Dark social refers to content shared in an ‘untrackable’ way, such as links within emails, instant messenger or chat apps, as opposed to more public platforms like Twitter.
According to a study by RadiumOne, around two-thirds of political content is shared this way in the UK.
The firm studied 500,000 shares made using link shortener po.st, and found just 22% of politics-related content was shared on Facebook, while 10% was shared on Twitter.
The parties are too pre-occupied with Facebook and Twitter, which are relatively ineffective
Given the difficulty of tracking activity on private social channels, the study is not perfect, but indicates the parties may be missing a trick when it comes to speaking to voters.
Poor marketing to voters
According to RadiumOne’s analysis, some 80% of content relating to the Green Party is shared on dark social channels, compared to 51% for the main parties. And despite UKIP’s unsavoury reputation, just 35% of content relating to the party is shared on dark social.
Managing director Rupert Staines described political parties’ use of digital as "unsophisticated".
This is borne out by separate research from Relative Insight showing that the language used by the parties on Twitter makes them sound like "middle-aged men".
Staines said: "They’re too pre-occupied with Facebook and Twitter, which are relatively ineffective compared to dark social’s power in harnessing shared content to drum up voter support."
"Sharing via dark social also carries more emotional weight as it’s normally done on a 1-2-1 basis with family or close friends, rather than the ‘blanket’ approach on social networks."
The rise of dark social
The concept of dark social has been around for a while, but brands have been slow to adopt these as marketing tools.
The problem is not uptake – WhatsApp has 800 million monthly active users – but measurement. The public nature of Facebook means campaigns have impact beyond just clicks, called reach. Reach on dark social is both limited and clicks are difficult to track.
Still, Clarks launched its first WhatsApp campaign in March in an attempt to tap into the brand’s cult following, while Burberry launched a London Fashion Week campaign on Japanese messaging app Line.
Roy Gardner, Clarks group director of category marketing told Marketing: "WhatsApp hasn’t been overly used within the fashion sector.
"We wanted to be the first people to create something with the social channel and liked the fact that WhatsApp is such a personal platform. And delivering content to consumers on a 1-2-1 level is a major selling point."