Brands Miss Opportunities To Connect With Consumers Via 'Dark Social'

59% of all online sharing in the U.S. takes place via 'dark social' channels.


New research, which says it sought to provide a comprehensive picture of online data sharing habits across all social networks and messaging platforms, finds an untapped opportunity for brands to engage more closely with consumers by implementing strategies that capitalize upon “dark social” sharing.

Advertising software company RadiumOne has released new research on “dark social” sharing, or what it describes as “any inbound web traffic coming from sources that web analytics are unable to track.”

According to RadiumOne, so-called dark social activity typically occurs when online content is shared by copying a URL and pasting it into messaging platforms like email, forums, or instant messages rather than sharing via established social networks.

The study, “The Light and Dark of Social Sharing – Harnessing the Power of Consumer Connections,” found that 59 percent of all online sharing in the U.S. takes place via dark social channels, compared to 31 percent on Facebook and 10 percent on all other social channels combined.

RadiumOne says the survey “reveals an untapped marketing opportunity for brands to engage more closely with consumers.”

Additional findings include: 91 percent of U.S. consumers – and 93 percent of global consumers – use dark social channels alongside social channels when sharing information online. Further, 27 percent of U.S. consumers exclusively share “in the dark,” which RadiumOne says means brands with no dark social strategy in place know nothing about more than a quarter of U.S. consumers online. And this figure grows to nearly one-third worldwide, or 32 percent.

When consumers share via dark social, the topics they discuss most frequently are “typically more one-to-one in nature,” like arts and entertainment, careers, and travel, according to RadiumOne.

The findings illustrate how brands and publishers are overlooking their audiences by limiting social and marketing investment to activities that take place on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, according to RadiumOne.

CMO Eric Bader says consumers reveal different aspects of their intent via public posts on social networks, versus privately shared messages in texts, IMs and emails, which can be of value to brands and marketers.

“The product and category being shared often changes depending on how it is being shared,” he says. “‘Dark social’ sharing and public sharing are both valuable to a brand or marketer but ‘dark social’ sharing provides a huge amount of data about preferences, interest and intentions that marketers don’t normally see or get to consider simply because they don’t have the right mechanisms in place to track and analyze.”

In a statement, RadiumOne CEO Bill Lonergan adds, “Web analytics programs miss much of the social sharing outside of the major networks, but we are able to track this ‘dark social’ activity and it’s one of the most valuable sources of data insights with the potential to give brands a huge competitive edge.”

In addition, RadiumOne found 36 percent of dark social sharing worldwide occurs via mobile devices, which, per RadiumOne, further illustrates “their increasingly pivotal role in consumers’ daily shopping and sharing habits.”

The research included 9,027 consumers in North America, the UK, Europe, Australia and France. It was conducted by intelligence market researcher Tpoll.

What do you think about dark social sharing? Does your brand have a strategy in place to capitalize upon these conversations?