Disclaimer: This post was written on behalf of gShift, a web presence analytics platform focused on innovation in SEO, influencer marketing and content. gShift sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent gShift’s positions or strategies.
Dark social refers to the majority of consumer communications that will never be detected by even our most sensitive dashboards. After all, when customers and prospects communicate by text message, email or some other form of private message, the rich information and opinions were never meant to see the light of day.
However, with an estimated 70 percent or more of daily communications taking place on these dark channels, marketers are eager to figure out any way to tap into what might be the richest treasure trove of consumer information and insight on the planet.
There are three emerging trends that indicate there might be light at the end of this dark tunnel.
The move from social media to private media:
If you look at the biggest tech trends, it’s hard to ignore the rise of text-messaging networks such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. In fact, in 2015, combined usage of the top four messaging apps exceeded the combined usage of the top four social media apps. Falling data prices, cheaper devices and improved features are helping propel their growth.
In essence, we’re moving to a world of private communications. Social media won’t go away, but these platforms may become less important to certain groups as this trend toward more intimate conversation rises. It seems like we’re going full circle, as the first communication apps (ICQ and AOL Chat for example) were all private.
The interesting thing is all the communication that used to be private is now migrating into the hands of Facebook (who owns WhatsApp with 1 billion users and Messenger with 900 million users).
Will marketers have access to insights from that data? It seems probable, as Facebook looks for ways to monetize this rich data stream. People are willingly migrating to company-owned networks in exchange for fun new utilities and access to groups of friends.
Connected devices and voice apps:
Many of us think nothing of talking to apps like Siri and Amazon Echo every day with our questions, desires and data requests. These virtual assistants can place orders, suggest recipes and even read news and other content aloud for us.
Increasingly these apps will be connected to our friends, our appliances, our cars and more. We may not know it, but every conversation we have with these devices sends personal data and insights back to the mothership.
Peering into our private messages is just the beginning it seems. Now these devices will be listening in on our most intimate conversations and compiling an ever-growing database about us. At the very least, this will provide exceptional new opportunities to discover needs and target our advertising.
There is a lot of effort and money going into connecting the dots between the dark and mysterious customer journey and the actual buying experience. One of the most promising developments in this area is smart URLs.
Current technology provides detailed engagement data only after a customer or prospect visits a website and identifies themselves. This actual conversion may come from a contact form, a piece of content or an opt-in for information. But how did they arrive there?
I asked the last 12 people who called me about a speaking engagement: “How did you find out about me?” … and I got 12 different answers!
Yes, the customer journey has become a dark and tangled mess compared to even just a few years ago; a fragmented network of detours, back alleys, influencers, ads and who knows what else.
Smart URLs can help shed some light on this dark journey. A smart URL is a unique link, which contains tracking parameters and analytics to capture click data behind the scenes. Smart URLs can be engineered to report on various data points based on your specific requirements. Content tags can be added manually and/or collected dynamically as the URL is clicked.
Smart URLs like kontextURLs from gShift allow you to engineer new systems to bring your customers out of the dark:
- Create groups of content tags for every aspect of your distribution including social channels, individual influencers, content type, campaign, etc.
- Create unique smart URLs for every distribution channel, as well as a unique set of channel links for each influencer who is helping to amplify the content.
- Embed smart URLs into content you publish on other platforms (press releases, op-ed pieces, external blogs, etc) to see engagement around long-form external content
The exciting thing to me about these smart URLs is that clever marketers are going to find all kinds of new uses we never dreamed about.
Perhaps 2016 is the year dark social starts to become a thing of the past.