Sharing beyond Facebook: why 'dark social' is the missing piece in the connection jigsaw

With consumers' multiple gadgets leaving countless digital footprints, there has never been so much data, but some of it is less obvious says Rupert Staines, European managing director, RadiumOne.

Dark social: not all sharing is easily measured
Dark social: not all sharing is easily measured

At the heart of understanding and connecting audiences everywhere is identifying consumer sharing patterns. Everyday billions of photos, videos and posts are shared online. However, commonly when we think about digital sharing, we solely think of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is a big mistake. These networks are just the tip of the iceberg and only represent around 20% of all sharing online. While this is easy to measure, marketers cannot underestimate the value of the other 80%; that is traffic coming from emails, messaging services, forums and other untraceable digital platforms.

This activity is known as 'dark social'; traffic that has no referral data and consequently is invisible to most analytics programs and therefore to marketers and their agencies. This form of shared communication is at the very core of the web’s ecosystem and needs to be addressed by marketers, otherwise you simply will not have an accurate view of your truly connected audiences, which means lost opportunity and revenue. But smarter tracking of shared content and how it is shared across all platforms is required from the outset and the good news is there are already tools available to do this.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently published its Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014 - 2018 analysing where advertisers are spending their media dollars and found they are increasingly looking to programmatic to improve display advertising performance. It’s easy to see why. The complexity and volume of consumer data produced by the millisecond is a golden opportunity to better target customers and prospects in a timely and relevant way at huge scale.

Facebook and Twitter are just the tip of the iceberg and only represent around 20% of all sharing online.

While brands and their agencies have recognised the efficiencies to be gained from programmatic media buying, too few are using the effective techniques to get a 360 view of how their customers and as importantly, their prospects, can be understood in real-time and, therefore, targeted more effectively. Dark social is that opportunity and blue-chip organisations are beginning to harness the business opportunities it presents ahead of their competition.

Customers have evolved and marketers must move in real-time with their target audience, and understand the value of data to identify where potential consumers are on their journey, so they can build up that ‘connected audience' picture. This is as much about branding, as it is performance metrics, so marketers must be prepared to understand its impact. Lighting up the opportunity around dark social will help brands gain a significant commercial advantage.