but do not know from where the contacts are coming, dark social might be the hero. Actually, your awesome, helpful content is the hero. Dark social is the vehicle. (Thought leadership campaigns can fuel hand-raisers.)
Of course, hand-raisers and spikes in sales velocity don’t happen overnight. If you need to prove pretty quickly that dark social is worth your effort, keep reading.
How to track the “untrackable”
For immediate gratification, you’ll want to show that your links in dark social are working. Here’s how:
- Use UTM or Bitly links: You can create special, trackable links to share on channels you expect will get shared or forwarded via copy/paste. When somebody copies your link from a paid LinkedIn ad, shares it in their company's Slack channel, and all of a sudden the page receives 60 “direct” visits but LinkedIn’s analytics is reporting 0 clicks, your UTM link will show you the source.
- Create branded, short, trackable URLs
- Use sharing icons alongside your social media buttons. You may have to develop these buttons to enable visitors to share your content directly to Whatsapp, Messenger, Slack, Discord, Telegram, etc.
- Segment direct traffic. You can gain insights by targeting the linked pages and segmenting visitors by device type, Apple vs Android, and any other available parameters.
With the above in mind, here are 3 Pro Tips:
- Add tracking cookies to the linked pages so you can add retargeting ads to your campaign
- HubSpot groups UTMs from various sources under one campaign for easy-to-read reports.
- Identify where leads are coming from and where you're losing money so you can redirect that budget.
Our event was packed because we added WhatsApp as well as non-traditional channels to our promotion mix. While WhatsApp and other private messaging apps can be part of your dark social strategy, make sure your content is worth sharing and use trackable links to enable you to attribute your website traffic that normally would leave you in the dark.
by Ira Somers on June 30, 2022
Senior Content Creator and published author